Featured Article: “Emojis Meet Hieroglyphs: If King Tut Could Text” by Isabel Kershner.
A new exhibition at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem explores the complicated relationship between the hieroglyphs of antiquity and emoji, the lingua franca of the digital age.
In this lesson, you’ll compare these two sets of symbols to analyze this relationship. Then, you’ll try an emoji writing exercise to decide whether you think these pictograms, like hieroglyphs, can be considered their own language.
Take a look at these images from a museum exhibition called “Emoglyphs: Picture-Writing From Hieroglyphs to the Emoji.” On the left side you’ll find hieroglyphs, the language developed by ancient Egyptians 5,000 years ago, and on the right side you’ll see emojis.
What similarities and differences do you notice?
Can you define the denotation, or the literal meaning, for each of the hieroglyphs and emojis? What about the connotation, or the ideas and emotions associated with each symbol? Which set of symbols is harder to define? Why do you think that is?
In the article, Isabel Kershner writes that this exhibition “highlights the seemingly obvious, but also complicated, relationship between the iconic communication system from antiquity and the lingua franca of the cyber age.” What do you think she means by that, based on this visual comparison?
Questions for Writing and Discussion
Read the article, then answer the following questions:
1. What is the main idea of the museum exhibition “Emoglyphs: Picture-Writing From Hieroglyphs to the Emoji”?
2. In what ways are hieroglyphs and emojis similar?
3. In what important ways do they differ?
4. How can pictograms — whether hieroglyphs or emojis — sometimes be more meaningful than words alone? Give one example from the article.
5. Media literacy. What strategies does this museum exhibition use to help visitors connect the past to the present and understand the relationship between hieroglyphs and emojis?
6. Prof. Orly Goldwasser, head of Egyptology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, said that the advent of the alphabet was both “a great victory and a great loss.” What does she mean by that? Do you agree?
Some have hailed emoji as a new language, while others, like Prof. Chaim Noy, argue that calling emoji a language is too simplistic. What do you think?
Try this writing exercise from our recent Picture Prompt “A 📖 of Two 🏙”, which invites you to rewrite the first line of your favorite book using emojis. Take a look at the creations other students have posted in the comments to see whether you can figure out what they’re saying.
Then, reflect on the experience:
What was it like to read and write in emojis?
What meaning, if any, was gained by using emojis instead of words? What was lost? One student wrote about the activity:
It demoralized the literature: you can’t just replace a classic with “😂😂😂🔥🔥🔥” and say it is the same. Yes, it will make it easier to read, but that was not why they were written in the first place. This is just like Fahrenheit 451: reducing literature to 15-minute radio shows, then to a 2 sentence summary. We are reducing these great pieces of literature that have something to say into just a snap-ending.
Do you agree? Why or why not?
Do you think emojis are as complex and sophisticated as hieroglyphs? Do you think they can be called a language? Or, as Professor Noy says, do you think they are meant to supplement our written language?
Do you think emojis will one day replace words entirely? Why do you think so? What can we learn from the study of hieroglyphs about the benefits and challenges that come with a pictogram language?