I’m totally paraphrasing (read: butchering) here, but my favorite thinker ever – Michel Foucault – was known to hold the sentiment: Knowledge isn’t power, language is.

Thus, whoever is able to use or engage some form of language has some measure power. Whoever can make the call re. what language is acceptable or not (the dictionary? whoever edits the dictionary?!) has more power. And whoever or whatever controls the broader scope of language… well, therein lies the most power of all.

The implications of this one of Foucault’s many brilliant points has always compelled me, and I’ve always felt it to be 100% true. For example: In the U.S., we have given a measure of power to one language (English), often to the detriment of folks who – even to varying degrees – speak two or more… (think about the pro-stupid irony that comes from lambasting bilingual individuals, many of who may very well have greater language skills than even the most eloquent of monolingual dipshits). Put simply, people who engage The Language in the way it is currently sanctioned in the U.S. have more power than individuals who may have a wider scope of variable skills.

That’s Foucault – it speaks to social constructions and nasty inequalities existing in our social world, and it’s 100% on-point.

From the legitimizing that occurs when a word is added to a specific dictionary to the power I’ve held as a professor over my students’ language, both in terms of introducing terms and in simply enforcing parameters on their writing, who gets to say what’s OK to say (and how to say it) has power. But that does not mean this power is fixed or guaranteed. In fact, like all ways of getting power, power via language is always up for grabs.

Enter Emoji.

Emoji are cute little pictographs used to convey messages in lieu of conventional words. It’s communication without words, or a “wordless tongue.” And it was with great glee and fascination that I recently read “Smile, You’re Speaking EMOJI – The rapid evolution of a wordless tongue” via New York (11/16/14).

In addition to all of the author’s incredible investigative reveals and observations – for example the different meanings associated with three nearly identical smiling faces (talk about homonyms!) – the mere existence of Emoji points to Foucault’s observations regarding power’s inherently mutable nature, in spite of how fixed it may seem.

Do yourself a fun favor – read the whole article and brush up on your Emoji. It’s only a matter of time, people!


(pictured: a few of hundreds)

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Got a sociology question? Need some social justice informed life advice? Contact Dr. Chauntelle right here.