A New Language for Texting

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LOL, BRB, ROTFL…text messaging and instant messaging has a language all its own.  But it didn’t seem good enough for Kai Staats, the inventor of  iConji, a new, hieroglyphic-like language strictly for text messaging. iConji has an “alphabet” of pictures, each representing a word or a group of related words. There are 1,185 symbols, each of which has been translated into English, Spanish, French, Italian, German, Hindi, Mandarin Chinese, and Japanese. Users are allowed to submit new pictures, which might come to mean different things in different cultures.

So, what’s the advantage of using iConji over standard text messaging abbreviations? Staats explained to Fox News why he likes using iConji to communicate:

“It’s just fun to use. Using homonyms and plays-on-words, iConji messages are often quite humorous as well as informative. Whether you are sending a complete sentence with proper grammar to a co-worker, or a simple, one-character message inviting a friend for a drink after work, receiving an iConji message always causes me to smile.”

That does sound like fun, but will iConji become the new standard for texting?

Alan Timberlake, the chair of Columbia University’s Linguistics Department, thinks that even with 1,185 characters, the language still may not be expressive enough:

“Think of emoticons and abbreviations like ‘lol.’ They can’t express everything. It seems to be quite difficult to learn a large number of distinct symbols (learning Chinese characters takes non-natives much longer than learning words in a language with an alphabet). In short, if it works, which means if people use it and develop it, let’s congratulate them, but the project has built-in limitations.”

I could see iConji becoming popular among certain groups who crave the exclusivity of learning a “secret language,” like teens with nosy parents. But for everyday use, it seems unlikely that most people are going to want to learn 1,185 new symbols just to do something that millions of people already do everyday.