A Screenwriter’s Take on Visual Language   

One could argue that film, the precise blend of dialogue, visuals, special effects & music, is the ultimate form of communication. As a screenwriter (doing my small part to create films), appropriately understanding and applying the English language plays a huge role: especially when it comes to expressing character thought with accurate and realistic dialogue. As society turns to technology for everyday needs, the English language will continue to adapt and eventually become the ultimate universal language. As a professional screenwriter, I hope to blend the English language with technology and convey heart-felt stories to diverse audiences, world-wide.

Technology has always influenced the English language, but recently, word formation methods like shortening (alphabetism, acronymy, clipping and backformation) and blending are on the rise to keep up with space and time saving trends that co-exist with today’s technology. In How English Works, Anne Curzan and Michael P. Adams discuss the trend of eliminating non-essential punctuation and characters from newspaper headlines and paperback books in the 20th century— as a means to save space and time (Curzan and Adams 459-460). Today, when it comes to the news and virtual media outlets, these space and time saving trends continue. Take for example the 140 – character limit on Twitter. This social media platform has mastered the art of telling the news via headlines only.  According to Craig Smith of DMR statistics, there are 1.3 billion registered users on Twitter (Smith).  Imagine the space and time saved when all these tweets add up! As virtual communication becomes the only form of communication, space and time saving word formation methods will prove more effective and become more popular.  Enter the emoticon.

Emoticons, although controversial, are a widely used form of picto-graphic e-communication. I believe they are a major part of the continued expansion of the English language.  In a recent article, Author Quinn Bartlett stated, “…the assumption that emoticons are fundamentally a juvenile form of communication not worthy of consideration as a legitimate language is to hold society to a self-imposed standard which is both unrealistic, limiting, and ignorant of human history” (Bartlett). I tend to think of emoticons as mini – movies, each expressing an intimate story known only to the sender and the receiver. The following series of emoticons could mean thousands of things, but in context, the message is perfectly clear:

emoticon communication

“I’m so sorry things didn’t work out with Harry, what can I do to help? You wanna get outta the house? Let’s go get a mani/pedi or lunch. It’s nice outside!”

Genius that we can say all this with just a few pics, dontcha think? Genius but not new. Over 40,000 years ago logographic writing appeared in the form of hieroglyphics, in ancient Egyptian societies (Scoville). If we look at a message similar to the emoticon example above, translated to hieroglyphics, we get the following scene:

H communication

To this day scientists struggle with understanding the true meaning of hieroglyphic communication.  Perhaps, in attempting to translate these pictorial messages, scientists are wasting their time. Just as its important to look back at history for answers, it is also important to consider that English is not an absolute, and never has been (Bartlett). If we were scientists studying the emoticon example above, we would never assume the receiver of this message was sitting at home, sulking over a bad break-up with a guy named Harry.  Similarly, one may never completely decipher 40,000 year- old Egyptian conversations. When discussing the meaning of words in context, in their book, How English Works, Anne Curzan and Michael P. Adams state, “Sentences, when uttered, can mean much more than the denotational meaning of the words they contain, and they can do more than describe or refer to the world around us” (Curzan and Adams 236). Hieroglyphic communication may too, mean much more than the intricate picture displayed, only to have been truly understood by the sender(s) and the receiver(s) at that precise moment in time.

Hieroglyphs, documentaries, feature films, emoticons: no matter the influence from technology, they all tell a story.  And for each reader/viewer/receiver, in context, each tells a different story – a highly personal one. As the English language evolves, linguistics, English and writing professionals will take on new roles, and function side-by-side, as partners with technology. Understanding the English language, where it has been and where it is going, will surely help these partnerships grow. Within this new role, as a screenwriter, my goal is to script stories in a manner that generates the empathetic appeal necessary to personally reach all audiences– throughout time.

Bartlett, Quinn. “Emoticons, a Return to Hieroglyphics?” Revelfoundry.com. 2 October 2014.

        Web. 24 July 2016.

Curzan, Anne and Michael P. Adams. “How English Works: A Linguistic Introduction.” 3rd ed.

        Pearson, 2012.

Scoville, Priscilla.  “Egyptian Hieroglyphs,” Ancient History Encyclopedia. 2 July 2015. Web.

        24 July 2016.

Sherman, Robert. “Online Hieroglyphics Translator.” Quizland.com. 1996-2016. Web. 24 July

        2016.

Smith, Craig. “By the Numbers: 170 + Amazing Twitter Statistics.” DMR.com. 14 July 2016.

        Web. 24 July 2016.