I heart emoji: The language of love in the 21st century

  Last updated February 14, 2020 at 10:41 am


Less poetry and more emoji – the 21st century language of love is a little different, but by linguistic standards it’s as meaningful as ever.

language of love_romance_language

Emojis, memes and emoticons are all features of modern communication. Credit: PM Images

Why This Matters: Language is always evolving.

“Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?”

A Shakespearean sonnet might not be very successful in the realms of modern dating, but according to linguist David Caldwell from the University of South Australia, while the language of love has undergone a modern renovation, it’s well and truly alive.

“Romance and wooing are alive and well in the digital realm, and that opens new ways of communicating love and affection, different from the traditional handwritten love letter,” he says.

The features of today’s modern language of love

Caldwell says love language today is typically less formal, less poetic, less elaborate and less metaphorical.

And while there isn’t as much room for comparing your love to a summer’s day, the sentiment of language love today is no less loving or meaningful.

Also: Emoji aren’t ruining language: they’re a natural substitute for gesture 🔥🔥🔥

“Modern love communication features images (selfies or images of a couple together), emoticons, emojis and memes, and many other combinations of words, sounds, images and animations that combine to essentially function as a ‘love letter’.”

“Today’s love language is more immediate, often a two-way online exchange, likely to be more concise in language form, and can often include ‘youth speak’ – abbreviations, acronyms and humour.”

What about all those romantic wordsmiths out there?

“The change perhaps reflects a shift in what we value in a prospective partner’s linguistic repertoire.”

It raises a lot of questions: are we less attracted to a wordsmith than we once were? Does poetic and elaborate language now feel outdated, excessive and maybe even a little weird?

“Perhaps today, the value is in a prospective partner’s, ability to use digital communicative affordances – humour, emojis, memes, Bitmoji, and the like – to show a mastery of modern life.”

Caldwell says the current generation are “doing love” quite differently from the romantic stereotype.

Also: How the brain processes language

“There are no doubt fewer love letters, but online dating is booming on websites like Tinder, Bumble, RSVP and e-Harmony,” he says.

Due to the rise of these online dating apps, unique linguistic genres have emerged.

“The most common genre people produce for these sites is a kind of information report or auto-biography,” Cadwell says.

“It is designed to ‘sell’ a person to potential partners.  And this commodification of self has specific language patterns, which are often very specific and efficient, and certainly not metaphorical or poetic, like the language patterns of love letters.

“At the end of the day love is love and people will express their affection in ways that elicit a positive response – and it may be that successful wooing today, relies a lot more of the right emojis than the structural rigours of a sonnet or a haiku.”

That’s not to say there’s not a place for Shakespeare and poetry in modern dating.

Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind and therefore is wing’d cupid painted blind”. 

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