Dr. (des.) Deborah Enzmann

Colon, hyphen, bracket - A semiotic and cultural analysis


They sob, laugh, wink, stick out their tongues or roll their eyes. Emojis, the colourful ideograms and smileys were created in the 1990s in Japan and are omnipresent. Meanwhile, they have become part of everyday communication and essential to millions of people who use symbols when communicating. 

The symbols from computer mediated communication (CMC) became socially acceptable with the emergence and spreading of “chats”. The desire for grapholistic instruments that would complement the standard system of characters and compensate for the lack of paralinguistic and non-verbal means of expression in the written language did not, however, coincide with the emergence of the CMC. Attempts to compensate for such shortcomings range from symbols for irony, indignation or to label a rhetorical question through to systems that enable authors to express emotions. 

Similarly, iconically motivated constellations of characters formed from punctuation marks were developed long before CMC. It was the emergence of digital communication systems and the use of ASCII symbols that helped emoticons achieve their breakthrough. A facial expression rotated by 90° that was intended to avoid misunderstandings soon produced a colourful, varied world of characters that is now much more than a substitute for the lack of paralinguistic and non-verbal means of expression in writing.

The project will juxtapose the functions of CMC characters and their use with the formal development of the symbols and analyse their historical development. What is planned is a multidimensional analysis of the development of CMC characters from a semiotic, graphic, historical and cultural perspective.


Prof. Dr. Marc Ries

Prof. Klaus Hesse