Personally I’d like to see the Hearthlings stay silent- as in, no audio. At the very most I’d like it to be a low murmuring, maybe a little different per culture/race (I’d expect the Ascendancy and Rayya’s Children to at least each have their own accents, if not their own language, so the murmurs would have a different ‘flow’ to them) but nothing that’s going to be distracting. This is because there’s already so much going on that adding more noises would just start making the world audibly crowded. The murmuring could be neat with big settlements, where you can hear that it’s a living town with people moving about and interacting- but that may work out better as part of the background sound effects rather than a triggered interaction going off dozens of times at once.
So how about the speech bubbles themselves?
I’d like a mix. Because I’m difficult.
Emoticons are neat, and I’d like to see them incorporated for complex concepts or things that would otherwise be difficult to fit into a sentence with only a few words. The stone bunny sculptures, for instance, or a series of item icons that represent a cooking recipe. I’m hesitant about endorsing a “100% emoticons!” approach for the same reason as adding lots of map icons to the edges of the world- if having to make more art resources is an issue, it makes sense to try and avoid going art-heavy.
At the same time, I’d like to see bits of neutral text linked to a Hearthling’s job, and if they’re particularly unhappy, their principal complaint (though here again I’m thinking you could work in emoticons- a bed, different kinds of food, a gravestone), just to add a bit of flavor.
So some examples:
"Lift with the knees!"
“Everything in its place.”
"Measure twice, cut once."
"Knit one, perl two…"
“Maybe a nice sweater…”
"Hut, two, three, four…"
“Keep an eye out.”
"I should check the oven."
“A watched pot never boils.”