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Our world of words.

The emergence of the emoji

On the face of it, emojis are just small symbols, but 44’s Sarah Woods takes a look at what else they have to offer.

In our highly technical and interconnected world, you might expect the fastest growing language to be coding, or perhaps even Mandarin. But you’d be wrong. This impressive accolade goes to… the emoji.

Unsure of what I mean by emojis? Just imagine our old friend the emoticon : ) after appearing on Extreme Makoever. While emoticon originated from a merging of ’emotion’ and ‘icon’, emoji comes from the Japanese for picture ‘e’ and ‘moji’ meaning character. What we often used to refer to simply as ‘smileys’ has rapidly and extensively expanded. They now not only include all the facial expressions you could ever want (as well as ones you don’t), but you can choose from hundreds of options including, hearts, hamburgers and, who could forget, the ‘happy poo’.

The recent ‘Emoji IQ’ study, conducted by TalkTalk and Bangor University confirmed their popularity, stating that 80% of us Brits use emojis to communicate.

Professor Evans, who conducted the research, claims “emoji is the fastest growing form of language in history, based on its incredible adoption rate and speed of evolution.” And that’s a pretty impressive achievement for a small yellow face plus a few of its friends.

So, why use emojis?

The way we communicate is changing; it’s often fast-paced and short on space – making emojis perfect. Just ask Roger Federer who, not content with being Wimbledon royalty, has been making a play for Emoji Master by tweeting entire messages in emojis. A tweet from 4th July went as follows:


You can listen to him here explaining the meaning behind this emoji fest.

Emojis also have a clear advantage over other languages in that the symbols are universal, and that’s a powerful tool when it comes to communicating.  You don’t need to speak a certain language to understand a happy face or the meaning behind a heart.

Results from the Emoji IQ study show the ‘Smiley Face’ emoji is our favourite, with 62% of Brits identifying it as the character we use the most. A quick look at the rest of the top ten reveals we favour faces with the addition of the ‘heart’ and ‘thumbs up’. People may occasionally throw the odd spanner in the works, literally, but what it comes down to is people want to enhance what they’re writing by making it a bit more like talking.

And this is a big reason for why we use emojis. A major problem with text-based communication compared to face-to-face interaction is that it’s hard to pick up on people’s emotions – whether they’re making a joke, if they’re happy about something or even red-in-the-face furious. The nuances often found in verbal communication can be lost in the written form. And as basic as they may seem, emojis allow an author to communicate the way they might be feeling, albeit as a small yellow face.

What’s next for emojis?

Emojis are still generally reserved for more informal and friendly interactions. They haven’t quite cracked the academic or business worlds yet, but who knows what’s next for these small symbols…

Here are my three emoji predictions.

1. Industry-specific emoji

A quick glance in your emoji arsenal should be enough to show you that there are certain careers that lend themselves better to emoji use than others. Greengrocers, people who work with animals, people who work in transport and people who are considering a life of crime – all well-catered for. However, perhaps we’ll see a range of emoji specifically for sectors or even companies in future.

2. From the very small screen to the big screen

Okay, so this one’s not really a prediction, as Sony Picture Animations has already announced plans to make an emoji movie. With Sony’s latest animated offering,Pixels (featuring Pac Man – another yellow-faced favourite), the timing of the Emoji movie couldn’t be better. How long before the ‘smiley’ face make some serious forays into corporate videos too?

 3. An emoji me

With recent software updates making choosing skin colour an option as well as a range of apps available to make-your-own emojis, it’s highly likely that we’ll continue to see more diversity and ways to personalise your messages in the future.

Are emojis the future of communication?

Emoji use is already huge and shows no sign of stopping, but it’s not about to – or ever likely to – threaten the spoken or written word.

When it comes to communication, there really is no substitute for talking face-to-face. But when that’s not possible or practical, the emoji might just be the answer to the communicators’ prayers.


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