Do you know Emoji?

Emoji vs Emoticons

The word ‘emoji‘ dates back to the late 90s; it comes from Japanese and is formed by ‘e’ (picture) and ‘moji’ (letter, character). It indicates the images we use in electronic communication mainly in order to convey emotions. Emoji are often confused with emoticons.

Emoticons are “typographic displays of facial representation”. For example: ;-D The word ’emoticon’ is the shortening of ’emotion icon’ (read this article for the anecdote about the origin of this word in 1982).

Emoticons make use of basic text only, whereas emoji are actual pictures and must be supported by Unicode.

The fastest growing language

Emoji has been claimed to be the “fastest growing language in the UK” because of its adoption rate and the speed of its evolution. Professor Evans from Bangor University explains that: “As a visual language emoji has already far eclipsed hieroglyphics, its ancient Egyptian precursor which took centuries to develop.” In his research, he found out that the top 10 most used emoji symbols are:

IT_Do you know Emoji_intext

Are emoji a language?

The current online debate revolving around the use of emoji as a language displays a big ‘yes’ and ‘no’ divide. Before rushing into stating an opinion, let us take a step back and think about what is a language. You will find many definitions out there, but the core of them all is that language is a system of communication. Are emoji a system of communication?

Emoji and computer-mediated communication

Emoji are used in chatting and instant messaging to add the extra meaning that can’t be conveyed through words. Computer-mediated communication is giving rise to new linguistic phenomena. In this regard, we can say that both emoticons and emoji help us convey the pragmatic aspects of language in written interactions (for an explanation of pragmatics easily accessible to non linguists, this is my absolute favourite article).

So, are emoji a language?

I am not a big fan of yes/no answers. The fun part lies in analysing the issue. Here at, we have conducted an emoji interview with DW – Learn German and Easy Languages, the winners of Top Language Lovers 2015. You can have a look and see what you think: do the interviewees manage to convey their message?

I am looking forward to reading your comments about the relation between emoji and language!




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