Emoji: the first truly global language, the fastest-growing new language – but are they dragging us back to the dark ages?
This is a combination of very recent newspaper headlines . The current interest has been sparked by research by TalkTalk Mobile with Bangor University which said that Emoji is being adopted at a faster rate than any other language and 8 in 10 Brits (80%) are now using them to communicate.
Despite this statistic, many adults hearing it will have thought: “Emoji? What are you talking about?”
Emoji are picture faces like the Smiley Face that millions of people around the world are using in messages and are embedded as a language choice in most mobile phones. There are now about 800 of them and they were created by Shigetake Kurita in Japan in the late 1990s. They are not the same as Emoticons such 🙂 viewed sideways which have been used as pictorial messages expressing happiness on typed messages since the 1980s.
The new research goes on to say that in the UK, a quarter of Brits (29%) are using emoji in at least half of all text, instant messaging and social media communications they send, with 62% claiming they are using the new language more than they were a year ago and 4 in 10 claiming to have sent messages made up ENTIRELY of emoji.
The finding that has and should concern educationalists, PR, advertising and marketing specialists seriously is that 72% of the younger generation (18-25) now find it easier to express their emotions with the pictorial symbols than words, with over half (51%) believing emoji have improved our ability to interact.
Jonathan Jones, writing in The Guardian last week asked ; ”Are they dragging us back to the dark ages?” comparing emoji with Hieroglyphics and other ancient pictorial languages before concluding: “Speak Emoji if you want. I’ll stick with the language of Shakespeare.”
The history of the growth of emojis over the last two years has been fascinating and not without controversy and sensation.
Among the headlines and news angles linked to emojis in the last few months have been “Marketers want to decode one of the social Web’s most cryptic languages – the introduction to an article in Ad Week when both Twitter and Instagram facilitated the use of emojis .
These Emoji make it easier for kids to talk about abuse – emoji – was the headline on Wired.com when a Swedish team developed special emojis for children to use in such circumstances.
Emoji to get some long-awaited diversity with new range of skin tones – was in The Guardian when Unicode introduced some adaptations to make Emojis look less Asian.
And finally, before this latest Bangor Talk Talk research, the Daily Mail online published a match.com survey saying “Single people who use emojis have more sex, finds study, and Emoji users are twice as likely to want marriage than people who have never used one.”
So is Jonathan Jones right to be concerned about where emojis are taking us?
An extract from an article in Business Insider adds to the issue. An 18 year old student says about communicating with her friends “We usually just talk using Emojis.” and admits she “only calls her parents on the phone and no one else, really”, explained that emojis sent alongside every text are the new normal. Katy Perry recently released a video for her hit song “Roar” which consists solely of the lyrics to the song as conveyed through emojis.
This may be one of many attempts by the marketing industry to latch on to a trend and relate to an audience – and most of these are rejected by the younger audience as exploitative.
But is Jonathan Jones right – is it a backward step for communication? Should we fear the spread of this trend? Will it develop like, say, Facebook?”
Well, even the original research study says that not everyone is as enthusiastic – 31% of over 40s admitted they avoiding using emoji in text, instant messaging and social media apps like Facebook.
And Professor Vyv Evans of Bangor University who was linked to the study tries to be reassuring when saying that “Even with the 800+ emojis available today, this falls well short of the vocabulary required to express the semantic range of a full-blown language,” and “Emojis on their own provide an impoverished message.”
So it is not the end of civilisation as we know it, and those who recall similar discussions about the trend towards text speak in day to day life will realise that this may well all settle down soon until the next language craze develops.
But it does remind us of one valuable old adage – that a picture is worth a 1000 words, especially to many of Generation Y and Z.