FRANCISCO ó When the Oxford English Dictionary
declared an emoji its 2015 word of the year, it was a
bit of a head-scratcher.
emoji it singled out ó an image of a laughing yellow
face crying tears of joy ó did not fit most peopleís
definition of a word. To some, it was even less of a
word than shortlisted nominee "lumbersexual"
(a young urban man who cultivates an appearance and
style of dress suggestive of a rugged outdoor
for linguists around the world, the announcement wasnít
about whether the Oxford English Dictionary had lost it.
(It hadnít ó most linguists agree a word is a
discrete unit that is meaningful; emoji fit that
definition.) Rather, it was a recognition of the
enormous effect yellow smiley faces and other colorful
emojis representing food, animals and hand gestures have
had on the way people talk online.
believe them? A 2015 study by Bangor University
linguistics professor Vyv Evans found that 80 percent of
smartphone users in Britain use emojis. When the
research focused on people under 25, almost 100 percent
of smartphone users text with emojis. According to a
SwiftKey report, 74 percent of Americans use emojis
from widespread adoption of the icons, which began after
Apple made emojis available on its iOS mobile operating
system in 2011, with Android following in 2013, emojis
have been one of the biggest communication breakthroughs
since people took to the Internet.
at it this way, Evans said: There are estimates that as
much as 70 percent of the meaning we derive from a
face-to-face encounter with someone comes from
non-verbal cues: facial expressions, intonation, body
language, pitch. Which means words account for only
around 30 percent of what we say.
an example, he noted the huge difference in meaning
between saying "I love you" as a statement
with a falling intonation as opposed to "I love
this online, where emails, text messages and instant
messages mostly allow us to communicate with words, and
you can see how messages can lose their meaning or be
misinterpreted. Evans even has a term for it: the Angry
recognize it instantly," he said. "You get an
email from someone who you know to be calm and sane, and
they come across as a completely angry jerk. When you
press the send button on a message, the instant it is
sent, you lose control over how itís
December report from Bloomberg found that 8 trillion
text messages are sent each year. Thatís a lot of
opportunities for a message to be misinterpreted.
originated in Japan in the late 1990s, when wireless
carriers created sets of digital stickers people could
use in text messages.
people had long used emoticons ó visual expressions
strung together using symbols such as parentheses,
dashes and colons, like :) to denote a smiley face.
Where text took the empathy out of messages, emojis and
emoticons put it back in.
emojis quickly surpassed emoticon use for two key
reasons: Thereís a lot more that people can
communicate with emojis. ("I can make an emoji thatís
a whale or a penguin," said Internet language
expert Gretchen McCulloch. "I donít even know how
I would do that with emoticons.")
once emojis were incorporated into Unicode ó an
international system that standardizes characters across
different operating systems so when you type
":-)" into your iPhone or Android phone, the
symbols automatically turn into a yellow smiley face ó
they became accessible and easy to use.
to that the belief that "humans as a collective
species are programmed to use visual communication"
(thatís from linguist Neil Cohn, whose own research
focuses on how people have a biological inclination to
draw things), and emojis became a no-brainer for digital
experts note that the real innovation behind emojis lies
in their ability to help people online say what they
mean, so when they write "What the heck?" they
can signify with an accompanying laughing emoji or an
angry-faced emoji whether their statement is an
expression of amusement or outrage.
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try as people might, emojis arenít here to replace
language. Many streams of emojis easily can get lost in
instance, a group of 800 people pooled their efforts to
translate Herman Melvilleís "Moby Dick" into
emojis. The translated epic is titled "Emoji
Dick." Its famous opening line, "Call me
Ishmael," is communicated through five emojis: a
telephone, a manís head, a sailboat, a whale and a
hand gesturing "OK!"
might make sense, but only if you know what youíre
looking for, McCulloch said.
example, Dominoís Pizza tweeted a pizza emoji, then
some space, then a person emoji, a cloud emoji and a
burger emoji," she said. "And somebody
retweeted that with the caption: ĎI fart burgers as I
run to my one true love, pizza.í Clearly thatís not
what Dominoís meant by it, but that is what it could
that are quickly adopted have a tendency to quickly go
away. But the way emojis fit so seamlessly into the way
we communicate and their ongoing ubiquity gives
linguists the belief that they arenít going anywhere
any time soon.
Unicode Consortium, which is made up of the major
software developing stakeholders such as Apple, Facebook,
Google and IBM, continues to process applications for
new emojis. Anyone can submit a request for free by
heading to the Unicode website and writing a detailed
proposal for the emoji. The process in which the Unicode
technical committee decides if an emoji will see the
light of day can take up to two years. The consortium
receives around 100 proposals a year, and approval rates
vary year to year.
are currently 74 new emojis shortlisted for 2016,
including a dancing man, a croissant and pancakes.
can also create his or her own sticker sets and upload
them to the Google Play or iTunes App Store, bypassing
the Unicode process, as the Finnish government did when
it launched 30 Finland-themed stickers that could be
downloaded and used in text conversations.
of them is a heavy-metal headbanger. Another is a naked
man and woman in a sauna. But these stickers are
different than emojis. Stickers have to be downloaded,
and when people send them, they are sending an image.
Emojis are made up of Unicode characters, and are
standardized across operating systems.
communication is here to stay," Evans said.
"Weíre all virtually connected, and weíre in
the midst of a digital revolution. For it to be as
successful as spoken language, it needs this kind of
system to complement and support the messages coming
system might grow to include an emoji for every facial
expression, gesture, food or flag. Or, as Cohn, the
linguist, hopes, as the system matures, people will want
fewer, but more useful emojis.
isnít there an emoji of someone with a face that has
rolling eyes?" he said. "That would be really