Is Emoji the New Language?
“Emojis are by no means taking away from our written language but rather accentuating it by providing a tone that words on their own often cannot. They are, in a sense, the most evolved form of punctuation we have at our disposal.”
― Emmy J. Favilla
The word “emoji” comes from the Japanese for “picture and character”. The idea for emojis came about in the late 90s when Japanese artist Shigetaka Kurita was working at the communications company NTT Docomo. The company was creating a new online platform, however, the platform only allowed for a limited number of characters.
To solve this issue, Kurita had the genius idea of using pictures to replace words meaning users could say more with fewer characters.
While emojis were first used on desktop PCs, they didn’t become as popular as we know them to be today until the mid-2000s when certain phone manufacturers started adding them onto their mobile devices.
From there, emojis, along with other shortened words like “omg”, “lol”, and “thnx”, became the new cool way to communicate with friends and family.
Starting with fewer than 200 emojis, we now have nearly 3000 to choose from on most smartphone and computer devices. With so many emojis to express how we’re feeling, some people have expressed concern that these symbols are killing off the beauty of written language. Is this true?
Are Emojis Killing Written Language?
The short answer to this concern is a resounding no. Even with nearly 3000 emojis to choose from, there are thousands of words, expressions, and verbiage that emojis could never replace.
Sure, it’s easy enough to reply to certain messages exclusively using emojis if what you want to say or how you want to react is more simple, but anything beyond simple and you’ll always need to write what you want to want to express.
For example, your partner sends you a message saying “I miss you, I can’t wait for dinner later, see you tonight”. You could reply to this message with a couple of emojis such as a heart, a hug, and a food symbol to quickly summarise what you want to say.
However, if you need to ask a question like “ What do you want to eat for dinner tonight?”, then you’re going to need to use real words and not rely on emojis to do all the talking.
Nonetheless, the argument could be made that while emojis aren’t killing off the written word, they are making people lazy.
Are Emojis Making People Lazy?
When autocorrect was introduced onto our mobile devices, people reported a sharp decline in their ability to spell. Unsurprisingly, most people unconsciously started to become reliant on their phone to do all the spelling, thus people stopped remembering how to spell words they were more unfamiliar with or used less frequently.
Then came along predictive text and suddenly we didn’t even need to know even half the word we were trying to use because our phones were able to know what we were going to say before we even got there.
Finally, the increased use of emojis came and it was the third nail in the coffin of spelling and grammar. These three aspects combined have most certainly caused the vast majority of people to become lazy when writing.
For words, we have autocorrect and predictive text, and for everything else there are emojis. These three combined are making people, both young and old, lazy in their writing and it is something that is forecast to be a problem in the future.
Are Emojis Acceptable in the Workplace?
It’s one thing to use emojis when writing to your friends and family but what about at work? Is it acceptable to use these symbols of expression when in a professional setting?
A recent survey conducted by management company Curiosity At Work showed a range of results in respect to what workers found acceptable and what they didn’t. It should come as no surprise that the younger workers were more in favor of emojis in the workplace as compared to older workers. The type of job that one had played a role in the results as well.
The full survey results can be found here, although some of the highlights are listed below to give you a brief overview.
Nearly half (46%) of young adults—18-29 years old—think emojis are work-appropriate while only 28% think they’re inappropriate to use. Not only do more young adults approve of their use, but many think they can be used to their benefit.
Professionals, 45 years and older, are more likely to say that its use at work is inappropriate—versus appropriate—by 14 percentage points.
A few older professionals wrote with particular conviction when discussing emojis’ place at work saying the following statements,
"Emojis are the height of unprofessionalism.”, "They do not present an image I would like to present."
Employees are more than four times as likely to disapprove—versus approve—of the use of emojis with a customer-prospect type of job (45% vs. 11%).
The Pros of Using Emojis
For all their faults, there are valid positive points when it comes to using emojis in everyday written language. The main pros us using these symbols include the following:
They enable users to message faster by eliminating unnecessary words
Younger people especially have reported that they feel emojis help them express their feelings better. It’s less awkward to use a symbol to show how you’re feeling as opposed to writing your feelings which many struggle with.
Emojis help reinforce the senders' thoughts, for example, adding a heart emoji to “I love you” can have a greater impact as the idea is reinforced
Emojis show a sign of friendliness if the correct ones are used. Therefore, they can be good icebreakers if writing to someone for the first time
In a professional setting, many younger people feel the use of emojis can help build relationships with coworkers
The Cons of Using Emojis
As with all things, when there are positives, there are usually negatives as well. Some of the cons of using emojis include the following:
The addition of emojis when we already had autocorrect and predictive text has led to mental laziness for many with spelling and grammar. More frequent use of emojis means people are forgetting how to spell uncommon or unfamiliar words
Different emojis have different meanings depending on the context and age of the sender/receiver. This can lead to miscommunication or confusing exchanges
People’s overuse of emojis can also confuse the receiver as they have to guess what the other person is trying to say
In a professional setting, many older people feel emojis are not professional and should not be used in a work environment
Do Different Demographics Change Emoji Meanings?
Believe it or not, yes. The type of emoji the sender chooses and the context in which they use it depends on their age. This isn’t just a younger person/older person kind of situation either. The meanings can change across all generations. Some of the emojis that experience this drastic change in meaning include:
The Skull Emoji
Gen Z uses the skull emoji to express that something is funny. They are effectively saying they’re dead from laughing. While every other generation just uses it as its original meaning.
The Smiley Face
It’s hard to imagine that a simple smiley face could mean anything other than the sender is smiling. However, again Gen Z uses this emoji as a passive-aggressive symbol. Whereas every other generation is just genuinely smiling.
The Thumbs Up Emoji
The thumbs-up emoji is rarely used by Gen Z, Millennials, or even Gen X. This is because this is seen as a rather dismissive response. Imagine if you spoke to someone in real life and their response to you was to put their thumb up. You could easily take this as a condescending and dismissive way to end the conversation.
Baby boomers, however, don’t see this in the same way which is why they’ll frequently use this emoji in response to a paragraph of text or special announcement from their kids.
Eggplant and Peach Emojis
Who knew that food emojis could be so taboo. Unfortunately, some innocent emojis have fallen victim to the emoji equivalent of slang. Namely the eggplant and peach symbols. While boomers see them as they are, anyone younger will know these two are exclusively used to indicate a far more suggestive and sexual tone.
The Crying Emoji
This is another emoji that has had its meaning changed by Gen Z, although it’s not uncommon for Millenials to use it with a different meaning either. This crying face emoji is rarely used to show the sender is crying.
Instead, it’s used to show the sender is overwhelmed, in a more humorous way, with something funny, cute, or unbelievable. Ask any Gen Z, and they’ll tell you the laughing crying face emoji is 100% uncool.
The Cowboy Emoji
Have a quick scroll through your phone and you’ll see a cute emoji face wearing a cowboy hat. But what does it mean?
Well, according to Gen Z, this is the perfect choice to send when you want to show that you’re pretending to be happy on the outside but are dying on the inside. Don’t worry, this one doesn’t make much sense to us either.
However, at least you now know what the sender is trying to tell you if you ever receive one.
Is Emoji the New Language?
Overall, it’s safe to say that using emojis is NOT the new language. Although each day more than 5 billion emojis are sent throughout the world, there simply aren’t enough available, nor do they convey enough meaning to ever become a standalone language.
Take another symbol-based language, for example, Egyptian hieroglyphics. Despite there being fewer hieroglyphic characters than emojis, the symbols were packed with nuances and meaning.
There are symbols for the alphabet, for words, for full sentences, even. You can have a real, meaningful conversation with hieroglyphs that is impossible to do with just emojis.
The more emojis you put in a row, the more indistinguishable your message becomes, the reader is forced to start guessing what you’re trying to say because a string of emojis does not form a sentence.
So, emojis can enhance conversations, they can enforce meaning, add a little fun, and make it easier for people to express their emotions. However, emoji is not the new language.
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