Is There An Upside to Emoji Madness?

The concept behind emoji is rather simple, isn’t it? You use a tiny icon or image to express something you don’t want to bother writing down with words. Perhaps this explains somewhat why emojis are popular enough that Oxford Dictionaries chose one as their 2015 Word of the Year. After all, these days you can’t really survive without an emoji, not if you’re keeping up with the trends, that is. Some experts have expressed concern about the power emojis have over our day-to-day communications. Some believe that this could signal the death of the written word and that language as we know it will start to disintegrate. Whether we like it or not though, emojis are definitely here to stay. So is there an upside to this emoji madness?

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Image via PhotoPin

A little history…

Emojis have been featured so prominently in recent years that you may not remember the good ol’ days when we were forced to make smiley faces using things like ellipses, colons, and parentheses. Even if you do, those methods probably seem so archaic today, what with the many cool, quirky options you can find on the average smartphone. Indeed, the transition from those old methods to our new emoji-dominated world has been relatively seamless.  And it all started in a culture where using pictures was considered a more efficient means of self-expression: Japan. Shigetaka Kurita came up with the first prototypes for emoji when he realized that communicating with words (or in Japan’s case, Kana) wasn’t enough. And so, on an island in the Pacific, emojis were first born.

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Image via PhotoPin

A little emotion…

You may be wondering why emoji, out of all the Japanese trends, is one that has become so globally used since it first reared its tiny head back in the late 90s. Well, its popularity points back to one of the pros of using emojis over words:  that human emotions are one of the few things which can transcend language barriers, oceans, and borders. As human beings, no matter where we’re from, we all feel  emotions like love, hate, disgust, and so forth. And we all recognize universal symbols for these emotions such as hearts, frowny faces, and so on. Replacing words with emoji allows us to communicate on a wider scale without worrying that what we’re saying is getting misinterpreted or lost in translation.

A little diversity…

When the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter gained the title of Word of the Year in 2014, issues of race and discrimination were brought to the forefront of the American mindset. This single phrase marked a change in how we use social media to get messages out about the movements and topics we care about. In response to this, more diverse icons were added to the emoji dictionary late last year in an effort to foster a social culture of acceptance and multiplicity. While before you were hard pressed to find certain emoji in colors other than white, today you can choose from brown, black, yellow, and other shades to suit your own personal form of self-expression. Furthermore, couple emoji are no longer limited to male-female, but now include male-male pairings, female-female, and so on. This brilliant move allows previously ignored minorities to take their rightful place in the human narrative.

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Image via YouTube

Emoji are a global trend which aren’t going away anytime soon. And they shouldn’t. This social media phenomenon allows us to express universal emotions and to understand and accept one another in never-before-seen ways. Even so, linguists point to emoji not as a language, but as a form of slang, which means that the languages we speak, read, and write aren’t necessarily going to be replaced by little icons. Now, more than ever, learning to communicate with people from different cultures face-to-face is just as important as being able to use emoji to communicate online. Be sure to do your part as a global citizen and sign up to learn a new language! Want to brush up on your old language skills? Take a free online placement test to help you do just that. Then take on the world with your mad emoji skills and your amazing language abilities!