A picture is worth a thousand words…but are emoji making us poor communicators?

It took centuries of development of phonetics, grammar and spelling for modern English to evolve as we know it today. However, the influence of the internet has created the world’s first truly universal form of communication: Emoji’s.

We open and close conversations with an emoji, you can ask a friend if they want to go out tonight with only two characters: 🍷? It’s easier to insert a thumbs-up than to type out an expression of agreement. So are we becoming more lazy?

Do emoji replace words and impoverish language?

George Orwell perpetuated in his novel “1984” a term that came to horrify the learned world, the Newspeak, which contracted the language and simplified it to use the least possible words to express an idea, and this could be reality today.

A bit of history

Emoji were created by Shigetaka Kurita in Japan in 1999 when he was working for a telecommunication firm and saw an opportunity to enhance written exchanges. meaning picture and moji meaning character, were much more simpler than what they are today. The western world tried to use emoji back in 2007 with the first Apple-phone release but you needed an app to access the emoji’s. It wasn’t until 2011 when every single cellphone brand would adopt emoji’s in the keyboards making it accessible for all users.

Today, The Unicode Consortium, a non-profit organisation created in 1991 to manage Unicode, has announced the new release of Emoji 11.0, which will be available for users by August-September of this year and will include for the first time designs with red-haired people and curly hair. In total, the Unicode 11.0 standard includes another 157 new emoji that will be incorporated into the general library of these designs, which totals 2,823 emoji.


A universal communication model.

A main strength about emoji use is that it creates a universal language. It doesn’t matter what part of the world you live, or what language you speak, there are certain emoji’s that can be collectively understood.

Information and emotion go hand in hand, when we talk face to face we give emotional colour to our conversation with gestures, looks and a certain tone of voice. From this it is not difficult to believe that emoji do not impoverish language, but instead they provide emotional information and enhance communication. David Astle, a crossword creator, columnist and self-confessed “word nerd” agrees, Emojis are a “very valuable addition and enricher of written text” says Astle in an interview with ABC News.

Vyvyan Evans, the author of “The Emoji Code: The Linguistics Behind Smiley Faces and Scaredy Cats”, agrees with Astle. “Some argue that Emoji is a step backwards to the dark ages of illiteracy, making us poorer communicators. But this view is nothing more than ill-informed and blinkered cultural elitism”

From his own research, Evans found that emoji’s are not a replacement of language but the opposite, a tool to express ourselves better and make digital communication easier. The text “Hey, so I just had a terrible accident” can really worry my mum. But if I text her “Hey so I just had a terrible accident 😂” she’ll know it’s nothing serious.

He believes that people who have the negative view on emoji misunderstands the nature of communications

“Emoji is not relevant for the long form of written communication, for literature, complex prose, and issues of literacy” he says, emojis are here to eliminate the area of misunderstandings and simply have a clearer chat with someone; they enrich our conversations and help us to come closer to people.