Emoji is the new universal online language. Emoji’s are replacing expressions of emotion, intent and feeling across the globe. People have no time, nor perhaps the vocabulary to express themselves with words, just as the recipient of those expressions not have the time to read and appreciate them. Manasa Visakai explores this phenomenon for World Emoji Day on July 17th…
In the exhausting and fast-paced lives, we lead today, there is never enough time to do everything we want to. Not even to articulate our emotions, ideas or concepts fully. Coming to the rescue are emojis. These pictorial icons have revolutionised the way in which we communicate digitally. This July 17 will mark the fifth annual celebration of pictographic icons with ‘World Emoji Day’.
The endearing emojis have increasingly come to replace not just verbal communication in our day-to-day lives but even the chore of finding the right word or expression. So wide is their popularity that even the elderly have come to embrace its usage. A throbbing red heart or a beaming face with smiling eyes does in a jiffy, what would otherwise have to be explained through lengthy typewritten statements. Says CA Ganeshan, 76, who retired as a factory employee in Bhadravati, “I love using the thumbs up and red heart emoji to encourage my granddaughter whenever she sends me her brilliant dance videos. This way, I connect with her deeper than sending her appreciation in my broken English. For me, emojis are a trend in this generation and I am happily a part of it.”
Birth and evolution
The first emoji was created in Japan in 1999 by Shigetaka Kurita while he was working as part of a team that was launching a mobile internet platform for NTT DoCoMo. One of the fond memories of any 90s kid would be a basic smiley emoticon, often considered the precursor to emojis, that has trickled its way into text messages. After the popularity of emoticons made up of punctuation marks, the internet world saw the introduction of pictorial emojis. Over the years, these evolved and made way for the creation of GIFs, a small animated or static image to convey situations and emotions.
According to one estimate, today there are more than 2,666 emojis to choose from, and these are exchanged more than a billion times every day across various social media platforms. The Unicode Consortium, the body which manages emojis, recently introduced gender and race-inclusive options such as varied skin tones and professions. The aim, experts believe, is to have little space for misinterpretation during conversations.
Emojis in corporatespeak
The use of emojis is not restricted to personal texts. Private firms looking to establish and maintain good working relationships among colleagues are also beginning to use emojis and emoticons in official correspondences. Says Manoj Krishnan, 51, who works at a leading retail firm, “The work culture has become amicable with the use of emojis. I remember in my 30s, I used emojis made of symbols but in the present, the variety and character in emojis have become massively impressive! The youth have a bigger role to play in introducing the emoji culture and interestingly, the elderly also entertain emojis equally.”
Nithya Mandyam, who works with an English daily in Bengaluru, described how these emojis have become a part of the conversation in her newsroom. “Recently when I was sick, I was too tired to type an entire sentence to my boss and instead just sent the emoji with a band-aid on its head and my boss laughed looking at it.” Such has been the craze for these pictographs that there are now emoji masks available for people to wear. From emoji-like cushions to t-shirts flaunting emojis, merchandise with emoji faces are flying off the shelves of gift stores and they are all the rage among youngsters. But do these ideograms and smileys progressively mask even momentary emotional experiences?
Akshay Prabhu, who runs the Chaaruvaaka Research Center for Amateur Dramatics, a centre that collaborates with amateur performers and helps them perform on a public stage, argues, “Emojis play an important role in the plasticity of emotions. An emoji is a means of escapism and someone using these emojis may seem like an extrovert over a text, but he may be just overly-emotional. It may be popular for its cuteness factor but, otherwise, an emoji just triggers an addiction and nothing beyond.”
The extent to which emojis are becoming a part of the online conversation is evident by findings of surveys in this regard. In 2015 itself, Instagram reported that about 40% of the text on the photo-sharing app contains emojis. The same year, a survey in the UK revealed that now a good 80% people use these cute little icons in their emails and other online texting. Over a period, emojis are getting closer to replacing text. Dr Vyv Evans, a linguistics professor at Bangor University in the United Kingdom, described the emoji as “the fastest growing form of language ever”. And some people have lapped up this language in unthinkable ways. A New York couple, for example, became (in)famous a couple of years ago for communicating with each other only via emoji for an entire month. Why... the famous novel Moby Dick has been given an entire emoji-only translation.
Annie Hannah Kuriakose, an assistant English professor at Mount Carmel College, Bengaluru, feels strongly about emojis having a negative influence on the language. “Emojis are colourful and appeal to everyone. Yes, they have evolved over the years but they haven’t benefited our conversation,” she says, explaining how they can be deceptive. For example, she doesn’t understand how sending a Laughing Out Loud emoji while maintaining a straight face amounts to honest communication.
(Manasa Visakai is a Bengaluru-based freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters.)
Countries and their favourite emoji
SwiftKey, which makes keyboards for smartphones, recently released a report on the global differences in emoji use, analysing more than one billion pieces of data sent by speakers of 16 languages in a four-month period. Americans use the princess twice as much as the English, Canadians lead the world in the use of the phallic eggplant emoji, Malaysians rule with the sleepy emoji and Arabic and Vietnamese speakers top the poll with bikinis.