Emojis have become a millennial’s primitive use of language to express themselves in a digital world. Whether it may be on a huge social media platform such as Instagram and Facebook, or kept in small day-to-day conversation, emojis are now used on a global scale to communicate with others. According to Evans, ‘every day 41.5 billion texts are sent by one quarter of the world, using 6 million emoji.’ (Evans, 2017) They are known to be compacted to convey the present emotional state of an individual. With the first set of Emojis being introduced in the late 1990’s from a Japanese telecommunications worker named Shigetaka Kurita (Pardes, 2019) They are a visual aid for the receiver to gain an understanding of a person’s mood, thoughts and feelings. Relying on emojis to communicate can be argued to have a significant impact on the English Language and how it can be acquired.
In 2015, the Oxford Dictionary officially declared ‘The Word of the Year’ to be the ‘Face with Tears of Joy’ emoji. This is because they were convinced that this is the ‘word that best reflected the ethos, mood and preoccupations of 2015.’ By declaring an emoji to be a ‘word’, it raises controversial issues over whether a ‘pictograph’ can be considered part of the English Language and within the Oxford Dictionary.
The use of emoji has been criticised as being ‘among the most damaging aspects of communication technology’. According to Turner, although emojis convey messages, it also ‘breeds laziness’ to the younger generations who are trying to grasp the English Langauge. (Turner, 2018) This could suggest an informal use is associated with emoji to express language and cannot be taken seriously in a professional environment. Turner provides an example of this in terms of applying for a job, as it can be harmful to be ‘peppering an email with emoji’ and could hamper an individual’s image to be respected in a serious manner. (Turner, 2018) In turn, an informal association of the emoji can negate the appreciation for the contribution it has had on the development of communicative technology.
However, emoji is now becoming established as a language. Books such as ‘How to Speak Emoji’ by Fred Benenson (2015) which suggests that there is a guide in how to be introduced and learn the construction of using emoji by providing basic language tips, dictionary and a phrasebook. This is a guide to become familiar with the uses of emoji in the digital world and promoted the ideas of how it can be used, but overall encourages users to be as creative as they can be.
Emojis are used to support a written text message through providing a visual representation of an individual’s emotions. This helps in providing the tone or adds additional information to the message. It can be used to ensure the correct meaning of the message is sent to the receiver.
Emojis are now used to show a covert meaning towards someone. For example, statistics show that ‘only 7% of people use the peach emoji as a fruit’ and that the majority use it to identity a ‘butt’ or any other ‘non-fruit’ related uses. In this case, the peach emoji can be used literally or as a visual pun. This highlights the covert meaning that is socially accepted from the users that a peach can indicate more than one meaning. As emojis do not cover every aspect of life, it shows how emoji users utilise the limited set given to convey other familiar vocabularies. This changes the context of the emoji’s uses and suggests an adaptable way of using a specific set of emojis. According to Marcel Danesi, ‘a sign cannot be totally constrained to a denotative reference, since those who see it may add their own connotations to it.’ (2016, p.42) This shows that emojis are not limited to denotative meaning and are open to other interpretations depending on the context, function and purpose of the message. It is a way of ‘unconsciously guiding language development’ (Danesi, 2016, p.5) The user is in control of the meaning they choose to portray through the context of the conversation and what emoji they choose to support their messages. It can be argued that this creates ambiguity and can be ‘misleading’ (Danesi, 2016, p.40)
Emojis can be selected to tell a story. Critics can argue that the visual narration removes the ability to use any form of SPAG (spelling, punctuation and grammar) and eradicates the capability of children and teenagers in school to be able to use the English Language effectively and correctly. ‘Studies show that kids don’t acquire language just from media exposure- they need a person to interact with, at least to start.’ (McCulloch, 2019)
Gretchen McCulloch (2019) conducted his own survey to show the findings of children’s use of emoji for effective language learning and concluded that once children grew out of using emojis, they were able to use full English sentences. Vyvyan Evans argues that ‘these symbols enrich our ability to communicate and allow us to express our emotions and induce empathy—ultimately making us all better communicators.’ (Evans, 2017) This shows that using emoji to acquire language can improve expression and invoke emotions of children. It can improve learning for SEN children as emoji provide visual stimuli to SEN children and, contradicting Turner’s claim, aid their learning in education by relying on them to communicate. Cohn supports this by claiming that it provides a ‘visual language’ which ‘reflects the capacities for humans to express concepts through multiple modalities.’ (Cohn, 2013, p.2)
Overall, as a language, emoji has become defined as an individual form of communication in digital technology. The emojis are denotative but provide alternate interpretations depending on the individual’s creative use and are used to narrate a story. It has also become encouraged to be informed of how to ‘speak emoji.’ Although there are contradictory matters over the effectiveness of emoji as a language, it does not diminish the fact that emojis are fully embraced from the millennial generation and onwards; it will continue to be in use as a way to communicate. Emojis are used as an effective tool for communication that can benefit children in learning and education. Therefore, it can enhance the ability to acquire language through visual stimuli and present an expressive approach to learning language.
Benenson, F (2015) ‘How To Speak Emoji’ London: Ebury Press
Cohn, N (2013) ‘The Visual Language of Comics: Introduction to the Structure and Cognition of Sequential Images’ London: Bloomsbury
Danesi, M (2016) ‘The Semiotics of Emoji: The Rise of Visual Language in the Age of the Internet’ New York: Bloomsbury
Evans, V (2017) ‘The Emoji Code: The Linguistics Behind Smiley Faces and Scaredy Cats’ London: Picador
McCulloch, G (2019) ‘Children are Using Emoji for Digital-Age Language Learning’, WIRED, 1 January, Accessed 31 March 2019, Accessed from: <https://www.wired.com/story/children-emoji-language-learning/>
Oxford Dictionaries 2019, Oxford University Press, Accessed 31 March 2019 <https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/word-of-the-year/word-of-the-year-2015>
Pardes, A (2019) ‘The Wired Guide to Emoji’, WIRED, 2 January, Accessed 31 March 2019, Accessed from: <https://www.wired.com/story/guide-emoji/>
Turner, C (2018) ‘Emoji ‘Ruining people’s Grasp of English’ because Young Rely on them to communicate’, The Telegraph, 17 April, Accessed 31 March 2019, Accessed from: <https://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/2018/04/17/emojis-ruining-english-language-young-people-rely-communicate/>