Are emoticons and emoji changing the way we communicate? ‘Emoji’ combines the Japanese words for picture (e) and character (moji), and is used to describe the icons used in tweets, texts, blogs and emails all over the world. Emojis have become such a big part of our every day messaging that they are emerging as a language of their own.

According to text-analytics firm Idibon, the total number of words in all text messages sent every three months exceeds the word count of all books ever published. Isn’t it easier and more efficient to reply with an emoji rather than typing a response? The message can be conveyed immediately, and as the old saying goes, an emoji paints a thousand words.

The use of emojis and emoticons to help clarify messages dates back to 1982 when Scott Fahlaman suggested putting a smiley “:-)” at the end of online messages to signify the tone. A recent study by Dr Owen Churches on emoticons showed that the human brain has learnt to recognise “:-)” because we have seen it so often. His research showed that we react to the ‘expressions’ of emojis in the same way as real faces.

Emojis have become so popular that in 2009, Kickstarter data engineer Fred Benenson retold the story of Moby Dick translating every line with emoji. The book is called Emoji Dick and sells online for $200. NBA player Mike Scott has tattooed his arm in emojis. Beyoncé released emoji-themed merchandise after a fan narrated her song “Drunk in Love” using emojis. Katy Perry also used emojis in a music video for her song “Roar”.

So it seems emojis are changing the way we communicate and could even be the first universal language. Earlier this summer, Unicode Consortium updated the Unicode standard by introducing more than 250 new emoji symbols. With this update and the launch of the first emoji-only social network ‘emojli’ (where there will be no words, just emoji), maybe those little icons can break language barriers across the online world.

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