Emojis have been around almost as long as the internet in various forms. They are a natural extension of the casual communication common over the internet. The problem with a textual rendering of this sort of chatter is that tone is difficult to convey. We can see this when we look at the problems a full stop can present; a text message that ends with a period can come across very differently than if it were absent. This lack of clarity is what Scott Fahlman, the source of the original colon + bracket combination, sought to address. By embellishing messages with these emotional indicators we can almost overcome the universal problems of tone.
The colon bracket face, :), is among the most used on the internet today taking up almost 40% of all emojis exchanged daily. This prevalence is no small feat either, 92% of internet users utilise these emojis in their conversations. There can be little doubt that they are an important part of online communication. What is even more interesting is the varying ways in which users put these hieroglyphs to work.
Tyler Schnoebelen is a researcher for a company that looks into linguistic data. He has picked up some interesting trends in the way people use emojis. One example is the skull emoji, which is frequently used in messages where the user refers to their phone. The skull is eleven times more likely to appear in a message like this. Tyler explained this data by noting that ‘when you don’t have access to your phone, or when nobody’s texting you, you’re socially dead’. What we can see is emojis not just being used to add emotional depth to text, but also to refer to ideas or concepts beyond the surface meaning of the message.
This trend has been helped by the addition of dedicated emoji keyboards to both major phone operating systems. The extensive range of emojis allows the development of their own linguistic qualities. Take for example a couple who over the course of their relationship have shared many moments over the internet. Certain emojis will for them have grown their own meaning, a representation of something tangible in their lives. This carte blanche pictorial language presents novel ways of communicating and adding to the textual message. Through the combination of different emojis even more ways of expression become clear, telling stories or even replacing words they can represent.
Translation agency Morningside Translation have stated that the emoji is a difficult beast altogether. Now part of pop-culture, appearing as cushions or on terrifying balaclavas, emojis aren’t going away. If they seem reductive and facile, perhaps it’s time to take on a more inventive approach and find ways to enrich their shortcomings. Online communication is a relatively new thing and the way we perceive it will change in time. Emojis can share emotions across linguistic barriers and between cultures. Some, such as the crying laughing face, may become controversial or be co-opted by political movements while others may be perceived to bring us together.