Have you ever wondered where emojis came from and how they conquered our text messages? Are we communicating better or drawing away from words? How do they affect our culture and the English language?

We all know that text messages are being used more than ever – it is almost essential to our lives. For a couple of years now, emojis have been decorating those text messages. It was so instant that we didn’t even question where they came from. So how about we take a brief look at the history of emojis?

Image Source: Webdesigner Depot.

Where emojis came from

The term “emoji” comes from two Japanese words: “e,” which means picture and “moji,” which means character. They were first created in 1999 by Shigetaka Kurita, a Japanese interface designer, and the reason behind the invention is very interesting. 

Traditionally, letters were important to Japanese people because, according to Kurita, they were “long-winded, full of honorifics, and emotional messages of goodwill.” This aspect vanished from their lives when the text message was introduced and resulted in insincerity and miscommunication.

Kurita wanted to solve this problem and came up with emojis. These allowed people to communicate emotions easily and accurately, and solve misunderstandings. 

Everything was shown by text,” Kurita said just after his invention. “Even the weather forecast was displayed as ‘fine.’ When I saw it, I found it difficult to understand. Japanese TV weather forecasts have always included pictures or symbols to describe the weather—for example, a picture of the sun meant ‘sunny.’ I’d rather see a picture of the sun, instead of a text saying ‘fine.'” Thus, the emoji was born.

If you want to learn more about how emojis spread so quickly, you can take a look at this article.

First Emojis designed by Shigetaka Kurita. Image source: wired.com.

The development of emojis

There have been major developments of the emojis since they were created, and they continue to evolve. According to emojipedia.org, now there are 2,823 different emojis in the Unicode Standard as of June 2018.

This is a short timeline of emojis:

Source: wired.com.
Image Source: Emojipedia.com.

Emojis’ effects on culture

As emojis are becoming more and more universal and start to interact with our culture, they might lead to some cultural misunderstandings. 

For example, according to daytranslations.com, we should not use ? when we are talking to Chinese people living in Mainland China, because they interpret it as breaking off a relationship. Also, in Uruguay, Cuba, Colombia, Brazil, Argentina, Greece, Portugal, Spain and Italy for example, the horn emoji is a lucky sign and it is used to avoid the evil eye and bad luck. But it also has a second meaning, and when the horn emoji is directed at a particular person in these countries, it means that the person’s partner had cheated in their relationship.

Although most of the time people understand the same message from the emojis, we must always be careful when we use them because of differences in culture.

Image Source: emojiworks.com.

Emojis’ effects on the English language

There are different perspectives on whether emojis are good for the English language or not. Some experts argue that emojis are making us poorer communicators. They say we are depending too much on symbols instead of precise language, and that they are making us lazy.

For example, Chris McGovern, a former government adviser and chairman of the Campaign for Real Education says, “Emojis convey a message, but this breeds laziness. If people think ‘all I need to do is send a picture,’ this dilutes language and expression.”

On the other hand, some experts argue that emojis actually help us to communicate emotions easier and more efficiently, just like what they were intended to do.

Vyvyan Evans is an expert on language and digital communication, who has published 14 books about language, meaning, and mind.

In an article in the New York Post, Evans explains, “Emojis’ relevance lies in the abbreviated digital messages of daily life — social-media quips, texted jokes or flirting, chat messages for expressing sympathy or frustration. To assert that emojis will make us poorer communicators is like saying facial expressions make your emotions harder to read. The idea is nonsensical.”

He also adds, “Emojis don’t replace language; they provide the nonverbal cues, fit-for-purpose in our digital textspeak, that helps us nuance and complement what we mean by our words.”

Another argument surrounds the question, will emojis become a language themselves? In a BBC article, linguist Neil Cohn argues that emojis cannot become a language because they lack grammar. Therefore, they can convey meaning but because they do not have complex rules, they don’t have the potential to become a language. For now, we’ll see where the future will take them… 

Tell us: What do you think the future of emojis looks like? Do you use Emojis often? How do you think they affect the English language? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!