Emoji’s – Trend, Slang, or Will it Replace the Written Word?

Although emoji’s have been in use since late 1990s, there has been a significant boost in popularity within recent years. Emoji’s are now a commonly used way of communicating moods and thoughts. So what are emoji’s? According to Wikipedia, “Emoji (Japanese: 絵文字(えもじ)?, Japanese pronunciation: [emodʑi]; English: /ɪˈmoʊ.dʒi/, plural emoji or emojis[4]) are ideograms and smileys used in electronic messages and Web pages. An emoticon (ee-MOHT-i-kon), (/ᵻˈmoʊtᵻkɒn/, or /iˈmoʊtᵻkɒn/) is a pictorial representation of a facial expression using punctuation marks, numbers and letters, usually written to express a person’s feelings or mood.(www.wikipedia.com).

As technology advances, traditional avenues for connecting with others around us have become expensive and time consuming. If we look at the past it is easy to see a vivid connection from the past to our present. For instance, once upon time personal visits was a standard way of visiting friends or relatives. However, for many letters became a practical  tool for interaction without physically having to make the trip. From there letters took the back seat to phone calls, phone calls are becoming outdated (unless on a mobile phone) as emails are efficient, emails maybe less savvy than text messages, and text messages are quick and simple, but Emoji texts has become the rising trend. As you can see, technology in the 20th century has been a continuous evolution of innovation and radical transformation . From the Morse code to the mobile phone, technology has provided us with amazing options with various forms of communication.  However, it has also given us options to become physically disconnected from one another .

The 2015 Oxford Dictionaries “Word of the Year” was the tears of joy emoji. The use of emoji’s has become a popular form of communication whether it is personal or professional. 

For the first time in history the Oxford dictionaries official word of the year was a pictogram. “Casper Grathwohl, President of Oxford Dictionaries, says: “You can see how traditional alphabet scripts have been struggling to meet the rapid-fire, visually focused demands of 21st Century communication.  It’s not surprising that a pictographic script like emoji has stepped in to fill those gaps—it’s flexible, immediate, and infuses tone beautifully. As a result emoji are becoming an increasingly rich form of communication, one that transcends linguistic borders.”

So is this a subtle que that the written word is dying?      According to Professor Stephens, “Of course, the written word is not going away. Thompson notes that “text is our most powerful go-to communication tool. But if we define digital literacy as the ability of people to find, use, and create information, we certainly can’t limit those creations and exchanges to text.” (Stephens, 2016).  Furthermore, “An emoji even under the most generous definition of a word doesn’t fit,” said Ben Zimmer, a linguist who specializes in slang and etymology, and chair of the American Dialect Society’s New Words Committee.  When words of the Year are chosen, he said, it’s with a “very loose understanding” of the definition.” (Raymond, 2015).

But even if Apple created 10,000 new icons, emoji still wouldn’t classify as a language. In order to do so, it would have to develop what linguistics scholars call a generative grammar: a set of  rules that determine meaning, and govern right and wrong ways of ordering words. Whether a  language is orthographic (English), pictorial (Japanese) or sign (British Sign Language), it will  follow a particular and precise grammar. When people tweet or text an emoji sequence, the order of the icons does not produce or disrupt meaning in the same way. (Rosefield, 2014).

Although emoji’s are popular and trendy, they are not universal.  “Nobody is going to learn emoji as their first language. So even though emoji can answer questions, modify sentences, and give punch lines, they are closer to slang than anything else.o even though emoji can answer questions, modify sentences, convey feelings and thoughts, moods, and give punch lines, they are closer to slang than anything else”. (Stockton, 2015).

Finally, if you are a fan of Herman Melville, the Library of Congress inducted its first emoji novel, “ Emoji Dick, written by Fred Benenson.” (Time, 2013).


Are Emoji’s Words? Science and Language Experts Explain. Retrieved from: https://thinkprogress.org/are-emojis-words-science-and-language-experts-explain-2d0ab3cda108

Could Emoji Ever be a Language? (Rosefield, 2014). Retrieved from: https://motherboard.vice.com/en_us/article/could-emoji-ever-be-a-language

Emoji. Wikipedia https://en.m.wikipedia.org

Library Emoji (Stephens, 2016) Retrieved from:


Oxford Dictionaries. Retrieved from: http://blog.oxforddictionaries.com/press-releases/announcing-the-oxford-dictionaries-word-of-the-year-2015/

Time Magazine (2013). Retrieved from:  http://newsfeed.time.com/2013/02/20/emoji-translation-of-moby-dick-accepted-into-library-of-congress/Time

One Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Cristi Burroughs
    Apr 21, 2017 @ 01:49:00

    Hi Linda~
    Thanks so much for your post! I loved your in-depth look at the emoji pictorial writing system. So interesting! I also had come across some interesting websites that ask if emoji’s are modern day hieroglyphs, and whether it can be classified as a universal language? Interesting!

    On http://www.thisanthrolife.com/emojis/ it’s discussed how Linguists John DeFrancis and J. Marshall Unger have argued that a language system does in fact need pictograms and ideograms in their symbolic arsenal in order to be considered a complete language. They state that pictographic symbols such as $, @, #, ! and & all help to form an extended alphabet that has become a necessary component of the written language. Thus, perhaps the emoji may someday be viewed as an added extension to our own pictorial toolkit. Wow!

    Thanks so much for your post!


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