Emojis Will Get You Anywhere
Do you know your emoji linguistics?
My most frequently used emoji is the dancing girl in the red dress which I use as a response to, “What do you want to do tonight?” (dancing), “I really liked your piece” (thank you) and “how have you been?” (on top of the world!). I haven’t been using her long but I’ve already got into heated arguments defending her chosen style of dance. Everyone says she’s a salsa dancer but I know she’s kicking up her flamenco skirt. People communicate with emojis the world over, and yet their use is still largely person or culture dependent. Canadians love their poop emoji, Arabic speakers are partial to flowers and plants, and who among us is surprised heart emojis are employed four times more by the French than anyone else. Where did emojis come from? And how did they become a symbol we all recognise and use?
I’ve only been using emojis for the past year, but they’ve been around a lot longer than that. They were first developed by Shigetaka Kurita in the late 1990s when he was on the team preparing the release of NTT Docomo, the world’s first major mobile Internet system. Kurita modeled his first emojis (the word derives from the Japanese for ‘picture letter’) on weather forecasts’ use of symbols to convey information to audiences without language, and manga which often uses symbols to transmit concepts that couldn’t fit into the format of a comic, such as a light bulb denoting inspiration. It is quite amazing that we have reached a stage with pictorial communication where a single image, such as a set of nails being painted, can relay a complex emotion like “non-caring fabulousness,” “shutting down the haters” or, within my immediate circle, “it’s too late to reply to my sext now, but you would’ve thoroughly enjoyed my company”. Charming and unique cultural distinctions are preserved despite emojis’ universality, which is a concern whenever a language strides into imperialist dominance.