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Emoji – a 5000 year old trend?

It was a little over 4690 years ago when the first known proto-hieroglyphic script was written down in the tomb of Seth-Peribsen, an early Egyptian pharaoh who ruled during the Second Dynasty of Egypt. These early Egyptian hieroglyphs represent the earliest known consonant-based logographies discovered, and gave us insights into early yet sophisticated language systems. Since then written languages have had thousands of years to develop and grow into the huge and diverse wealth of systems we use on a daily basis across the globe.

But are hieroglyphics making a comeback? We think they might be.

Say 👋 to the emoji 😊

Popularised in the late 1990’s by Japenese phone users, the usage of emoji has skyrocketed in recent years, partly due to almost any phone and computer model becoming equipped to both send and receive them, and partly due to them receiving Unicode standardisation across all mobile platforms. Currently at 2823 emojis in use and with more being added in every update (157 in the last Unicode iteration alone), emoji is becoming a defining way in how we communicate and speak to one another digitally.

But it’s just a smiley face?

It’s arguably true that the first instances of emoji were used to display certain human emotions. Emoji is predated by the emoticon (a portmanteau of emotional icon), where text based characters are used to form a pictographic element. The majority of emoticons represented different formations of a human face to display emotions such as happiness, anger and disgust. Since the majority shift to pictographic emoji usage, the limits have become seemingly endless. Any weather type, food, insect, star-sign or flag you can imagine is available at the touch of a button.

It’s important to remember that pictographic references have long been in regular use. Think of the sign of a person running out of a door indicating ‘fire escape’, or the three arrows in a triangle formation which is universally recognised as ‘recyclable’. Images create a fast and easy way for us to understand quick and simple messages without being confronted by walls of text; they are also universally recognisable and transcend language barriers. Even the famous yellow ‘TAXI’ symbol typically seen in New York has become symbolic in nature and doesn’t require the ability to read the Latin alphabet to understand (making it a symbol of sorts).

However, despite our long standing usage of pictographic forms of communication, the rise of the emoji represents the first time that humans have had access to a rich database of these symbols at their fingertips, to send at their own leisure in whatever context they choose. The results have been interesting.

Emoji’s, those fabulous little things!

Certain emoji have latched onto commonly referenced similes in certain countries. For example, the pig emoji is used in the UK to describe someone who has eaten too much, linking with the commonly used phrase ‘eat like a pig’. Other emoji on the other hand, have developed new meanings entirely separate of what they pictographically represent. For example, the Nail Paint emoji (💅) can symbolise a certain degree of nonchalant fabulousness and the Flexing Bicep (💪) has become a symbol of internal strength and achievement. The hand waving emoji (🙋) represents enthusiasm to join in with a project, and the Moon Face is often used when somebody has shared, or is reluctant to share a secret due to the slightly suspicious face.

The speed of the millennium

Some argue that the modern-day 21st century way of communicating has increased in speed, and it is hard to see how these people are wrong. In a world where news is delivered faster and in shorter bulletins, where global markets are expanding and where communication barriers between countries are disintegrating between our very eyes, the languages of the future need to adapt and new forms of language were needed to keep up with the accelerated demand.

Emoji has clearly had a huge effect upon our society, so much so that, as the most commonly used of all Emoji, the Face With Tears of Joy emoji (😂) was named by Oxford Dictionary as its Word of the Year. With the rapid and unregulated advancement of emoji as a new form of communication, nobody can quite predict how it will develop.

Will we eventually cast aside the text based language systems we have used in the west for thousands of years and revert back to the old pictographic systems used by the Egyptians? Probably not. Will Emoji establish itself as a fully-fledged language? Who knows. But, if we see it going that way, you can bet that Lingua-World will be the leading the way in the provision of Emoji Translation services.

Watch this space!

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