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Emojis: the New Global Language

The All-Nite Images/Flickr

Emojis, special characters that originated in Japan, have boomed in popularity recently: could they succeed where Esperanto failed?

The emoji has conquered the world. Although the iPhone has supported a variant of SoftBank’s emoji set since the iOS 2.2 update, the trend did not catch on worldwide until 2011 when software industry body Unicode Consortium approved a set of internationally standardized emojis.

Social media gradually became littered with emojis as more and more users discovered how to access and use them.

Since then, apps started to zone in on the trend, promising users free new symbols, icons and style games, and an emoji version of Herman Melville’s classic Moby Dick, called Emoji Dick, was added to the Library of Congress collection. Then came the creation of the emoji-only messenger app, Emojli.

The Story Behind Emoji

Where did the first emoji come from? It all started with two companies battling it out with one another in the bid to sell pagers to the Japanese masses.

In 1995, Docomo lost a significant amount of business to rivals Tokyo Telemessage when the company decided to abandon the cutesy heart symbol character set on newer versions of its pager devices and replace them with icons with more professional aesthetics.

In an attempt to regain buyers’ interest, Docomo employee Shigetaka Kurita created the emoji.

The emoji was born in a time when Japanese internet users were having difficulty with new methods of communication due to the snappier, more casual nature of the email. Senders were used to writing long, verbose letters and struggled to successfully convey their feelings using newer media.


Niels Heidenreich/Flickr

Inspired by Japanese comics and the success of the heart design of older models of Docomo pagers, Kurita created the emoji, many of which used facial expressions to convey feelings when words just wouldn’t do.

No Words, Just Emoji

Emojli was released in the summer of 2014 and, as its product description succinctly puts, is the emoji-only social network where you will find “no words, no spam, just emoji.” Some might find a little strange the idea of a hugely popular social network that bans words.

Even the image-dependent social networking sites such as Pinterest and Instagram would struggle to be widely-used if they did not allow users to leave text captions and messages.

Yet it appears that as people adapted to the more casual, quick nature of the email, the text message and the tweet they have become eager to adopt a speedy, wordless method of communication.

In an interview with Forbes magazine, Emojli creators Matt Gray and Tom Scott listed the comedy social networking app Yo as one of the contributing factors that convinced the pair they should go ahead with creating Emojli, “It came out of two stories: comedy social network Yo, and the Unicode consortium’s new emojis.

The two of us had the idea at about the same time–we weren’t sold on it until we realized that usernames should be emoji too. At that point, we burst out laughing and realized we had to build it.”

Pros and Cons of Emoji

Of course, it might be a be better idea to express personal, complex thoughts using words rather than emoji. Whilst a picture can say a thousand words, that picture can also be interpreted a thousand ways.



The specificity of communication through words is what allows us to understand each other clearly. Also, a string of emoji is unlikely to make an adequate replacement for a verbose, poetic love letter.

On the other hand, it can be fast, fun and handy for getting over language barriers. Facial expressions and symbols such as hearts, smiley faces and a pair of lips can share the same meaning no matter what language a person might speak.

Rather than type out lengthy words or scowl at mistakes that can occur from using predictive text, selecting a series of pictures as a go-to method of communication tends to be a stress-free and quick affair. Needless to say, it can be something of a godsend for anyone who struggles to express themselves using words.

For the time being at least, using pictures instead of words to communicate can also feel like something of a novelty. Some of us have the joy of writing excessively as part of our jobs, many of us type away on social media networks constantly and a few of us frequently get the old pen and paper out to write letters.

It isn’t difficult to see why people find the emoji an enjoyable relief when they are likely to spend a significant amount of their day communicating with words.

If you’re interested in keeping the world of words alive, and would like to learn a new language instead of resorting to pictures, contact us to find out more about courses in your area and the languages we offer them in.