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Are emojis becoming the world's first truly universal language?


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We know the internet has made the world a smaller place, but some say it has resulted in the development of a new universal language – emojis.

Billions of emojis are now sent every day, and they are difficult to avoid. They add colour and life to a WhatsApp message, becoming a virtual sign language amongst the younger crowd. The intended meaning of a smiley face can be understood by almost anyone and they can even get you arrested. But can we call emoji a universal language?

English is commonly referred to as the world’s universal language, so a comparison is inevitable. Let’s look at the reach of the English language compared to emoji. There are approximately one billion speakers of the English language worldwide. It’s the official language of more than 100 countries from Liberia to New Zealand, dwarfing any other language. Clearly, the English language is difficult to beat - so how does the Emoji match up?

Let’s look at emojis. In 2010 emojis were officially added into Unicode – an international encoding standard which is used for different languages and scripts. The single two most popular smartphone operating systems - iOS and Android - have since incorporated emoji into their native keyboards. It is estimated that there are two billion smartphone users worldwide and with an estimated 41.5 billion text messages sent globally, using around six billion emojis, it is fair to say that the emoji even beats the English language. To have a little glimpse at the use of emojis visit– showing the real time emoji uses on Twitter.

Looking at Snapchat, the popular image messaging and multimedia app with 160 million active users, we can see how emojis have been used as more than just an addition to text. Every Snapchat user has a ‘Trophy Cabinet’ to store achievements received from using the app. How are these achievements displayed? Snapchat Emoji Meanings explain - each individual trophy is represented by a different unique emoji with its own meaning.

Despite the staggering use and rise of emojis there are some weaknesses when considering it a universal language. The same emoji can sometimes have different meanings to two people depending on their culture and each individual may interpret a string of emojis in different ways. Emojis have become an excellent communication tool, but whether it can be seen as its own language or even a universal language is still debatable. We have seen a great increase in the use of emojis in the past few years, and it will be interesting to see where it goes from here.

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