Are Emojis Creating a New or Old Visual Language for New Generations? A Socio-semiotic Study

Hamza Alshenqeeti


The increasing use of emojis, digital images that can represent a word or feeling in a text or email, and the fact that they can be strung together to create a sentence with real and full meaning raises the question of whether they are creating a new language amongst technologically savvy youth, or devaluing existing language.  There is however a further depth to emoji usage as language, suggesting that they are in fact returning language to an earlier stage of human communication. Parallels between emojis and hieroglyphs and cuneiform can be seen which indicates the universality of visual communication forms, rather than written alphabetised language.  There are also indications that emojis may be cultural or gender-specific with indications that women use more emojis than men to express their feelings and that age is less of an indicator of usage than technological awareness and capability.  It appears that emojis are filling the need for adding non-verbal cues in in digital communication about the intent and emotion behind a message.  Examinations of the way that emojis have developed and evolved and their current and forecast usage leads to the conclusion that they are not a “new” language developed by the technological adept younger generations, but instead are an evolution of older visual language systems that make use of digital technology to create greater layers and nuance in asynchronous communications.  Furthermore, emojis are devices for demonstrating tone, intent and feelings that would normally be conveyed by non-verbal cues in personal communications but which cannot be achieved in digital messages.  It is also evident from prior works and analyses of usage that there are universal meanings to Emojis.  This suggests that as a language form, emojis may be able to contribute to increased cross-cultural communication clarity.  Further research is however recognised as being necessary to fully understand the role that emojis can play as a visual language for all generations, not just those termed millennials or technologically savvy youths.
Emojis, socio-semiotic analysis, new language, old language, pictograms

Full Text:



AbuJaber, H., Yagi, S.M. and Al-Ghalith, A., 2012. Spelling issues in EFL graffiti: Analysis and implications. European Scientific Journal, 8(21): 56-75.

Adler, R.B., Rodman, G.R. and Cropley, C., (1991). Understanding human communication. Fort Worth: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston.

Alldred, C., (2014), 21 Emoji Combinations To Use When Words Just Won’t Cut it, [Online], available from, [accessed 04.10.2016].

Azuma, J., 2012. Graphic Emoticons as a Future Universal Symbolic Language. Approaches to Translation Studies, 36: 61-84.

Azuma, J, and Maurer. H., (2007) “From Emotions to Universal Symbolic Signs: Can Written Language Survive in Cyberspace?” Institute of Information Processing and Computer-Supported New Media. Part of the Faculty of Science, Graz University of Technology.

Azuma, J. & Ebner, M. (2008) A Stylistic Analysis of Graphic Emoticons: Can they be Candidates for a Universal Visual Language of the Future?. In J. Luca & E. Weippl (Eds.), Proceedings of EdMedia: World Conference on Educational Media and Technology 972-979.

Baddeley, S., and Voeste, A., (2012), Orthographies in Early Modern Europe: A Comparative View, Amsterdam: Walter de Gruyter, 175: 1-14.

Brisson, C.M., 2015. Hieroglyphs at Our Fingertips. [Online], available from, [accessed 05.10.2016].

Coulmas, F., (2003). Writing systems. An introduction to their linguistic analysis, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Crystal, D., (2001). Language and the Internet, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

Crystal, D., (2008). Txting:The GR8 Db8, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Danesi, M., (2016). The Semiotics of Emoji, London: Bloomsbury Publishing

Dresner, E. & Herring, S. C. (2010). Functions of the nonverbal CMC: Emoticons and illocutionary force. Communication Theory, 20, 249-268.

Dresner, E. and Herring, S.C., (2014). Emoticons and illocutionary force. InPerspectives on Theory of Controversies and the Ethics of Communication(pp. 81-90). Amsterdam: Springer Netherlands.

Fullwood, C., Quinn, S., Chen-Wilson, J., Chadwick, D. and Reynolds, K., (2015). Put on a smiley face: Textspeak and personality perceptions. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 18(3): 147-151.

Gamble, T.K., and Gamble, M., (2016), Non-Verbal Messages Tell More: A Practical Guide to Non-Verbal Communication, London: Routledge.

Goldfield, H. (2012). “I Heart Emoji.” [Online],available from, [accessed 04.10.2016].

Gülşen, T.T., (2016). You Tell Me in Emojis. In Ogata, T., Akimoto, T., (eds.). Computational and Cognitive Approaches to Narratology, New York: IGI Global, pp.356-378.

Hern, J., (2014), The Rise and Rise of Emoji Social Networks, [Online], available from, [accessed 09.10.2016].

Jespersen, O., (2013). Language: its nature and development. Oxon: Routledge.

Jones, J., (2015). Emoji Is Dragging Us Back to the Dark Ages – and All We Can Do Is Smile [Online], available from, [accessed 04.10.2016]

Kavanagh, B., (2016). Emoticons as a medium for channeling politeness within American and Japanese online blogging communities. Language & Communication, 48: 53-65.

Kern, R., (2015). Language, Literacy and Technology, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Krohn, F.B., (2004). A generational approach to using emoticons as nonverbal communication. Journal of technical writing and communication, 34(4), pp.321-328.

Lee, J.S., (2016). Emoticons. In Ethical Ripples of Creativity and Innovation. Basinstoke: Palgrave Macmillan UK, pp. 207-213.

Lester, P.M., (2013). Visual communication: Images with messages. Ohio: Cengage Learning.

Liu B. (2012). Sentiment Analysis and Opinion Mining. Synthesis Lectures on Human Language Technologies, 5(1):1–167.

Liu B. (2015). Sentiment Analysis: Mining Opinions, Sentiments, and Emotions. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Lu, X., Ai, W., Liu, X., Li, Q., Wang, N., Huang, G. and Mei, Q., (2016), Learning from the ubiquitous language: an empirical analysis of emoji usage of smartphone users. In Proceedings of the 2016 ACM International Joint Conference on Pervasive and Ubiquitous Computing (pp. 770-780).

Lucas, G., (2016), The Story of Emoji, London: Prestel Publishing

Marcus, A., (2003). Icons, symbols, and signs: Visible languages to facilitate communication, Interactions, 10(3): 37-43.

McGrath, C., (2006). The Pleasures of the Text. New York Times Magazine, pp.15-19.

McIntyre, E.S., (2016). From Cave Paintings To Shakespeare And Back Again: What Are Emoji And Should I Be Afraid? (Doctoral dissertation).[Online], available from, [accessed 09.10.2016].

Mesquita, B., Frijda, N.H. and Scherer, K.R., (1997). Culture and emotion. Handbook of Cross-cultural Psychology, 2: 255-297.

Moschini, I., (2016). The" Face with Tears of Joy" Emoji. A Socio-Semiotic and Multimodal Insight into a Japan-America Mash-Up. HERMES-Journal of Language and Communication in Business, (55), pp.11-25.

Nishimura, Y., (2015). A sociolinguistic analysis of emoticon usage in Japanese blogs: Variation by age, gender, and topic. In Selected Papers of Internet Research 16: The 16th Annual Meeting of the Association of Internet Researchers.

Novak, P.K., Smailović, J., Sluban, B. and Mozetič, I., 2015. Sentiment of emojis. PloS one, 10(12), p.e0144296.

Oakley, N., (2016), The Queen Just Sent An Actual Tweet and Here’s the Photo to Prove it, [Online], available from, [accessed 04.10.2016]

O’Brien, G., (2015), The Word on the Street Is not a Word, It’s a ( )”, [Online], available from, [accessed 04.10.2016]

Ozaiza, O, (2015). How To Make Your iphone Tell You The Secrete Meaning of Emojis, [Online], available from:, [accessed, 07.10.2016.

Scoville, P. (2015), “Egyptian Hieroglyhs.” [Online], available from [accessed, 04.10.2016].

Skiba, D.J., 2016. Face with Tears of Joy Is Word of the Year: Are Emoji a Sign of Things to Come in Health Care?. Nursing education perspectives,37(1): 56-57.

Tauch, C. and Kanjo, E., (2016), September. The roles of emojis in mobile phone notifications. In Proceedings of the 2016 ACM International Joint Conference on Pervasive and Ubiquitous Computing: Adjunct (pp. 1560-1565).

Tayebinik, M. and Puteh, M., (2012). Txt msg n English language literacy, Procedia-Social and Behavioral Sciences, 66: 97-105.

This Day in Lettres, (2016), [Online], available from, [accessed, 14.10.2016]

Thurlow, C. and Brown, A., 2003. Generation Txt? The sociolinguistics of young people’s text-messaging. Discourse analysis online, 1(1), p.30.

Tuttle, E.C., 2016. The Past, Present and Future of the English Language: How Has the English Language Changed and What Effects Are Going to Come as a Result of Texting? (Doctoral dissertation).[Online], available from, [accessed 09.10.2016].

Winzker, K., Southwood, F. & Huddlestone, K. (2009). Investigating the impact of SMS speak on the written work of English first language and English second language high school learners. Per Linguam : a Journal of Language Learning, 25(2): 1-16.

Woollaston, H, (2015), Are Emoji Killing Off The Alphabet? [Online], available from, [accessed 04.10.2016].


  • There are currently no refbacks.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

2010-2019 (CC-BY) Australian International Academic Centre PTY.LTD.

Advances in Language and Literary Studies

You may require to add the '' domain to your e-mail 'safe list’ If you do not receive e-mail in your 'inbox'. Otherwise, you may check your 'Spam mail' or 'junk mail' folders.