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

Hamza Alshenqeeti

Abstract


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.
Keywords:
Emojis, socio-semiotic analysis, new language, old language, pictograms


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