My Take

Emojis are a new way of communicating with true symbolism

PUBLISHED : Friday, 09 October, 2015, 1:36am
UPDATED : Friday, 09 October, 2015, 1:36am

Recent winners of the Nobel Prize for literature probably all deserve it. But I humbly suggest we should consider some people or groups not usually discussed in the same breath with this august prize: the Japanese inventors of emoji.

Those smiley faces and emoticons were first featured by pager and mobile phone carriers popular with Japanese teenagers in the 1990s. But they have spread around the world, creating a universal language that has far greater impact on people's lives than those usually obscure Nobel literary laureates of whom few people have read. I know the prize is usually only given to an individual. But if the peace prize can be given to groups and science prizes can be shared, I don't see why the literature prize can't do it.

My wife and I have been texting each other using more emojis and fewer words. She finds them especially useful and time-saving when she is mad at me. Indeed, the angrier you are, the more expressive emojis become. Just think of the angry red face, the irate devil's look or the pile of excrement with eyes and a mouth. When she wants to show off, she sends me the arm-flexing-its-biceps emoji. When she is happy, it's the one with the dancing girl in a red dress. But it's not just us.

Emojis are so versatile they can also be used in combination with any actual language. Thanks to the ubiquity of mobile-computing devices, people everywhere are using them to text each other.

Emoji literally means picture plus character. A few internet forums communicate only in emoji and seek to promote its literacy. Last year, "emoji" was the top-trending word according to the Global Language Monitor. The Oxford English Dictionary has now accepted it as a proper word. The non-profit Unicode Consortium is the international body that standardises emojis across different platforms. When Microsoft, Apple and Google start using them in their projects, they not only acknowledge emojis' linguistic legitimacy but help popularise them around the world.

What irony! With the most advanced mobile technology, we are returning language to its archaic roots like Egyptian hieroglyphics or ancient Chinese pictograms.

What other new linguistic systems have had such a global impact?