The ubiquitous emoji (Japanese for “picture character”) on various social platforms has become the new linguistic and cultural tool of expression. Emojis are no longer just the moody teenager’s mode of communication – it has gone mainstream. On this #WorldSmileDay, let’s smile and look how emojis can actually help transcend the language barrier and has already become an established and defined auxiliary language.
Last year, the ‘Face with Tears of Joy’ was selected as the Word of the Year by Oxford Dictionary, attesting to the way communication is changing for us. Why did Oxford select this emoji as the most expressive word of the year? They explain on their blog:
Emojis…have been embraced as a nuanced form of expression, and one which can cross language barriers. Even Hillary Clinton solicited feedback in the form of emojis, and 😅 has had notable use from celebrities and brands alongside everyone else…
Emojis are replacing words
How has communication reached the stage where emojis are replacing words? There are quite a few reasons why this might be happening. Perhaps we are too busy to write out our emotions today. A quick, colourful shorthand for what we want to express gives us the opportunity to “communicate” with more people, quickly. Or perhaps, with rapid globalization, the need for forming traditional constructed language is no longer a priority – we are more than happy to send an emoji to tell let people know our feelings, without unnecessary verbosity.
Emojis are meant to complement our language. When we are online (on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook) or messaging (Whatsapp, iMessage, etc.), it’s easier to convey the tone and context of our message with emojis. Basically, emojis act as a stand-in for facial expressions and body language. They bring nuance to blunt texts and helps express humour, sarcasm and surprise while breaking some language barriers.
Caspar Grathwohl, President of Oxford Dictionaries talked to The Guardian last year and spoke about the rationale behind choosing a word, that’s not really a word:
We just thought, when you look back at the year in language, one of the most striking things was that, in terms of written communication, the most ascendant aspect of it wasn’t a word at all, it was emoji culture… The fact that English alone is proving insufficient to meet the needs of 21st-century digital communication is a huge shift.
Smile for emojis, and smile again, because language is not lost
A few books have been written either entirely in emojis or with a mix of language and emojis. For example, Moby Dick has been translated into emojis and is called Emoji Dick. The BBC translates some of their stories into emojis, and even the Bible has been translated into emojis. (Incidentally, the Bible is the top most translated book of the world).
However, language is not lost. Emojis have merely helped us adapt to a new challenge thrown to us – the challenge of communicating quickly over social media, with people from across the world, without coming across as rude or downright insulting!
However, will emojis eventually be tamed and come to look more like traditional language scripts? It remains to be seen. Tell us about your thoughts in the comments section.
In the meantime, if you would like to know how KantanMT can help improve your translation workflow, mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org. (We don’t offer emoji translations, yet 😅).