THE LANGUAGE OF EMOJIS

20 Apr 2020 | Student Life

Formerly known as smileys and often confused with emoticons, emojis are increasingly being used online. By adding these emojis to written communication, people are able to add further emotion and meaning to their messages (as well as preventing certain statements from being taken out of context). The sassiest amongst us may even add an emoji face to soften a message. But what about the (mis)interpretation of emojis across different cultures?

What do you think this means?

Well, a Westerner might say (with a tone of mocking derision) a ‘thumbs up’, of course! However, if you’re from Greece or the Middle East, you may interpret this as a vulgar or even offensive gesture.

Ok, now how would you use this angel emoji?

“As a symbol of good behaviour or a good deed”, I hear you Westerners say. But again, there is another interpretation. In China, an angel can be a sign of death and may be perceived as a threatening symbol.

How else do you think this applause emoji may be interpreted?

Well, this western sign of praise or congratulation can also be interpreted as a symbol for making love in China. This is possibly due to the it’s resemblance to the sound sounds “pah pah pah” (啪啪啪)

The question is though, can emojis be classified as a language?

Some claim that emojis are one of the fastest growing universal languages, evolving faster even than ancient forms of communication, like hieroglyphics. Others disagree, suggesting that they can only been seen as supplementary linguistic tools due to their multi-interpretive nature. This is especially so as, as seen above, emojis can mean very different things in different cultures. In western cultures a big smile can translate as being happy or friendly. However in some eastern cultures, emotion is primarily expressed through the eyes and a smile emoji may been considered as mocking or even hostile!

Despite this pictorial barrier though, emojis are achieving greater significance in society. Even the legal world has begun to take notice of them as lawyers bring forward text communications as evidence. In 2016, a court in France even sentenced a man to three months in prison for texting his ex-girlfriend a pistol emoji, which the court ruled was a “real threat”.

The world online is filled with emoji and it’s important to remember that what you interpret may not be what someone else gleans from a message. To help you on your way, here are some of the most frequently confused emojis. 

You may think this emoji’s X’s for eyes signifies death but this expression is actually intended as an “astonished face

People may use this symbol to mean a shooting star but it is actually intended as a sign of “being dizzy” or “seeing stars”

Some may assume that this is a symbol of a hospital but it actually signifies a “Love Hotel”, where you can book a room by the hour…

This emoji, often used to express anger, is actually a Japenese ogre who is believed to ward off evil spirits from homes.

By Ilona Cabral

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