If a picture is worth 1,000 words, what about an emoji? Emojis have quickly taken over the world as the emoji keyboard has now surpassed the QWERTY keyboard as the most commonly used. In 2015, the laughing-so-hard-you-cry emoji was even selected by the Oxford dictionary as the word of the year. But can these smiley-faced-symbols really communicate as effectively as written language?
The answer is yes. As emojis lend context clues that are otherwise lacking text, it makes sense that they would help ameliorate communication gaps and misunderstandings that are implicit in standard messaging. There does, however, seem to be a slight generational gap when it comes to emoji usage.
Actually, it appears that emojis may be able to communicate certain things even better than just written text, like sarcasm, or facial queues. In a survey conducted by Harris Poll, 36% of millennials said that emojis convey their thoughts and emotions better than traditional words. About half as many baby boomers agree. However, when you look only at emotion, around 40% of baby boomers prefer emojis. This is not quite as many as the 66% of millennials, but it is still a huge percentage nonetheless.
The point is that people of all ages feel like they can express themselves with emojis.
Some researchers even argue that emojis are the language of the future. They state that emojis are reminiscent of ancient cave drawings in their abilities to express whole ranges of concepts other than their literal verbal meaning.
“In the future, less words and letters will be used in messaging as pictures and icons take over the text speak language,” says Professor John Southerland from University College London in an interview with DailyMail for the article, “Generational language gap ‘seismic’”.
Emojis are simply universal as they do not rely on the constraints of language. A dancing emoji sent by a Spanish speaker will still convey ‘dancing’ to a Japanese recipient. Because of their innate charm and fluid contextual meaning, emojis may well be the language of the future, or, at least, supplement language even more than they do now.
Jon Pfeiffer is an experienced entertainment and copyright trial attorney practicing in Santa Monica. Jon is also an adjunct professor at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California where he teaches Media Law. COM 570 covers First Amendment issues as well as copyright, defamation and privacy.