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The emoji has changed the world. It is now possible to order a pizza or even show your support for a politician using an emoji. The ‘Face with Tears of Joy’ emoji has even been announced as the Oxford University Press’ “Word of the Year”. You may find this news funny or even horrifying. Vyv Evans, Professor of Linguistics at Bangor University, believes the emoji has enhanced the way we communicate with each other.

“The Word of the Year award challenges people’s perceptions of language and what a word actually is. The reason is that it’s so prevalent, emoji is the current form of communication,” says Evans. “Over 6 billion emoji were sent everyday last year. I think in some way it’s quite apt that an emoji has been selected. That’s a lot of wee faces.

Emoji were created in Japan back in 1999 but the Western world didn’t officially adopt emoji until 2010 when Unicode, an organisation that coordinates the development of messaging platforms, accepted them.

Emoji have been added to all major mobile platforms since then. People say they have similarities with hieroglyphics but the concept is totally different. Emoji are not a language, they are adding an aspect of conversation that is absent from text based communication. Most people think that meaning comes from the words and grammatical rules that we use, in fact they are only one part of the whole picture.

Emoji have evolved beyond their original purpose. It’s not just a winking face on a sarcastic message anymore, entire works of literature have been translated into emoji. Alice in Wonderland’s 27,500 words has been translated into around 25,000 emoji. It is possible for emoji to become their own language but that’s not how it is being used. It is mostly being used to convey emotion in textual form.

Emoji had been accepted all over the world meaning you can send the same icons to someone on the other side of the planet but that doesn’t always mean they have the same cultural meaning. A smile generally means the same thing worldwide, but there are some differences in how emoji are used. In the West the praying hands emoji can relate to religion, but in Japan where the medium originated the praying hands sign is used to say please and thank you to someone.

Cultural differences are not the only obstacle with emoji. Although there’s supposed to be an industry standard, each platform has slightly different versions of emoji, which means that the one you send is not guaranteed to be the one received. An example being on iOS, sending a dancing woman is received by a Samsung device as a dancing man, and if you have a google device, it would be an animal dancing instead. These slight changes could potentially change the meaning the sender had intended.

It doesn’t matter if you love them or hate them, emoji are here to stay. The Unicode shortlist for their 2016 update is already out, we might be seeing the introduction of a ROFL emoji, lying face, selfie, Mother Christmas and more.

If you don’t think emoji are worthy of “Word of the Year” then don’t worry too much. Evans believes “We won’t see emoji anywhere near the Oxford English Dictionary anytime soon”.

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