Emoji Society

Are emojis a modern symbolic reflection of society?

September 5th, 2019 -

From early cave drawings to hieroglyphics to printing presses to today’s digital technology, symbols and pictures have always been central to how humans communicate, express their feelings, and deal with a constantly changing world.

According to a paper co-authored by MIT linguist Shigeru Miyagawa, human language is considered to be over 100,000 years old, with the first cataloged cave art estimated to be approximately 40,000 years old. It is believed that cave art was not just for decorative purposes but was symbolic of their experiences, concepts, and/or emotions. Miyagawa went on to say, “art is not just something that is marginal to our culture, but central to the formation of our cognitive abilities.”

The cave art later evolved to pictographs, a form of writing with pictorial drawings used by ancient civilizations around the world. Through time we saw complex logographic languages emerge in ancient Egyptian, Mayan and Chinese cultures who believed their languages were inspired by the Gods. Yet, the stories told were of the emotions and lifestyles of their people. The Chinese are among the few that have maintained their written language of symbols throughout their entire history.

Fast forward to today where emojis have become ubiquitous, not only in social media but in news coverage, business documents and even making it to Dictionary.com. In fact, “There’s a sophisticated linguistic system around how people are using emojis, and this is something that we take very seriously as people who study language,” says Lexicographer Jane Solomon, who sits on the Unicode Consortium subcommittee that reviews proposals for new emoji.

Above: Evolution of the emoji set 2014—2019. Images: Apple (2014—2018), Emojipedia (2019). Emojipedia composite.

Which brings me to the latest news: earlier this year, Unicode Consortium announced the release of emoji 12.0 with 59 distinct new emojis; 230 in total when gender and skin tone options are included. Aside from some of the typical fun emojis, like the long-awaited yawning face emoji, you’ll see a truly symbolic statement represented across the growth of emojis. The most notable theme is inclusivity, a theme that has become a growing global concern. 

We started to see some ethnic/racial diversity representation in emojis a few years ago but now some of the new emojis include ones that represent disabled users, ranging from people in wheelchairs to those that represent prosthetic limbs, hearing aids, guide dogs, and more. The emojis with humans will feature a range of skin tone choices for the user to choose from along with gender options. 

As a pictorial language and as an art form, the new emojis reflect the shift towards an ethos of acceptance, diversity, and inclusion in our society today. One can see the door-opening applications for these emojis where they can help users join the conversation and feel represented.

The new emojis will be available on Apple and Android devices in the coming weeks. If you want to check out the full range, check out the full list of Unicode 12.0 emojis

– Emma Medina, Director of Brand Strategy at Smith Design

Sources:  https://blog.emojipedia.org/230-new-emojis-in-final-list-for-2019/
http://news.mit.edu/2018/humans-speak-through-cave-art-0221
https://time.com/5186512/emoji-dictionary/

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