Around the world, community and commerce occur over digital platforms as a default. Consequently, these interpersonal events increasingly rely on
digital icons to enhance abbreviated conversations. For youth to be prepared for future business and social activities on a global scale, they must be skilled in the nuances of digital language arts expression.

Emojis: Global Communications

Emojis have flourished in global communications because of their affective power. Emoji icons create social bonds. These bonds are significant because the digital world is abstract and emotional cues are lost. In physical interactions, humans develop social bonds by interpreting corresponding body language. These social bonds improve communication, making exchanges more effective and positive. With icons doing this work on digital platforms, functioning as emotional shorthand, these benefits can occur across and between cultures.

When digital messaging became commonplace in the early 80s, it was intended to be rapid. The limited space constraints created new abbreviated forms like LOL or ttyl. Successful communications required double the fluency of any language: the traditional literacy and digital literacy. This large burden on communicators left room for emotional error and lack of empathy. Humor, sarcasm, anger and other feelings were not easily addressed. These issues could worsen when second-language users were involved, due to the fluency requirements.

In 1982, Dr. Scott Fahlman created a solution for the lack of context. He sent the first ASCII-based emoticon to a colleague and proposed several more. His keystroke combinations were adopted by coworkers and students at Carnegie Mellon, where Fahlman taught and which had a diverse staff. Over time, the icons spread through cultures and disciplines. However, the emoticons were not globally adopted in the same way. Happiness was represented in Japan as (^.^). English language users preferred 🙂 or even :). Although it was partly due to available characters on keyboards, it also reflected a difference in emotional expression and interpersonal orientation.

These emoticons got an upgrade thanks to Japanese marketing professional Shigetaka Kurita. When he saw how widely emoticons were being used in communication, he designed a series of “emojis,” or image-based, as opposed to keystroke, icons that conveyed information in a new way. His designs were used by a telecommunications firm and used on Japanese mobile devices as well as messaging platforms.

Those emojis were quickly adopted by mobile phone users and installed on other operating systems. However, despite the popular use, there was not a universal design. OS to OS, the emojis might change. Their versatility and popularity caused software leaders to petition for a regulation and universalization of emojis. In 2007, the non-profit computing text-standards authority Unicode recognized emojis as essential. They developed a uniform code for all interfaces around the globe.

Now, the loveable, playful symbols show up on phones, computers, and even big screens across the world. On Twitter, for example, many brand campaigns reach global audiences by having younger consumers respond with only emojis. As these multicultural sites increase exposure between different linguistic groups, emojis are a guaranteed way to keep the conversation going.

Emojis in Language Arts: a tool for digital expression

With the universality of emojis, and their ongoing growth akin to a language vocabulary, emojis have become a main form of digital language arts expression. With the universality granted by their Unicode status, these icons carry meaning inherently. Users may intersperse verbal sentences with images to drive these meanings home. They may also use emojis exclusively, either out of playfulness or the ease of universal understanding.

The global use does have some drawbacks on literal levels. For example, some body language movements may be offensive in other countries, such as the thumbs up is in Thailand. If you’re an American, where the thumbs up is positive, you wouldn’t necessarily know that body language etiquette. However, as a digital citizen, the same American may interact with a Thai individual online, and will need to know that using the thumbs up emoji is not okay.

However, emojis pick up new connotations all the time. While wordplay may reign in prose and poetics, emojis are the “literary devices” of the digital text era. Friends may send a unicorn and be referring to a Starbucks Unicorn Frappucino. Peaches aren’t always just peaches, and linking together a series of images could be a covert way to tell a parent that “no, actually I don’t want you to let me sleepover at this friend’s house.”

The global status and fluid definitions have created emoji etiquette and fluency. Now these aspects need to be learned. Just like the exploration of abbreviated text forms in the 1990s and 2000s, emojis are topics of classroom exploration. In turn, they have become tools of learning. Communications, language arts and English teachers have a responsibility now to equip their students to understand emojis, and use them appropriately.

Teaching Emojis as Global Language Arts

With their global use and functions as language arts expressions, emojis have given teachers new topics. Educators must inform their students about when and how to use these characters, for reasons ranging from efficient to beautiful and productive communication. Moreover, because emojis cannot replace textual communications, teachers must show students how to use both. This knowledge will travel with students through life use not only in conversations between friends but also potentially also in business situations.

Emojis have also given educators new tools for teaching essential elements of language arts. From context clue skills to emotive intelligence, detail attention, and descriptive skills, emojis offer help in teaching different cores of linguistic engagement. Teachers can use digital-based lesson plans where students write descriptive narratives about emoji characters. They may also have students respond to reading comprehension questions with these friendly images. It creates vocabulary associations and intuitively teaches vocabulary definitions. Their parasocial effect could even allow students to learn emotional skills.

With this responsibility and potential, teaching emojis as global language arts will be challenging and entertaining.

Expansion of Emojis

As emojis cement their reputation as “the global language,” they will innovate as all communication systems do. Noisees, LLC sees a bold, bright future for Onomojis, our emojis that sound what they look like. We hope to expand emojis to engage with more people on a multi-sensory level to inform, entertain and delight.