People threw a fit earlier this year when BuzzFeed interviewed Australia’s foreign affairs minister, Julie Bishop, and had her respond solely using emojis. How could a distinguished politician resort to conveying particular points while only using tween-grade doodle-babble instead of the eloquently complex tones of the English language?
Far from supplanting the language, though, emojis are supplementing the language in widespread and surprising ways. Vyvyan Evans, a linguistics professor at Bangor University in Wales, teamed with British telecomm company TalkTalk Mobile for a market research study that looked at the way in which generations tend to talk via texting. 2,000 UK residents between the ages of 18 and 65 were polled, and the study found that 80% of people use emojis on a regular basis.
Further, 72 percent of those between 18 and 25 years old said they find that emojis help them express emotions. Sending a thumbs-up icon is easier than actually extending a thumb upward, apparently. Forty percent of people regularly send messages of nothing but emojis. The ubiquitous “smiley face” is the individual favorite, with “crying with laughter” and “love heart” coming in a close second and third. The "see no evil monkey” was 10th, perhaps because people love monkeys, more likely because snitches get stitches.
“Unlike natural languages such as English, Emoji is almost universally recognizable because it exploits the visual representation system," Evans told her university's website. "Emoji won’t replace traditional languages but it will increasingly be used to enhance them.”
They've taken over in part because we've atomized communication, stripped it of its natural inflections. Emojis help to separate the sincere from the ironic, the playful from the pissed-off. They're here to keep you out of trouble. They're our friends. See no evil, guys.