Posts in Emoji
Academics gathered to share emoji research, and it was 🔥

Tyler Schnoebelen, who gave the keynote speech on Monday, says conversations about emoji have been too often painted with a broad brush. There’s the utopian vision: emoji as a "universal language," the great democratizer and harbinger of communication across class, culture, and geography. And then there’s the doomsday vision: emoji as the destruction of language, a political tool, a new way to send violent threats. The nuance often gets lost in between. We have hardly any research to tell us who uses emoji, when, why, and how that use has changed over time. We know even less about what emoji can reveal in disaster scenarios, campaigns, or educational settings; even linguists, who have looked at emoticons and other internet-born languages for decades, don't have a consensus on what emoji mean for the future of language.

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Emoji are great and/or they will destroy the world

Outside of emoji researchers, lots of people still forecast disaster or dream of universal communication even if most of us are confident that neither is nigh. Despite our protests, emoji inspire visions of apocalypse and utopia.

As with many linguistic resources (sounds, words, syntax), people use emoji to grind all sorts of axes. For example, people who say that women use more emoji than men are usually making some point that the data don't support. The first step in such an analysis is to ignore or discount the fact that, say, Snoop Dogg and Kyle MacLachlan are among the biggest emoji users in the world.

In this talk, I'll demonstrate how ideologies of emoji work themselves out across 870 journalists that political scientists have separately scored as liberal, conservative, or centrist. This lets us compare objective vs. subjective stances and inverts the idea that gender explains emoji to show how it is that emoji are a way that people "do" gender differently based on their political commitments.

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It doesn’t matter how many legs the new lobster emoji has

To be sure, the emoji “does need to look like the thing,” says Tyler Schnoebelen, a product manager at who has researched emoticons and emojis. A dog emoji should look like a dog, regardless of the platform. It’s also interesting to note that even an emoji that literally looks like what it is can have different connotations depending on how it is drawn. Some animal emojis are cute (like a pig’s face, which a fun one to use after you’ve eaten your heart out on lobster), but others are side views, and just show what an animal looks like. In other words, even if an emoji is recognizable as the thing that it is symbolizing, the way it is designed matters.

The larger point is that we should consider the ways emojis work as metaphors. An emoji’s non-literal use matters, according to Schnoebelen. The Unicode subcommittee that focuses on emojis gives “extra points for something that can be used metaphorically,” he says. For example: A shark emoji doesn’t just represent a water predator, it can also symbolize aggressiveness, or a lawyer, he points out. And an unicorn emoji is fairly ridiculous if you think of it as a representation of something that doesn’t exist, but it does do a rather nice job symbolizing rarity and magic.

A cultural favorite among these double meanings: the fact that the peach emoji also looks like a butt, Schnoebelen says. It’s a good example of an emoji’s power not stemming only from the fact that it literally looks exactly like the real-world thing. “If [an emoji] looks precisely like the object and nothing else, you lose some of the fun and creativity of the symbolism,” he says.

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Emoji, PressTyler Schnoebelen
Cher is the queen of emoji even if she isn't

It is universally recognized by experts that Cher is the Queen of Emoji. (Hail, Cher.)

I’m pretty sure this is what Cher wears while she tweets emoji after emoji after emoji

But as far as I know, no one has (a) performed an actual analysis to prove this, nor has anyone (b) performed an adequate interpretive dance to Dark Lady. I once tried to tackle (b) at a retreat near Big Sur, but today my focus is (a).

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What it’s Like Inside the World’s First Emoji Convention 😜

Linguists such as Tyler Schnoebelen, who has done several studies on emoji and emoticons, delved into the power and diversity of the images as a method of communication—while joining the chorus of his peers who say, no, emoji are not a language. He noted how the meaning of one image will differ depending on who is texting it and where and to whom. For example, emoji users in the United States might never end their war over whether[🙏] is a high five or a prayer, but it means something entirely different in Japan: “thank you.” The meaning of emoji—just like words—isn’t static either. “Language changes,” says Schnoebelen, “and emoji are changing.” 

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Emoji, PressTyler Schnoebelen
Emoji linguistics

True language universals can be hard to find but two of the most solid are (1) languages change and (2) people are really good at adapting to what’s handy. We’ll explore the ways emoji are changing, ways they haven’t, and where to look for hot spots of innovation.

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EmojiTyler Schnoebelen
Which new emoji will be the most popular?

June 21st is the release of Unicode 9, which will feature 72 new emoji–folks at Emojipedia have helpfully put them all together. The question in this blog post is: which ones will turn out to be the most popular? (Note that most people aren’t going to be able to use them immediately–you have to get an update of your phone/browser for them to show up and so will anyone you want to send them to.)

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Emojis and the future of language

Digital technologies are changing the way we communicate as well as the way we write and spell. And with emojis we don’t have to do either. You can say things using pictures like our caveman ancestors. The use of emojis crosses generations. Are we dumbing down society or creating a new, creative visual language? 

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