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Emojis: the Evolution of Language?

A teary-eyed cat, a monkey covering its eyes, hearts of various colors, two twins dancing in rhythm… Most of us use emojis — those drawings that complement our messages sent over platforms such as WhatsApp, Twitter, Facebook, etc. But what do they really mean? Could they become a sort of lingua franca in the future?

Emojis arose in Japan in the late ‘90s, but their use grew astronomically since they were added to the keyboards of smartphones in 2011. They tend to be confused with emoticons, those representations of faces made with punctuation marks (like a smiley face made with a colon and a parenthesis), but emojis are proper drawings. They’ve become so popular that there is now a novel translated to the emoji language. Emoji Dick is the pictographic version of Moby Dick, adapted by Fred Benenson, an American executive of the company Kickstarter.

But Benenson’s project did not end there. His plan is to gather funds through Kickstarter, a crowdsourcing platform, to build a translation engine and contract a batch of translators who will take on the job of making it functional, through the translation of entire phrases (in this case from English) into the emoji language. The engine would work, for example, like the one used by Google Translate, perfecting itself with each new phrase translated. The goal: to make emojis a proper language, with its own syntax.

Will this end up being simply another fruitless attempt at creating an artificial universal language like Esperanto? In principle, it’s a major effort that seems not to make much sense, beyond the entertainment factor of the proposal. However, Benenson believes that the advent of the emoji language is “inevitable.” Only time will tell.