No, the rise of the emoji doesn’t spell the end for language

Vyv Evans emojisEditor of the journal Language and Cognition and author of several Cambridge books including the forthcoming The Crucible of Language Vyv Evans has been in the news recently discussing the increase in the use of emojis.

In this post for Cambridge Extra Vyv summaries the main themes and also provides links to some great videos and essays.

The emoji has become one of the fastest growing forms of communication in history. But those who are worried that its growth could mean the death of written language are wrong – emojis are being used to enhance, rather than replace words in our digital communications.

An emoji is an iconic, visual representation of an idea, entity, feeling, status or event, that is used alongside or instead of words in digital messaging and social media. You could call them today’s modern hieroglyphics.

Initial results from market research by the company TalkTalk Mobile that used an emoji IQ study that I developed gives us a first glimpse of how the use of emojis are growing. The survey of 2,000 UK residents aged 18-65 found that 80% of Brits are now using these colourful symbols to communicate on a regular basis. And 62% of smartphone users report that their use of emojis has increased from a year ago. The 18 to 25-year-old age group were the biggest users, with 72% of younger people agreeing that they find it easier to express their emotions using emojis.

Is emoji a language?

Irrespective of the medium, what makes something a language boils down to a couple of things. First, there needs to be a wide set of expressions, like words, that can either be pronounced or signed, or represented in some other form, like writing. While English has well over a million words, depending on education and background, an adult English speaker will regularly use somewhere between 30-60,000, and recognise many more. So, even with the 800+ emojis available today, this falls well short of the vocabulary required to express the semantic range of a full-blown language.

Emojis are mainly used to support and enhance the meaning conveyed by text in a digital message. In spoken language, intonation and gesture provide additional information not always readily gleaned in the spoken message. We rely on intonation to both “punctuate” our spoken utterances, and to provide key cues as to what our words mean and whether we’re asking a question or giving an answer.

You can view some great videos and essays  in the links below:


Are emojis the future of communication? Vyv talking about the role of emoji in digital communication–12th June 2015

How to be an emoji master Fun guide to using emoji, based on my research with TalkTalk Mobile–19th May 2015.


“It’s official: The twitter hashtag is now a word”. Psychology Today–15th June 2015.

“Sorry, emoji doesn’t make you dumber”. Psychology Today–8th June 2015

“No, the rise of the emoji doesn’t spell the end for language”. Essay in The Conversation–22nd May 2015

Can emojis really be used to make terror threats? Article in The Guardian, February 2015

We will be joining Vyv at the International Cognitive Linguistics conference this week. If you are attending please come and visit the Cambridge stand to explore our key books and journals in this area.

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