Calendar 2017 - November

11 november

The Function of Emojis

Computer-mediated communication without any emoticons and emojis has become hard to imagine. They allow us to digitally smile, wink or look sad. With their help, it is possible to express paraverbal messages such as feelings and moods while writing text messages. Translated from Japanese, the word “emoji” means as much as “pictorial symbol”. Emojis are ideographs, meaning characters that describe an entire concept. They can look like happy or sad, for example. The somewhat older emoticons (emotion + icon) merely consist of a chain of characters and are represented by :-) or  :-(, respectively. The origin of emoticons goes back to 1982 in the USA. Computer scientist Scott Fahlman used the character chain “:-)” to indicate jokes1. Emojis, on the other hand, were developed as late as at the end of the 1990s in Japan, with the purpose of boosting the SMS messages volume on mobile networks. Initially, there were some compatibility problems between different operating systems, but those have been solved since. There is even an international emoji standard by now2. The small characters do not merely represent facial expressions: weather conditions, vehicles, buildings, drinks and foodstuffs, animals, plants or activities can also be depicted3.

Nonverbal information is indispensible for interpersonal communication. A smile is recognized world­-wide as a universal facial expression and attributed to similar emotional states independently from the cultural environment. Emoticons and emojis are examples of the creative use of the (limited) means of interaction of online communication.  This way, non-verbal messages can also quite simply be sent using text messages in order to prevent possible misunderstandings1.

In Britain, an emoji was actually voted word of the year 2015. The choice fell on the smiley face with tears of joy running down its yellow cheeks. It was motivated by the frequent use of said emojis – with an entire twenty percent of all emojis used going to this smiley! Oxford Dictionaries president Caspar Grathwohl has called the small characters an increasingly rich form of communication, one that transcends linguistic borders4.

The most various scenarios have been examined in a multitude of studies, in which emojis or emoticons were put to use. As a rule, emojis are evaluated positively in informal contexts. Study results show that a positive emoticon enhances the effect of a positive message5 and that the one writing is perceived as more positive. A smiley in a message can even have a positive effect on the recipient’s mood. In a professional context, emojis should be used rather sparingly, however. In studies, their use has been evaluated as rather inappropriate, since messages using emojis seem more unprofessional. In the area of customer service, the use of emojis also seems to be beneficial when deployed professionally, however, since representatives could signal emotionality and empathy by means of using emojis6.

Ultimately, it is probably the proliferation of mobile communication technologies that is the reason for the furious development of emojis, in particular. The small characters have become a part of our daily lives; many people have become very fond of them as daily companions and no longer want to renounce using them1.