Is Emoji the First Truly International Language?

My argument is yes. Here's why:

So, why is this such a big deal?

First, a quick history of Conlangs

Conlangs (Constructed Languages), are basically what they say on the tin. They are languages that are designed rather than languages which we speak today which are generally evolved from a mishmash of other languages. In essence, they have been planned for a purpose; whether that be for human communication or computer communication, or just plain art.

One of the most known conlangs is Esperanto, part of the reason that it is so well known is that the League of Nations were seriously considering switching to it pre-WWII as their official language for documents etc. The goal of Esperanto is to reduce the time for people internationally to be able to learn a language to interact with. Further, it set out to unify nations under one language and improve diplomacy.

Other conlangs exist for teaching and learning. For example Toki Pona is a language which tries to keep things simple, having only 120 words. For example each colour is expressed as the subtractive mix of primary colours e.g. loje jelo means orange.

How does emoji fit into this?

Emoji, at least in my opinion is a conscript (constructed script) which is very similar to how conlangs work. For instance the Hangul script of Korea is a conscript. However the pictoral nature means that anyone can understand it at a glance. The emoji for hospital is a picture of a hospital, the emoji for happy is a smiling face. However, there may be cultural differences which cause the hospital emoji icon to be unrecognisable to what hospitals look like in your country. This is where emoji can be self translating; the creator of the icons can specify different icons for different 'dialects' of emojis and I can type the hospital emoji on my device and it look completely different on yours.

This is a powerful tool as it can not only send clear pictoral messages, but also change those pictograms when needed without any user input. Plus, the Unicode Consortium have already implemented emojis into the Unicode spec.

Problems with emoji

So, yes, this isn't a perfect solution. Emoji is definitely not this utopian language like Esperanto was supposed to be and ultimately, conlangs and conscripts aren't made for this world. It forces people into thinking in certain ways and has serious risk of homogenising cultures in quite a bad way.

For instance, this emoji:

Is actually a look of triumph, not as a lot of people use it, something like 'being angry or mad at a situation'. So, this leads to some problems. When the icon makers for the unicode spec emojis make them they need to come to a consensus otherwise the self-translating aspect gets all mixed up. See HTC's attempt at this emoji:
HTC Triumphant

I feel that this shows Triumph more than the emoji one's (and most other icons) efforts. Ultimately this is the downfall, there's the Unicode Consortium making the decisions about what emojis to include but not how to represent them necessarily.

See Also


Unicode Consortium Emoji

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