The Secret Language of Emojis

The Secret Language of Emojis

by Krithika Devanathan

The clicking sounds of typing echo in Cina Hall as a student sends a text. An emoji with two hands facing up and a laughing face with tears is the response to a story told in the chat. These are just a few of the emojis littering the lively, digital conversation and somehow, all the participants of the chat understand the secret language behind the seemingly random emojis.

“If you are in a rush or need to quickly get a message across, you type in an emoji,” UMD student Nazifa Wazirzada said. “They’re quick, they’re easy to use and people get what you mean.”

Humans have been communicating with symbols for centuries. Even emojis have been around longer than one may expect. Originally found on Japanese cellphones in the late 1990s, emojis gained global fame with the invention of Apple’s iPhone.

Now, many people use emojis in their texts and online social media posts. UMD Linguistics professor Dan Turner said that humans use hand gestures and body language to communicate. Emojis, in this tech-based world, are a way for users to try and communicate the same message completely online.

“Even as a professor, I use the smiley face emoticon in my emails sometimes,” Turner said. “I don’t want people to be scared of me. The smiley face shows that I’m a friendly person.”

Turner said that using an emoticon helps him connect to students and send a message that might be interpreted differently without it.

So do emoticons really make that big of a difference? In a simple, non-scientific experiment, students were tested on how they interpreted different messages. Several students around UMD were shown three slightly different texts, three different times.

The student would look at the first text, be given time to interpret it, then the second and third texts accordingly. The message was “I’m sorry” with no punctuation and no context. The first text contained no emojis, the second had an emoji with its eyes closed and tongue sticking out while the third text had a sad face emoji.

Although students interpreted each text differently, they still had a similar understanding of the message. The first one was was mainly interpreted as a simple apology, one which may or may not mean anything and wasn’t too emotional but still got the message across. The second text was interpreted as a silly, sarcastic message, possibly responding to something that wasn’t really an issue. The third one was an apology with lots of emotion behind it; one student even said she would be crying as she sent that text.

“When you text someone, it’s hard to tell the tone or what they are actually meaning,” UMD freshman Radhika Sharma said, after looking at the three texts. “With the emoji, it makes it a little easier to interpret what the text is meaning, but of course that doesn’t mean it means the same to everyone.”

Although many students use emojis often, they sometimes worry it can be seen as unprofessional.

“I use them when I’m having a funny or not very serious conversation,” Sharma said. “But if it is an important topic or conversation, then I leave them out because it takes the seriousness away.”

According to UMD Communications professor Ryan Goei, emotions aren’t properly communicated through words and are better interpreted through body language. As one adds more and more tech based efficiencies, communication becomes “less good.”

Emojis can be misleading, and your brain keeps telling you it’s a better form of communication, even if it isn’t. Although technology hinders the potential for healthy, successful human connection, professor Goei thinks emojis do help solve a small number of the issues technology creates.

“We read faces,” Goei said. “80 percent of emotions come out of face reading. An emoji is one way to provide emotion to a text. In some ways, it’s a trick. It’s a shortcut that is misleading. But you can use it efficiently and honestly.”

In a world of quickly advancing technology, are emojis useful or not? Some believe it helps get messages across, while others argue it is ruining human communication. Emojis come in many shapes and forms, but both sides can agree that they don’t seem to be going away anytime soon.


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