Are emojis and emoticons language

How symbols change communication

Different emojis | © DigiClack -

Small character symbols are becoming increasingly important in e-mails, chat and messenger messages. Which emojis do Germans particularly like to use and how do they influence our language?

Germans worry about their language. Why, the journalist Johanna Adorjan asked herself in June 2015 in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, can we hardly do without small pictures in everyday life when we write? Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp or SMS: There is a single mixture of texts, faces and symbols. Do we forget to express ourselves through words? Do we only trust our sentences if we garnish them with mini pictures?

We're talking about emojis (Japanese for picture letters), small stylized pictures, faces, hands, vehicles, food - the list is getting longer every year. In fact, their presence in everyday communication is now so great that one can ask oneself: What are we actually dealing with here? With a new language, or even with modern hieroglyphs, which may soon be able to do without any text at all?

"We are dealing with a very interesting development here," says linguist Michael Beißwenger. He has been researching internet-based communication for years. For him, the symbols are an expression of a change in the use of texts. “Online conversations are getting closer and closer to oral dialogue. At the same time, of course, there is a huge difference between writing and speaking. There are no facial expressions or gestures when writing. One tries to compensate for that with the symbols. "

Emojis enrich the conversation

Beißwenger is not surprised that this development is viewed critically, especially in Germany: "The thesis of language decline has haunted the public for decades." But there have never been any valid reasons for this concern. “Language is not an abstract unit for the quality of which we as language users are responsible. It is always in the service of the speaker. ”It is therefore absurd to assume that the language is changed in such a way that it does less than before. “The opposite is the case.” According to the linguist Beißwenger, emojis enrich digital conversation by making the written text more dialogical. Incidentally, the use of symbols for these purposes is not a new phenomenon. The idea is as old as the networked computer itself.

The birth of the smiley

When people first started communicating in online forums in the early 1980s, they quickly realized that there was a problem, such as distinguishing ironic from serious messages. The American computer scientist Scott Fahlmann found the solution: a laughing face lying on its side, made up of a colon, hyphen and bracket, should act as a symbol of humor or irony. The now famous smiley was the first emoticon. The faces made up of characters stand for a certain emotion - hence the term, a combination of emotion and icon.

Unlike emoticons, emojis are independent pictorial symbols whose repertoire extends to much more than just faces. They were developed at the end of the 1990s by a Japanese software engineer as a gimmick for young users of a pager text program: 176 pixel images, inspired by manga culture and calligraphy, including a kissable mouth and a lightbulb. In 2010, the symbols were included in the so-called Unicode, a global standardization of characters and text elements, which is intended to ensure platform and device-independent communication. Since then, more and more of them have appeared year after year, especially in chats, e-mails and online forums. Advertising agencies, newspaper editors and publishers are also experimenting with the new characters.

Country-specific preferences

For Michael Beißwenger, emojis are a fascinating field of research. The linguist is part of the project team at Whats up, Germany?. This research project by the Technical University of Dortmund examines, among other things, the use of emojis in texts from the WhatsApp short message service. The first results are expected for spring 2016.

However, a study by the British software company Swiftkey has already appeared. In April 2015, the developer of keyboard apps for smartphones and tablets published the emoji usage of around one million users from 16 countries. The media interpreted the data as the first global emoji report, which above all reveals country-specific preferences - albeit with a certain scope for interpretation. According to Swiftkey analysis, Germans - like all other countries - send the most positive emojis, namely smiling faces. In second place are hearts in all variations, and finally sad symbols. At the very back are hand gestures such as clapping or the peace sign with the Germans. When it comes to money icons, German users, together with the French, are at the bottom of the list. In addition, in the mammal category, Germans prefer to send a mouse. But what significance do these results have? Are we all in a good mood, boring people, one wondered, slightly amused, in the German press.

Michael Beißwenger takes the Swiftkey study seriously. "Of course, there is still more analysis work to be done now." Anyone who wants to know what the data really means has to analyze the contexts of emoji use. "Emojis only develop their full potential together with verbal utterances, as part of a digital conversation."