Linguistics of the Smartphone

Thanks to iOS5, Emoji May Soon Become the International Language of Love (and Ninjas and Crying and Eyerolls)

screen shot 2011 12 07 at 9 48 05 am Thanks to iOS5, Emoji May Soon Become the International Language of Love (and Ninjas and Crying and Eyerolls)

If you’ve ever stumbled across the Betabeat tumblr, you know just how integral we consider animated emoticons to the practice of good journalism. Our Skype chats are littered them. In the New York Times today, emoji aficionado Jenna Wortham explores how the Japanese import is catching on internationally in no small part due to iOS5.

Although emojis have been available in app form for years, the latest update to Apple’s operating system has a pre-installed library of the stuff that can be activated as an “international keyboard.” (Here’s a video that shows you how.) Apple declined to explain why it was added now, but the Times conjectures that it was likely due to global standardization of the emoji format last year.

Pop culture-wise, the language has been embraced. The month-old Narratives in Emoji tumblr uses emoji to depict things like the cast of “Parks and Recreation” or the difference between what really happens at Thanksgiving and Thanksgiving in your mind. Even back in 2009, KickStarter’s Fred Benenson, who worked for Creative Commons at the time, used the funding platform to finance Emoji Dick, the story of Moby Dick, as told by a Japanese teenager.

However, Ms. Wortham warns, there may still be some cultural barriers keeping emojis out of the mainstream:

But some things may be lost in translation in emoji’s journey. For example, the emoji of a smiling coil of human waste is a popular way to express dissatisfaction in Japan, but doesn’t have quite the same resonance in the United States. And while the iPhone has emoji for steaming bowls of ramen, balls of rice and cups of sake, there aren’t any for common Western items like pizza.

Come to Skype! We got your pizza party right here:

screen shot 2011 12 07 at 10 05 50 am Thanks to iOS5, Emoji May Soon Become the International Language of Love (and Ninjas and Crying and Eyerolls)

Follow Nitasha Tiku on Twitter or via RSS. ntiku@observer.com

Comments

  1. infomofo says:

    However, when you type “emoji” on my iPhone, it still thinks I want to say “enoki”.