A fun and fascinating report answers big questions about emoji

emoji poop

Most of us have at least a few questions about emoji, the symbols ranging from smiley faces, to animals, to food, to weapons, that you find on devices like tablets and smartphones.  For instance, will there ever be a taco emoji?  And why does the poop emoji have a face?

One question I’ve often pondered is how different nationalities or language speakers use emoji.  I was thrilled to discover that answers to this have recently been found, thanks to Swiftkey, the company behind predictive keyboard technology for iPhones and Android devices. They’ve recently been promoted to membership in the formidable-sounding Unicode Consortium.  This is a group that, essentially, determines what kind of emoji we can have, based on things like customer demand, and, most importantly, technological compatibility. For example, that taco emoji I mentioned doesn’t exist (yet) because emoji came from Japan, a culture where tacos have little, if any importance (on the other hand, you’ll find lots of nifty-looking Japanese snacks among the food emoji). But because users from other cultures have been asking about it for so long, the taco emoji now has the Consortium’s go-ahead.  More importantly, so do multi-ethnic faces.

Swiftkey believed it should be a part of the Unicode Consortium for a long time, which is why, journalist Charlie Warzel postulates, they created this fascinating report about how emoji are used by different nationalities and language groups – it’s a way to prove the company’s usefulness and street cred, if you will.

A lot of the report’s findings were surprising to me, starting with this statistic: 74% of Americans have used at least one emoji. That’s a lot more than I expected, considering I still run into people who don’t know what emoji are, or who do, but downright hate and refuse to use them!

Here are some other facts I would never have suspected:

– The French have a reputation for romance, but anyone who knows them well knows that they can also be quite cynical, and aren’t particularly open to sharing their emotions.  And yet, love wins the day: the preferred emoji among the French is the heart.  Not only that; they use it four times more than any other language/cultural group!  Then again, the report notes: “it’s the only language for which the smiley is not #1”.  Still, with 86% of the emoji they send considered “positive”, the French are actually the least negative group of emoji users.

– The US leads in the use of emoji like the skull and tech-related images.

– Malaysians have the most extensive emoji vocabulary; the ten most common emoji make up only 37% of the ones they use.

– And although it comes from a popular joke in Japan and seems to be revered in the US, the poop emoji is actually the most popular among…Canadians.

The study reveals more than just emoji use habits.  Some people consider emoji to be its own language – or even a lingua franca.  But a seemingly silly piece of information in the report indicates a flaw in that theory: US emoji aficionados use the eggplant emoji to symbolize male genitalia.  But that’s not what it means in most other countries. Speaking to Warzel, Unicode Consortium President Mark Davis says that, to him, this shows that emoji are often unique to each culture or language group.

So, okay, they may not be a lingua franca. But emoji are still a great way to share a laugh or other emotion.  Plus, let’s face it, they’re really fun.

by Alysa Salzberg

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