Cracking the Emoji Language Code

In my world, emojis are a recent phenomenon. Throughout most of my life I was taught to express myself with verbs, not images, so I am slow to adopt this new way to communication. When I text my friends and husband I only employ the most basic emoji images and rarely use more than one.

Parents Chat

Kids with phones are, however, a different story:

Kids Chat

They’ve grown up with emoji language and employ many different images, often in long strings to tell a story. In fact, there are many directories that help parents and caregivers understand popular emoji “codes” that kids use with each other. For some of us it is amazing how far we’ve come since the days of emoticons, the rudimentary expressive faces that were built one keystroke at a time, which were the predecessors of emojis as we know them today. In some cases what is expressed is pretty benign, and in others the codes veer in the area of sexting and bullying.

Chris remembers this: :-) which has now become Smiley

As a late adopter of emojis I’ll admit at first I was quick to dismiss them as cheesy child’s play on phone messages. But given the prevalence of bullying these days, I’ve learned that it’s imperative that I understand slang so that I know what messages my daughter is receiving on her iPad. What I’ve discovered is that keeping up with what she receives is like learning a new language.

According to language experts, emojis could in fact be the beginning of a new language. While it still has a long way to go, the catalog of pictures available to use continues to expand. With that, smartphone users of all ages continuously find new ways to combine and communicate solely with them.

Experts cite that emojis have the benefit of transcending language barriers since the pictures are universal images. However, they also are quick to note that emojis lack the key component of grammar. Without punctuation, emoji groups can have one meaning. It is rare that they can be grouped into long stories. However, with time and emoji evolution, that just might be possible in the future.

Smiley The joke you told is so funny!


Smiley I am laughing AT you because I think you are a joke

As a parent, emojis are the hardest to decipher. If someone sends my daughter a picture of a teary face with a smile are they laughing at her, or laughing with her? Do I study her face for a reaction, or just let her be? She knows the context of the message better than I do, but it is still up to me to take the time to talk with her, lest bullying is taking place without me knowing. Until the there is a translate button on the phone I have to keep learning emoji language so I can keep up.