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Future of reading: will emojis become the first universal language?

If a picture speaks more than a thousand words, how many does an emoji speak?

Future of reading: will emojis become the first universal language?

Six billion emojis are now sent everyday and have become virtually omnipresent online. They solve the problem of achieving linguistic nuance in 140 characters, adding colour and humour to a text message and have become a virtual sign language for younger audiences.

Language is in a state of constant flux, continually responding to changes in society and the culture we live in. With the rapid development of technology, turning text to speech, replacing words with images, the definition of reading and writing are blurring more than ever before.

There is no doubt that the internet has made the world smaller, but can emojis ever develop into a new, universally understood language and compete with English in global usage?

Yesterday, The Guardian hosted a Mindshare Huddle discussing where the communication evolution is taking us and whether we think emojis show the same characteristics of actual languages and can stand the test of time.

The emoji, originating in Japan in the late 1990s, started as fun way of adding emotional context that’s universally understood. In our recent survey, 83% of all our Guardian readers in the UK had ever sent an Emoji (source: Guardian Crowd, Base: 926).

And nearly half of those use them daily across a range of platforms, from social media to email. Whilst undoubtedly smartphone penetration and the likes of Apple increased their global appeal, but to constitute their own language emojis would need grammar, which governs, and structures meaning, not just putting emojis into an order of events.

Their increasing popularity demonstrates there is a lot more to communication than words alone, although they pale in comparison to the richness of natural written and visual languages that already exist.

In the future – with the development of artificial intelligence and speech recognition – we’re likely to use a combination of oral, visual and written forms of communications using new technology and drawing upon each as and when needed. Something we’ve done for millenia and will continue to do in order to be understood, well least until we can read each others minds!

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