Do you speak Emoji? Translating the fastest growing new language on the block

01 February 2021

26 letters - that’s how long the English alphabet is, and we think we’ve done a pretty good job of squeezing every single emotion, instruction, alert, conversation and story into our humble A to Z. 

74 letters - that’s the number of letters in the longest alphabet in the world, and they all belong to the Cambodian language of Khmer. 

3,353 emojis - that’s the number of ways we’ll be able to pictographically express ourselves once the 2021 collection of (217) new emojis are released. 


With over three billion ‘tears of joy’ emoji faces 😂  exchanged every single day, we’re looking at the fastest emerging language on earth. But how has a language with no words turned into our favourite way to communicate online? It’s time to unravel the emoji world and explore how these modern-day hieroglyphs have (for better or worse) taken over our devices and changed how we communicate forever. 


A brief history of pictures as language 

Prehistoric cave drawings and ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics have their place in linguistic history. Still, while we’d like to give these ancient symbols a nod of respectful acknowledgement, the emoji language is digital, and recent, and begins with Japanese interface designer, Shigetaka Kurita. Frequently referred to as the creator of the emoji, Kurita’s set of 176 pictograms made their way into Japanese phones in 1999. And though Kurita’s characters weren’t the earliest example of emoji/emoticon use, it’s Kurita’s development of mobile-friendly emojis that created their wild popularity in Japan and gave the wider world a reason to take notice.

However, language uptake isn’t an overnight phenomenon. The Unicode Consortium, an organization that determines all the characters in use across every language and device, took over a decade to release their flagship pack of 1000 emojis, standardising the tiny images we use across our devices today. Now, we season our sentences with smiley faces and mini representations of things like lightning bolts and eggplants, and today,  92% of all people online use emojis. 


But how did we get here? 

The age of internet communication 

The emoji characters help us accent and animate our communication online in the same way that body language helps our communication offline. If you consider emojis a communication-enhancing tool, then perhaps this is why their adoption rate is so high. Every operating system and every language speaker in the world has access to a similar emoji keyboard. Even though we all speak different languages, we’re all united under the smiling face banner 😊.


Emojis + language = a Hybrid language model? 

Are we standing on the edge of hybridisation? Is code-mixing words and images evolving the languages we type? The numbers indicate yes. With over 10 billion emojis exchanged every day, and 3.2 billion internet users worldwide, it’s possible to imagine that the internet’s most popular language might one day become the language we use across every medium and context.


Professional or private: Should you use Emojis at work? 

And speaking of context, perhaps one of the most common barriers to the emojis universal popularity is their use in the professional world. How does the often playful expression of the emoji perform in today’s workplace? Does a casually dropped ‘smiling face’ at the end of a sentence belong in an email to your CEO or customer? Perhaps.

It’s a battle of brand perception that’s got thumbs-up on both sides of the argument, and it seems as though the split is generational, rather than conversational. 46% of young adults (18-29 years old) think emojis are appropriate for a professional setting. While 29% of senior professionals (45 years old +) think they make colleagues look unprofessional. 


Marketing superweapon? They might be.

While inside offices, the emoji provokes a mixed reception. On the customer-facing side of things, you may be surprised to learn that emojis can increase your audience engagement (likes, comments and shares) on social media by up to 25.4%! The right emoji can also increase your click-through rate, and who doesn’t want more of that activity? But with so many emojis available, and not all of them very obvious in meaning, the tricky part is defining what the ‘right emoji’ is for your audience, and knowing when to drop them in so that they’re strategic and action-driving, rather than annoying and over-done. 


Can we translate Emojis? 

Establishing meaningfulness is one of the most critical parts of translating language. Though emojis can be a fantastic way to express or underscore ideas and feelings, there’s still the challenge of global standardization. For example, this article is for an English-speaking audience. Yet, if we wrote this article in emoji language, it might have several unique interpretations, depending on the age and culture of the audience reading. The emoji language is so intriguing for modern linguists precisely for this reason. Emoji use is nuanced, so feelings like shock, surprise and awe could simultaneously be expressed by the same face with open mouth: 😮. 

Once you begin digging, you find all kinds of fascinating pictorial insights from across the globe. For example, the crescent moon emoji 🌙  is rarely used in the Western world but is the most frequently tweeted emoji in Arabic, Urdu and Farsi. In the Middle East and Asia, the moon has more cultural significance, especially during global events such as Ramadan.

Another example is the folded hands emoji 🙏 , often interpreted as ‘prayer hands’ in Western countries; it’s usually translated as ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ in the Middle East and Asia. 


A tool for globalization or branding? 

For our team at e-Arabization, turning the emoji from a casual conversational accent into a communication-enhancing marketing tool is a task that requires the same treatment as we’d give any language we needed to localize or translate.

In the case of the emoji, the key to harnessing the power of the vast (and still expanding) character library available, is in the creation of glossaries and style guides that standardize the use of certain characters across a company’s communication landscape. Only then can we ensure that messages are localized accurately and delivered with the context-specific character required to create the desired mood, impact or action.

While not all businesses in the digital space will find emojis appropriate for their audience, it’s an undeniable fact that at least for now, emojis are here to stay. Educating ourselves on emoji use is essential because even if we don’t use emojis as business people, our customers are, and speaking our customer’s language better will always bring us closer together. 


We’d love to know what you think! 

Struggling to communicate with your customer? Need some help wording your marketing? Visit to see how we help companies word their offerings, or drop us a message.