Communication in the modern day is rapid and instant, especially on the electronic medium. While that is so, perhaps no linguistic development better indicates changes in the ways we communicate than the ubiquitous emoji. Well written text messages are no longer fashionable. The emojis have taken over. Could it be signalling a slow death of the written words in text messaging?
But aside from a bit of ironic banter between friends, should we actually be using asterisks-for-eyes shock-face, sad cat or the dancing senorita graphic to convey how we really feel? Should we use cartoons to express our emotions?
Those old enough to remember the original acid house smiley face surely are big and ugly enough just to tell each other when they feel shocked, sad or excited using, you know, words? But yet, emojimania shows no sign of abating. It seems we cannot get enough of emojis and their emoticon cousins.
This conversational move has made its way into online written language, where that awkwardness is reduced to a single symbol. No wonder, frowning faces, clinking beer mugs, adorable chicken legs and other illustrations have become virtually omnipresent online.
Japanese mobile operators DoCoMo, and Softbank Mobile (formerly Vodafone) were the ones that first developed emojis. However, from 2010 onwards, a Unicode, a standard system for indexing characters, has allowed them to be used outside Japan across a number of operating systems.
After their international inclusion in Apple’s iPhone, which was followed by similar adoption by Android and other mobile operating systems, the use of emojis has been on a viral spread across all the continents. They have now colonized the manner in which young people express their emotions.
Emoji is now the fastest growing language in the world and many find it easier to communicate using its smiley faces and icons than text. It has curved a niche as a global language, that has maneuvered the linguistic barriers that word based languages have erected in our cross cross-lingual conversations.
A 2014 survey by TalkTalk Mobile, a UK telecoms company found that 8 out of 10 people in the world have used the symbols and icons to communicate, with 72 per cent of 18 to 25-year-olds adding that they found it easier to put their feelings across using emoji than with words. Prof Evans Murray who led the survey could say that “Emoji is the fastest growing form of language in history based on its incredible adoption rate and speed of evolution”.
Writer and Huffington Post Editor, Bianca Bosker, in her 14th August 2013 article, The Appeal Of Emoji: They Don’t Say Anything wrote that “Part of the reason the volume of text messaging is so high because lot of exchange is meant to make the receiver feel that the sender is with him or her. Emoji and emoticons are really good for conveying that kind of thing.” The written word, it could seem, is no longer a favourite mode of passing real emotional based messages, which make conversational close and mutual.
In her contribution to the book Discourse 2.0: Language and New Media, Susan Herring describes how a single question mark can be an entire message that indicates that the user is “confused or does not know what to say.” This may be true or not depending on the knowledge of the sender about emojis. “Those who know what they mean certainly cannot be categorized as oblivious of the meaning of the messages they send”, Herring wrote.
Dr. Evelyn Mudhune, a Communications Lecturer at Kenyatta University says that good communication requires social intimacy. “We build this by increasing the quantity of our communication and through the disclosure of personal details. It takes more than just sharing facts with someone to become close to them”. Dr. Mudhune adds that sharing our feelings is an integral part of how we build and maintain close relationships. Emoticons help us to do this more sincerely and freely.
However, the use of emojis requires some art, in terms of the flow of the conversation in order to achieve the intended purpose. Most people have an aim when they use the emojis, and if they do not use them well, or either of them does not know what they mean, it can lead to a communication barrier. But their simplicity, given their expressive nature, has quickened the understanding and use of this language.
The nature of the emojis is perhaps why Faith Mwaura, a University of Nairobi PhD student in Linguistics coins her interesting etiquette perspective on these emoji conversations from. “There is etiquette and an order to the emojis you can use. A cheeky wink is one that people use to get the conversation started, particularly if they are going to be flirty”. Faith observes that the figure and symbol language has been adopted to actualize some feelings, which words cannot be able to explain. Many people, even the most educated, have issues in putting to word their feelings, and that is perhaps why, having come to their aid, emojis have become so popular.
But Relationships advisor, Pastor Samwel Mulu warns that emoticons, as far as dating is concerned are an equivalent of junk food – a lazy way of dating, without any real intimacy. “Emoticons are irrelevant to a relationship and devoid of meaning. They give you a fake sense of reality.” Pastor Mulu advises that couples should get to understand emotion face to face, not over phone.
But while emojis can be a useful tool at conveying fun, happy and light-hearted emotions between colleagues, emotions of frustration, disappointment and urgency are harder to express. A recent US survey by mobile messaging company Cotap, found that an angry face casually dropped on the end of an email is not the way to plug this emotional hole. “When it comes to conveying a negative emotion to a colleague, dressing it up in a cute cartoon doesn’t make the pill any easier to swallow”, the survey revealed. That will mean that the emoticons are yet to solve riddles of the emotional expressions’ exactitude.
Emojis are yet to be a language, at least for now. They are more like an embryonic language, a cluster of cells that might be a language some day as Susan Achieng, a post graduate linguistics graduate from at Moi University who has been studying the way Kenyan people talk since 2008 opines.
YOU CANNOT DECIPHER WHAT YOUR TEEN GIRL IS TALIKNG ABOUT
But of concern is the coded language that teens are using, more or less, to keep off the eagle eyed parents off the track of their conversations. If you aren’t familiar with the most common acronyms, you might not have any idea what a conversation means.
Each new day, the teens even come up with many codes which only them can decipher. Parents whose children use cell phones so often find themselves at a loss on what the children have been talking about.
Unfortunately, teens use the codes to hide dirty talk, sexting and other ill actions they intend to do, or have done as American Teen Life Research Center could find out in a 2005 study. That would mean that a parent can only get to know the gravity of a problem when the tummy has grow big, or when the previously innocent boy, with reddened eyes, talks to you nonsensically.
Elizabeth Bosire, a mother of teen girls in Ngara high school, says that she is in trouble because her teen daughters are ever on the phone when at home, and she cannot elucidate what they are chatting about. “When I ask, they call me analogue”, laments the 42 year old. Elizabeth says that all she sees are numbers and a few letters, something she cannot imagine what the message can be. “The girls cannot tell you the truth, especially if they know you will be against them”.
This predicarment is facing many parents who have now decided to seek help from younger people, who can speak to the teens, with an aim of knowing what they are really up to. But as Mrs. Mary Makanji, the Principal of Sengera Girls explains, the teens are too intelligent and are always changing tact. “The most viable solution I have is to ban them from using phones, at least until they are adults”.
Brandon Kirwa, a 17 year old Jamhuri high school student says that he uses such acronyms to hide what they are talking about, especially with his girlfriend. “I must save my girlfriends name as either John* or Pato, and use acronyms so that my mother doesn’t realize and quarrel me”.
“Whether you are a parent, teacher or guardian, it’s important to stay up to date on the latest acronym and slang terms that teens use if you really have to understand them,” advises Collins Auma, a teen preacher at Kahawa Sukari SDA Church. Don explains that when the teens realize they have no freedom of engaging with their friends, they will devise a way of communicating without you realizing what they are really up to.
BY ABUTA OGETO
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