Major Key: How the Emoji's Rise Is Influencing Language, Law in a Virtual World

By Friend, David | The Canadian Press, March 8, 2016 | Go to article overview

Major Key: How the Emoji's Rise Is Influencing Language, Law in a Virtual World


Friend, David, The Canadian Press


How emojis are influencing language in a virtual world

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TORONTO - If emojis could express their meteoric rise into the lexicon of virtual language, it might start with a surprised face, followed by thumbs up, and a trophy.

After years of ridicule in popular culture, the famous international registry of smiley faces, animals and numerous other objects is finally getting some respect.

"In many ways, communicating informally with each other on the Internet, with just words, is like trying to talk in a monotone with your hands behind your back," says Gretchen McCulloch, a Montreal-based linguist who has studied the rise of emojis and how people use them to enhance communication.

"Words are important but they don't convey the whole message. Sometimes they can undermine your message."

Created in the late 1990s by Japanese mobile phone carriers as a marketing hook, emojis never really landed on the radar of North Americans until Apple's iPhone and Android smartphones incorporated the cartoon characters in 2010.

While it's difficult to pinpoint exactly when emoji usage caught fire, last year marked a clear zeitgeist moment.

The prestigious Oxford Dictionaries chose the "face with tears of joy" emoji as word of the year, leading to an uproar in some linguistic circles.

How, they asked, could an image of a cartoon face supplant a new word in the English language? Oxford justified the decision by saying it saw usage of the word emoji "increase hugely" in 2015, led by the crying face.

It was an undeniable sign that emojis had reached a higher level of status after years of being widely dismissed as a quirky smartphone feature used mostly by teenagers.

Today, there's no one way to use emojis. McCulloch says that while most people use them to punctuate sentences -- like typing an angry face rather than an exclamation point -- some younger users replace full sentences with a string of emojis to convey a thought, especially on social media platforms like Twitter and Snapchat that have character limits per post.

Tastemakers like record producer DJ Khaled have also developed their own emoji slang. Khaled paired the word "major" with the cartoon key emoji as an abbreviation to declare a "major key to success. …

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