Are Emojis a Universal Language?

Since 2011, when they first became available to a wide range of mobile users, emojis – the plethora of brightly coloured smiley faces, hearts and so forth – have become commonplace and used by people all over the world.

An emoji, from the Japanese word for ‘picture character’, is a visual interpretation of an idea, feeling, status or event, and in this blog, we’re going to explore whether emojis should be considered as a universal language.

The History of the Emoji

The word ‘Emoji’ is derived from the Japanese for picture “e” and character “moji”. The world’s first emoji was developed in 1999 by Shigetaka Kurita, a Japanese interface designer, who drew his inspiration from the icons depicting different weather conditions.

His vision to capture emotions and feelings through digital messaging using small images has now become a modern-day, global phenomenon. In 2018, nearly one billion emojis were sent across the world on Facebook messenger alone.

Big tech corporations such as Apple and Android have helped to push the use of emojis into everyday conversation, and they have even spawned something of a brand of their own. Examples of this include World Emoji Day (held annually on the 17th of July), the world’s first emoji translator, the ‘crying with laughter’ emoji becoming the Oxford Dictionary’s word of the year in 2015, the increasing emergence of emojis in trials and finally the animated film released in 2017.

How Emojis Are Changing Communication

Communicating effectively with our peers is now, more than ever, reliant on texting, WhatsApp and Social Media due to the speed in which we can interact with someone anywhere in the world. However, we’ve found an even faster way to convey our thoughts, feelings and emotions. For instance, a question as simple as, “how are you today?” can be answered and understood by using a variety of emojis.

While this form of communication has received criticism, many argue that emojis help us to understand the tone and particular nuances of conversation, such as mood, sarcasm and engagement in a conversation.

In a relatively short space of time, these small graphics have entirely revolutionised the way we communicate as a species.

So, Are Emojis a Universal Language?

Emojis aren’t, strictly speaking, a language in the same way that English, French, Japanese or German are languages through the spoken or written word. But, emojis are undoubtedly an influential form of communication, and as we’ve mentioned, they are even powerful enough to be used against you in a court of law.

Emojis are unquestionably the world’s first global form of communication. English is considered to be the world’s most spoken language, with approximately 1.5 billion speakers, or roughly 20% of the world’s population.

English is also the official language of 101 countries throughout the world, including countries in North America, Africa and throughout Europe. The language has been adopted by countries far away from its origin point.

By comparison, though, the reach of emojis dwarfs even that of English. The skyrocketing demand for portable computing, particularly smartphones gives anyone anywhere in the world access to emojis.

Today, 2.71 billion people across the globe own a smartphone and therefore have access to emojis. In terms of how this breaks down per country, in 2019 over half of the population of China own a smartphone, 77% of people in the USA and almost 30% of the population in India have a phone in their pocket.

In terms of smartphone usage, almost 42 billion text messages are sent across the globe every day, which contain around 6 billion emojis – truly mindboggling figures.

Where Can the Emoji Take Us?

We have established that the emoji is used on a day-to-day basis, through social media and texting, but we’ve also seen them appear in business – mainly through marketing campaigns.

Domino’s Pizza is an excellent example of this when they began a Twitter campaign where people across the globe could tweet the pizza emoji to order a pizza. Millions across the world understand a marketing campaign like this, and it just goes to show how the emoji is breaking, not only language barriers but commercial ones too.

But this leads to the inevitable question of whether emojis are appropriate in a business environment?

Emojis in Business

Business Communication

As we’ve mentioned emojis can offer added context to conversations which can be especially crucial in emails since they are the most misconstrued form of communication. Having said that, there are times when an emoji isn’t appropriate.

Most email suites and messenger applications offer a wide selection of emojis, but there are some concerns with using emojis during in-office communication:

They Aren’t Universally Agreed Upon – The issue some may find when sending emojis in business emails is the fact that some emojis aren’t always interpreted in the same way.

Different people may bring their own interpretations to each emoji, which may mean they’re lost in translation.

For example, the streaming tears emoji may mean that you have found something particularly amusing, but to someone else, they may assume you’re upset.

You May Seem Less Competent – According to a study by Social Psychological and Personality Science, 39% of senior managers believe that emoji communications at work are unprofessional and may compromise your status as a qualified expert.

Despite being widely used by a younger demographic, an older recipient may be expecting a more traditional response.

Despite these potential misunderstandings, emojis are still used frequently. Not only do millennials comprise of a large portion of the workforce, but the adoption of applications such as Slack and Skype are promoting more casual working interactions.

Using emojis in the office depends on the context. If your workplace is more relaxed, then emojis will be far more acceptable.

Avoid using emojis with those you aren’t all that familiar with. Unless you have a good relationship with your boss or a client, don’t use them.


As we’ve already mentioned, Dominos Pizza translated the idea of an emoji into a fantastic marketing campaign.

But, if you own a business, then should you consider using emojis in your social media and branding communications?

Emojis Encourage Engagement – Emojis have been proven to boost engagement and clicks.

For example:

  • Tweets with emojis saw 25% more people interacting with a post.
  • Facebook posts with emojis see 57% more likes and 33% more comments

Emojis Convey More Than Words Alone – When you receive texts or emails with full stops or exclamation points at the end, they can seem quite blunt, but imagine how much personal an emoji can be:

“I can’t wait.” vs “I can’t wait!” va “I can’t wait 😁”

It’s easy to see the difference, the sentiment is the same, but the takeaway is different.

As we’ve already covered, emojis can’t completely replace the written word, but they can definitely offer that extra feeling that creates excitement, persuades and intrigues.

Emojis Offer Brand Personality – Brands are far more than their products and services or the design of their logo. They should be just like people, with personalities and character – which helps consumers connect and remain loyal.

Using emojis in branding and communications gives your brand an identifiable character.

Whatever your brand, emojis can help to humanise your business.

Emojis have increased in number and quality and have even grown more socially relevant with the introduction of same-sex and racially diverse emojis which reflect the zeitgeist.

The diverse nature of the emoji has continued with this year’s update, which includes men and women in wheelchairs and prosthetic arms and legs.

What began as a tiny, pixelated icon, has progressed to become a crucial part of modern culture and has evolved as progressive attitudes have changed, and social barriers have fallen. And while it’s not a language in the traditional sense, it is one that can overcome linguistic nuances and is understood by the majority of the world’s smartphone and social media users.

We’ve seen how quickly the emoji has been embraced and how important it is to our modern form of communication in personal and business scenarios, so who knows what the future holds for the emoji?

If you have any questions about anything we’ve covered in this blog, or you’re interested in best-in-class translation services, why not email us at or contact us on 01480 411514.