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Rise of a New Language

(Figure 1)

According to a research by psychologists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Cardiff University, Hongkongers are found to be the least likely to express themselves by smiling. That said, are Hongkongers also frugal with the use of smileys when communicating on social media or apps?

Smileys, including variations such as winks, kisses, and grins, are the world's most heavily used type of emoji, making up 45% of global usage. At the top of the list is . The finding was revealed by a study of SwiftKey, a British app developer, which analysed more than one billion pieces of emoji data taken from communications made in 16 different languages and regions via Android and iOS devices from October 2014 to January 2015.

The amazing emoji surge started in 2011 when the iOS emoji keyboard was released, and in 2013, on most Android platforms. Currently, almost 40% of texts and captions posted on Instagram contain at least one emoji. In fact, smileys and ideograms are nothing new. The early Chinese and Egyptians had used their own, which we call hieroglyphics, to communicate millennia ago. So modern-day emoji may be regarded as the digital version of hieroglyphics.

The American magazine, Puck, printed for the first time in its 1881 issue four examples of 'typographical art'—joy, melancholy, indifference, and astonishment, which may be considered early versions of emotion icons (Figure 1).

Emoji are not just a trendy way of communication. The SwiftKey study also uncovered what appears to be national traits. For example, Canadians were found to use way more than anyone else and they also scored highest in categories associated with violence and money, e.g., . Australians love icons suggestive of alcohol, drugs and junk food (). While dominates in the world, rules in France.

American pop singer, Katy Perry, released a video for her hit Roar that conveys most of the lyrics by means of emoji:
I used my and my
rock the and make a
So I

While the lyrics is:
I used to bite my tongue and hold my breath
Scared to rock the boat and make a mess
So I sit quietly

And the trend is growing. Apple has recently added 'politically correct' emoji that come in six skin shades (). Other additions include new same-sex relationship emoji, such as families with same-sex parents . The middle finger () icon will also be included in Microsoft's Windows 10 operating system. The Unicode Consortium, an organization that standardizes digital codes, has released a list of 38 emoji characters as candidates for Unicode 9.0, which is scheduled for release in mid-2016.

BRIS, a Swedish children's rights non-profit organization, believes that a complex reality demands a complex set of symbols. So, it developed a set of 'Abused Emojis () for children to talk about situations where they felt bad or wrongly treated. 'Abused Emojis' has been downloaded 30,000 times and is the third most downloaded free iOS app in Sweden within several days.

If you are still not satisfied, you can create and customize your own using the app Makemoji, or login to the emoji-only messaging app—Emojli, which requires that usernames and messages be composed entirely of emoji. Give it a try if you would like to (test) your (ability) to (understand) all emoji.


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