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Have emojis changed the world? Show more Show less

In just two decades, emoji has become ‘the fastest growing language in history’. But are there more complex implications to their popularity? With more than 92% of internet users now using emojis, and billions used every day, do the simple digital pictograms have wider implications for society, relationships and even the way we're hardwired?

No, the impact of emojis is exaggerated. Show more Show less

The growth in emoji use is part of the much more transformative digital revolution. Emojis are impactful insofar as they enhance (or diminish) existing forms of communication. However, they have no revolutionary impact in and of themselves.
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Emojis are reminiscent of ancient hieroglyphics and their use.

Since ancient times, humans have always used images to communicate. The use of such symbols to portray objects and even ideas has been around for tens of thousands of years. Emojis are just the latest iteration of this historic practice.
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communication emojis hieroglyphics history language


Humans have used images in written communication for thousands of years, with the earliest forms of pictographs dating back to 3300-3200 BC.

The Argument

Using pictures to express ideas in written communications is not a revolutionary, new idea. In fact, it dates back to the earliest languages. Such use of symbols to portray an idea or greater entity was actually commonplace in many ancient civilizations. Perhaps most commonly known today for the use of hieroglyphics is the Egyptians, although hieroglyphics have been theorized to have been in use for tens of thousands of years, tracing back to the earliest Homo sapiens. For the Egyptians, hieroglyphics were small images, similar to emojis (in scale), that represented characters in their alphabet. Some hieroglyphics represent entire words, while others expressed phonemes . Egyptians also employed symbols known as logograms, which are perhaps more similar to modern emojis. These logograms represented the depicted object or in some cases, an abstraction of the idea trying to be expressed (i.e. the logogram for flamingo was used to express the color 'red'). These same concepts have been studied in several other civilizations such as the Aztec and Mayan empires. In this way, emojis are just the latest incarnation of this linguistic component. Although the platform and technology that they are based on are in every way revolutionary, using symbols and imagery as a means of language is by no means new.

Counter arguments

Hieroglyphics is a written language, where letters are represented by images. Emoji is not a written language. The images in hieroglyphic language are therefore more akin to our alphabet(s). Moreover, emojis are the first means of universal communication. While historically symbols as language may have been employed, emojis are the first "universal language". Most emojis are able to be understood by most anyone, regardless of culture, language, or background. Hieroglyphs, however, are known only to their respective cultures, requiring historians and translators to attempt to glean meaning. In this way, emojis have many parallels to hieroglyphs, but are ultimately revolutionary due to their accessibility.



[P1] Pictures have always been essential to written communication [P2] Emojis are the current manifestation of pictograms in language

Rejecting the premises

[Rejecting P2] There is no connection between hieroglyphics and emojis. Hieroglyphics are legitimate characters that take the place of letters of the alphabet, which emojis are not.


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    This page was last edited on Friday, 17 Jul 2020 at 17:56 UTC