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New emoji appear every year, but where do they come from?

Haben Kelati

THE WASHINGTON POST – You’ve probably noticed that new emoji show up on your phone or other device every year. For example, the ninja emoji, which was introduced in 2020, or the yawning face in 2019. This year is no different, and if you have an Android device, you may have used a new emoji such as a troll or a melting face. Other devices, such as Apple products, will have these new emoji soon.

The updates come from a California-based nonprofit called Unicode Consortium. Each year, the emoji subcommittee releases new emoji that will update the existing keyboard.

Chair of the subcommittee Jennifer Daniel said that it’s not the organisation coming up with these new characters, it’s the public.

“It’s important for people to understand that we’re not inventing language, that it’s really the people who craft it and are inventive,” Daniel said.

The first emoji keyboard was created in Japan in the 1990s by mobile phone company designer Shigetaka Kurita. Kurita created emoji because the company offered email communications that were limited to 250 characters and emoji are only one character each but can be used to say more. Emoji have since become popular around the world – 92 per cent of the online population uses them, according to data that Daniel’s subcommittee recently gathered.

“They aren’t tied to any language. They aren’t tied to any region of the world. They’re a global phenomenon,” she said.

Anyone is allowed to submit a proposal for a new emoji, and if they make a strong enough case, Unicode will accept it.

“We do get proposals in lots of different languages from around the world,” said Daniel. If your proposal is successful, it can take up to two years to create and release the new emoji.

The process does not simply involve coming up with something that doesn’t have an emoji representing it. An emoji idea has to meet certain criteria. These criteria include its distinctness, whether it can be used with existing emoji and whether it can have multiple meanings.

The popular face with “tears of joy” emoji, for example, is easy to identify, which makes it distinct. You can pair it with many other emoji to convey how you are feeling. Additionally, this emoji has adopted many meanings.

“Since the 10 years in the standard, we have anecdotally seen people use it from being really sad to being really proud,” Daniel said of the crying emoji. “A lot of it has to do with the evolution of slang.”

For example, someone saying, “I’m crying”, doesn’t only mean they’re sad but could also mean they find something funny!

Kids today are very familiar with emoji and how to use them. As the keyboard has acquired more than 3,600 emoji characters, it has been young people figuring out how to bend the accepted definitions of these text aides to create something more.

“They became more and more comfortable and confident using emoji, which means they’re more willing to take risks,” Daniel said of younger generations who grew up with the keyboard.

“I love seeing people go, ‘you know what, the skull emoji doesn’t mean goth anymore. That means I’m laughing so hard, I have died’,” she said, “That requires imagination.”


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