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Emoji dialects

How emojis support our daily communication and what misunderstandings may arise

Initially devised solely for Japanese users, emojis have long been a fixture in our everyday communication. Nowadays, emojis no longer merely help to prevent misunderstandings or to emphasise the emotional slant of a message, but are increasingly being used on their own. Online guessing games have been invented in which the aim is to work out a film title or song on the basis of a series of signs. There are also chat apps in which communication takes place exclusively via pictograms. Are emojis already acting as a new universal language? Well, we’re not quite there yet: there are international differences in the popularity and meanings of these digital hieroglyphs. In France, for instance, around 55 per cent of all emojis sent are hearts. That’s over four times as many as the global average of 12.5 per cent. In German-speaking countries, the classic smileys are more in vogue. The most popular emoji is the ‘crying with laughter’ symbol, at 15 per cent, followed by ‘blowing a kiss’. Then come ‘hearts for eyes’ and the standard smiley. Arabic messages, by contrast, tend to be ornamented with flowers and other plants, while Australians have a penchant for alcohol- and drug-related emojis. However, different interpretations can lead to misunderstandings. The emoji often used by iPhone users to signify a high five is actually meant to show folded or praying hands. On other operating systems, the difference is clear to see. The reason for the misunderstanding is simple: these emojis also originated from Japan, where folded hands are much more commonly seen in everyday life. The iPhone symbol, which is meant to stand for ‘service’💁‍♀️, has now acquired a completely different meaning: women, in particular, use it as a symbol for sassiness or a ‘couldn’t care less’ attitude. But that has to be better than the bizarre peanut symbol that Android users are supposed to tap. Above it, the ‘tired cat’ appears more shocked than exhausted to iPhone users and is used accordingly.