What does Emoji Use Tell us About National Culture

What does Emoji Use Tell us About National Culture?

We like to keep our ears pretty close to the ground here at Linguistica International, paying particular interest to the rumblings in the translation and interpreting sector. This week, on our travels around the online ether, we stumbled across an interesting news story from across the pond.

According to the Washington Post, a 12-year old girl has been charged with threatening her school on Instagram, with a post littered with menacing emojis, including a gun, knife and bomb. And this is not the first time a court has been asked to interpret exactly what is meant by an emoji.

A grand jury in New York City had to decide whether two emojis, a policeman next to a gun, represented a genuine threat to police officers. In another case, a Supreme Court judge in Michigan had to decide whether a face with the tongue sticking out constituted a threat.

So that got us thinking. Although the emoji is the one language we have in common, it seems that interpreting what emojis actually mean is still not clear cut. Perhaps emoji use, like language, would reflect national culture?

What is an emoji?

An emoji is a small digital image or icon used to express an idea or emotion in an electronic communication. Emojis are increasingly used by a wide cross-section of society, although they are particularly popular amongst the young.

While they’re easy to disregard as just a bit of fun, emojis actually represent one of the biggest recent innovations in how humans communicate. In a recent study, researchers found that patterns of emoji use around the world shed some light on the national culture of different countries.

What does your emoji use say about you?

The smiley face is by far and away the most popular emoji worldwide. Adding a smiley face is a simple but effective communication tool as it can set the tone way of an exchange in a concise and friendly way.

Dig a little deeper than the universally popular smiley face, and you soon find that the emojis favoured by different nationalities reveal some interesting, and often clichéd insights into their national character.

These are the headline findings of a recent study into emoji use around the world:

  • North Americans tend to favour more violent and aggressive emojis, with lots more use of the gun symbol than elsewhere;
  • France’s billing as a country of incurable romantics stands up to emoji scrutiny. They were found to be four times more likely to use the heart icon than any other nation;
  • The Spanish love a little bit of revelry, as shown by their preference for party-related emojis;
  • Australians are most likely to use alcohol-related emojis;
  • The Russians emoji use mimics the subject matter of the country’s famed authors, namely romance and the cold weather;
  • Flora and fauna loving Arabic speakers use flower and plant emojis four times more than the rest of us;
  • Meat, pizza and chicken drumstick emojis feature prominently in North America.

Emojis as a communication aid

Discussions about emoji use usually descend into complaints about the degradation of language and the dumbing down of today’s youth, but there are those that see emojis as a communication aid.

For speakers of some of the more complicated written languages, it can be quicker and easier to use emojis than regular text. In Asia, emojis are extremely popular because they provide a faster way for people to express themselves.

What are your go-to emojis?

Get in touch on Facebook and we’ll see what your favourite emojis can tell us about British culture. Personally, we’re pretty fond of the tortoise. For more information about our translation and interpreting services, please give us a call today.