Can emojis tell our age?

This article is in cooperation with Babbel originated.

It’s hard to imagine emails and WhatsApp messages without emojis. Whereas in the past you had to write out that something was annoying you, today you simply send an angry face. Instead of real flowers, the virtual hibiscus blossom now does the trick. Just look in the emoji menu on your cell phone, select, and send. Practical, isn’t it?

Those who are particularly skilled in using the now thousands of picture symbols can even provide a laugh or two with a little flair and thus earn serious sympathy points with the recipient. Since 2020, due to the Coronavirus everyone is increasingly on chats and instant messengers, even our Parents and Grandparents learned how to use the colorful pictures.

But not all smiley faces are the same. Depending on who uses what kind of emoji and how, a surprising amount of information is revealed about the person in question. The use of emojis has developed into a science in itself, which can be used to determine group affiliation and age. But it all started so simply.

How smileys became en vogue

Allegedly, it was the New York Times that accidentally used a smiling typographic character in the print of Abraham Lincoln’s speech in 1862. 20 years later, a U.S. satirical magazine used typographic symbols to express feelings such as melancholy or amazement. But it wasn’t until 1999 that the colorful little images of emotion really took off, when a Japanese designer was commissioned to create a large number of pictograms for a mobile phone provider. He then delivered 176 symbols, which initially became increasingly popular, especially in Asia. In 2011, first Apple and then in 2013 Android integrated the images into their smartphones – from then on, there was no stopping them worldwide. No matter whether it’s raining and hailing outside, the Cat If someone is sick or the sushi doesn’t taste good: send two or three matching emojis and the recipient will know immediately.

But emojis no longer convey only their “literal” meaning: they can also be used as a code, the use of which signals who is in and who is out, who is old or young.

The generation check: Who uses which emojis?

The most popular emoji is the teary-eyed smiley, also known as the crying, laughing face. Of all things, it is by the use of this favorite among smileys that you can identify certain generations. Generation Z (those born between 1997 and 2012) already doesn’t use it anymore, as it’s mainly the older generation that makes use of it. Those who don’t want to come across as uncool use the skull and crossbones instead. So if something is hilarious, 9-24 year olds now choose the gray skull – somehow makes sense.

Another example is the hourglass emoji. While it Millennials While Generation X and all generations before it use it to express that time is passing very quickly or slowly, this is no longer the case for Generation Z. Gen Zs use the hourglass symbol when someone looks good (and has an hourglass figure).

“The fact is that older generations mostly use emojis literally, while younger people are more creative with them because they grew up with them. Basically, it can be observed that language change tends to come from the younger generations, and that naturally includes emojis as a language,” says Maren Pauli, linguist at the language learning app Babbel.

So emojis are at the same time demarcation tools and define to which age group someone belongs. They have now become so numerous and complex that there is even a separate reference book for them. At Emojipedia you can check if you are up to date with certain smileys in case of doubt.

Emojis are therefore a relatively new way of communicating and sometimes reveal at first glance which generation users belong to. But slang words in everyday speech also reveal which age group a person belongs to. The language experts at the language learning app Babbel have shown just how complex communication is. Articles on the future of communication illuminated in detail.

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Image source: Domingo Alvarez E on Unsplash, CC0 license

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