Academics Share Emoji Research.

Arielle Pardes writes for Wired about a new sort of academic conference:

At Stanford University this week, a collection of linguists, data scientists, computer researchers, and emoji enthusiasts gathered for the International Workshop on Emoji Understanding and Applications in Social Media, itself a smaller piece of the AAAI Conference on Web and Social Media. They brought with them research on how emoji are changing the way we communicate online, how gender and political affiliation are reproduced online through emoji, and the challenges emoji pose for natural-language processing in computers. The assembled academics also debated basic questions about the nature of emoji: Like, if emoji is something akin to a language, why can’t anyone agree on what individual emoji mean?

Emoji, which have grown from an original set of 176 characters to a collection of over 3,000 unique icons, present both opportunities and challenges to the academics who study them. Most agree that the icons are not quite a language—the emoji vocabulary is made up almost entirely of nouns, and there’s no real grammar or syntax to govern their use—but their influence on internet communication is massive. By 2015, half of all comments on Instagram included an emoji. On Messenger, Facebook’s messaging app, over 5 billion emoji are sent and received every day. From an academic point of view, that presents a wealth of data to understand communication, behavior, and language online. […]

Papers presented at the conference highlighted emoji as markers of solidarity during crisis (think: “Je suis Paris ????????????”) or as ways to understand differences across gender or political ideologies (women use emoji more than men, but conservative men use way fewer emoji than liberal men). Others discussed the potential to decode emoji with machine learning, and the difficulties in teaching computers to recognize the multiple meanings of emoji in natural-language processing. A panel discussion raised questions about the way the emoji lexicon is developed, as well as the ways emoji can be misinterpreted across cultures. (The ???? does not mean the same thing in English as it does in American Sign Language, nor does it mean the same thing to white supremacists.) […]

On Monday, linguist Gretchen Mcculloch presented a theory of emoji as beat gestures—the equivalent of gesticulating to add emphasis—rather than a language in themselves. “Letters let us write words, emoji let us write gestures,” she says. Eric Goldman, a legal scholar at Santa Clara University’s School of Law, discussed a forthcoming paper on emoji and the law, which highlights the potential for emoji to create misunderstanding in legal contexts—including high profile cases, like the Silk Road case.

There are other examples at the link. I’m not a heavy user of emoji, but it’s definitely worth studying; thanks, Kobi!


  1. I took a quick look at all the slide decks, and they appear to be in English, with emoji used only as examples. Perhaps Emoji2019 should require all papers and slides to be written insofar as possible in emoji.

    I can’t confirm this, but I believe the first Esperanto World Congress allowed people to give talks in national languages, whereas all later congresses have required talks to be in Esperanto only.

  2. David Eddyshaw says

    women use emoji more than men, but conservative men use way fewer emoji than liberal men

    Assuming (as is surely intrinsically obvious) that it is the use of emoji that leads to liberalism rather than vice versa, this may be the key to saving the world: tweaking the tweeting of the tyrannical.


  3. Stu Clayton says

    I don’t find that intrinsically obvious. Nor even intrinsically true, and thus obvious.

    On the contrary, there is a general argument that liberals are snowflakes, the modern term for effeminate. So along these lines, liberal men use emojis because women do.

    It is rather hard to keep up with modern developments in thought.

  4. I don’t find that intrinsically obvious.

    What I find obvious is that David was joking. But probably you knew that and were playing along. I can’t keep up!

  5. Stu Clayton says

    Smoke and mirrors. Post-couth times.

  6. Right. Women in general are more emojinal, while men use their emojis at work and only left with a few grunt emojis for home.

  7. Trond Engen says

    I don’t think the findings really say something about political preferences but other sosio-cultural variables, like age bracket, income, education, line of work, marital status, parenthood, etc., that happen to correlate with political views.

  8. To call someone a snowflake is not to charge them with effeminacy, but to say that they believe themselves unique, as actual snowflakes are. Since we are all unique and all alike, it is one of those half-truths.

  9. David Marjanović says

    “precious snowflake” is a Google suggestion and gives 45,900 hits, the first being the “top definition” in the Urban Dictionary:

    Children being spoiled by parents who refuse to take any responsibility for raising said children, and who then attempt to blame anyone and everyone around them for their child’s poor development.

    The mother sued the school because her precious snowflake failed all her classes, despite all the studying said snowflake didn’t do, instead going to parties till 3 am every weeknight.

  10. the emoji vocabulary is made up almost entirely of nouns

    Then we need only to verb ’em.

    These days the apps have cute cartoon characters actively running, jumping, panicking, laughing, smirking, crying,shopping, cooking, …


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