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Smile, You’re Speaking Emoji: the Rapid Evolution of a Wordless Language


Do you text friends and family with smiley faces and peace signs? If the answer is yes, then chances are you are fluent in a language you did not even know existed - the emoji language. Invented in Japan in the late 1990’s, emojis are small pictures that express a variety of ideas and objects, such as emotions, food, or animals. There used to be only a handful of emojis on special messaging devices, but there are now hundreds of different emojis available on almost any cellphone, tablet, or laptop.

The emoji language is a work-in-progress* and is still growing, but it is very much different today than it was 20 years ago. Here is a timeline of the emoji’s history and evolution.

1980s: Smiley faces


With the invention of email the decade before, computer users in the West began to create emoticons to create simple faces out of characters like the smiley face :). Around that same time, the Japanese created their own kaomoji or picture faces using their larger character face. A famous kaomoij is the shrug face ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. These smileys and picture faces allowed computer users to share emotions and body language online.

1999: The first 176 Emoji made in Japan


Shigetaka Kurita, a Japanese artist working for internet company NTT DOCOMO, released 176 emojis in 1999. These emojis were revolutionary and successful. They allowed users to enter these small images instead of typing out longer words and included weather, transportation, technology, and moons.

2010: Unicode


These Japanese emojis were finally translated into Unicode, the standard computer writing system, in 2010. Having emojis in Unicode allowed someone from one side of the planet to send emojis to someone from the other side of the planet.

2011: Apple and Emojis on iOS


Once Apple added emojis onto its iOS messaging app for iPhones, iPads, and iPods in 2011, the emojis became wildly popular in the United States and around the world.

2015-2018: Growth of the Emoji language


Between 2015 and 2018, the Emoji language grew vastly, with new sets of emojis with different meanings coming out each year. On 2018 World Emoji Day, Apple revealed new emojis such as people with different skin and hair colors, or cupcakes and infinity signs. The options are endless, and pretty soon we’ll be able to communicate all sorts of ideas using these colorful emoticons.

New Emojis for 2019


Approved on February 5, 2019 - 230 new emojis will come to major platforms throughout 2019 .

Watch the video below to find out more about upcoming emojis.


  • handful - a small number or amount

  • work-in-progress - an unfinished project that is still being added to

  • shrug - raise shoulders to express indifference or not knowing an answer to a question



Yuri Nesen is a student at Georgetown University School of Foreign Service in Washington, D.C. studying Global Business, Diplomatic Studies, and Arabic. He enjoys watching animated movies, running and exploring new places, and he is a complete dessert fanatic. 


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