When Japanese designer Shigetaka Kurita sketched out the first ever batch of 176 emojis in 1999, he could hardly have imagined the current landscape.
Today we have in the region of 1,800 of the little icons to choose from at our fingertips.
Last spring researchers at the University of Minnesota’s Group Lens Lab ran an experiment into the potential for miscommunication when using emoji Not only did the study find that understandings of emoji meanings vary depending on what platform you’re using, it also revealed that people regularly interpret the same emoji quite differently.
READ MORE: Find out about how to flirt online This minefield of misunderstanding is something Cohn is quite aware of.
“In the case of emoji, they have a modality, they’re graphic and visual,” he says, “they also convey some sort of meaning, the vocabulary is provided for you by the various companies that create them.” READ MORE: 15 little ways to tell your partner you love them Everything comes unstuck when it comes to grammar.Cohn goes on to explain that “modality is tied to meaning.The sounds I’m making are understandable to you because they have links to meanings that are understood by both of us”. “Grammar essentially packages meaning across a sequence of units so that I create coherent sentences, and avoid ones that aren’t,” he says. These are some of the burning questions we put to visual language doyen Neil Cohn in an attempt to shed some light on this modern phenomenon. Can emoji meanings truly convey the gravitas of an emotion like love?Before Cohn entered academia he worked as a comic artist, a pursuit he took up in his teens.This background, coupled with studying cognitive science and linguistics, led him to his current research on visual languages.This golden triangle is composed of modality, meaning and grammar.In simple terms modalities are the means by which we communicate; speaking is a verbal modality, when we gesticulate it’s a bodily modality.Building on Cohn’s evaluation of emojis supplementary value, it’s pretty clear that they can be used in a light-hearted manner.Adding an emoji onto the end of a written message can definitely serve as a playful icebreaker, especially when you’re just starting to get to know someone. “They definitely work in the dating context, their novelty certainly makes them good for that purpose,” he says.