Emojis, a technology driven language, and its misinterpretations

With the invention of cellular phones, tablets, and other devices, our lives have accommodated a new way of communicating, emojis. Emojis are those small digital pictures or symbols that we use to communicate things, feelings, ideas, etc. in a text. Many thought that emojis would be a great way to break down language barriers. A yellow glob smiling at you means you’re happy, right? Not necessarily so according to a group of researchers.


Researchers at the University of Minnesota discovered that emojis may be misinterpreted and using different platforms only compounds the problem since each platform renders their own rendition of emojis. Hannah Miller, a Ph.D. student at the University of Minnesota, said people thought they could use emojis with little risk [of misinterpretation] and what we [the researchers] found is that there is actually a high risk of miscommunication.

Look at this example from the research group, GroupLens.


Emoji smiling face

This graphic shows how the same emoji is interpreted on different platforms. grouplens


diffrent smiling emoji


The newness of this language may be a contributing factor as to why there exists this high risk of miscommunication per Jacob Thebault-Spieker, a PhD student at the University of Minnesota and co-author of the research. According to Thebault-Spieker, “people build shared meaning of communication and interaction over time”.


Languages are rooted in our culture and meaning is derived from that culture. So just like some words meaning one thing in one country and those exact words meaning something completely different in another country, so do emojis. So next time you communicate using emojis remember, that without that shared culture you could be saying something you didn’t mean.


To help avoid miscommunication in the future when using emojis you can use emojipedia.com, the authority on the meaning of emojis.

Have you ever misinterpreted an emoji? Leave a comment below and let me know.




Co-authors of “Blissfully happy” or “ready to fight”: Varying Interpretations of Emoji

Jacob Thebault-SpiekerShuo (Steven) ChangIsaac JohnsonLoren Terveen, and Brent Hecht


Click link to read paper.



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