November 17, 2015

Oxford Dictionary's 'Word' Of The Year Is An Emoji


 Oxford Dictionaries, considered the benchmark in how far the English language has come, has announced on Tuesday that the emoji, commonly known as 'Face with Tears of Joy', is its "Word" of the Year for 2015. 

The Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year is a word or expression chosen to reflect the passing year in language. Every year, the Oxford Dictionaries team reviews candidates for word of the year and then debates their merits, eventually choosing one that captures the ethos, mood, or preoccupations of that particular year. This year, instead of choosing a traditional word, Oxford Dictionaries has chosen a pictograph, the 'Face with Tears of Joy' emoji, to reflect the sharp increase in popularity of emoji across the world in 2015. 

Although emoji have been a staple of texting teens for some time, emoji culture exploded into the global mainstream over the past year. Whether it was Hillary Clinton soliciting feedback in emoji or on-going debates about the skin tone of smiley faces, emoji have come to embody a core aspect of living in a digital world that is visually driven, emotionally expressive, and obsessively immediate. 

Casper Grathwohl, president of Oxford Dictionaries, says: "You can see how traditional alphabet scripts have been struggling to meet the rapid-fire, visually focused demands of 21st Century communication. It's not surprising that a pictographic script like emoji has stepped in to fill those gaps—it's flexible, immediate, and infuses tone beautifully. As a result emojis are becoming an increasingly rich form of communication, one that transcends linguistic borders. When Andy Murray tweeted out his wedding itinerary entirely in emoji, for example, he shared a subtle mix of his feelings about the day directly with fans around the world. It was highly effective in expressing his emotions." 

This year Oxford University Press partnered with leading mobile technology business SwiftKey to explore frequency and usage statistics for some of the most popular emoji across the world. 'Face with Tears of Joy' came out a clear winner. According to SwiftKey's research, 'Face with Tears of Joy' was the most heavily used emoji globally in 2015. Their research shows that the character comprised 20% of all emoji used in the UK in 2015, and 17% of all emoji used in the US. This compared to 4% and 9% respectively in 2014. In the US the next most popular emoji was 'Face Throwing a Kiss,' comprising 9% of all usage. 

"Emoji culture has become so popular that individual characters have developed their own trends and stories," notes Grathwohl. "They can serve as insightful windows through which to view our cultural preoccupations, so it seemed appropriate to reflect this emoji obsession by selecting one as this year's "word" of the year. We felt particularly comfortable selecting 'Face with Tears of Joy' because of the frequency and usage data that SwiftKey was able to provide. Oxford's word of the year has always been backed by real-time language analysis, and our selection for 2015 is no exception. SwiftKey's data provided the basis on which we were able to interpret and debate the significance of what a particular emoji says about global culture in 2015. Not only did we see a dramatic spike in usage of 'Face with Tears of Joy,' we felt the character captured a sense playfulness and intimacy that embodies emoji culture itself." 

Sarah Rowley, head of communications, EMEA, at SwiftKey, says: "It seems a fitting end to 2015 that the Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year is an emoji rather than a traditional word. It has truly been the year of the emoji. For many their appeal lies in how they allow people to express themselves, regardless of the language they are speaking in. The sheer volume and range of data from SwiftKey's emoji report goes some way to demonstrate how each person uses emoji in a way that is entirely personal to them." 

The word emoji
Oxford Dictionaries lexicographers have also seen a sharp increase in the use of the word emoji itself in 2015. Emoji is a loanword from Japanese defined as'a small digital image or icon used to express an idea or emotion in electronic communication'. It was used in English-language Japanese publications as early as 1997 but remained rare outside of Japanese contexts until 2011, when Apple launched iOS 5 with emoji support. 

Since then, usage of the word emoji has soared as English speakers have embraced the symbols to supplement communication in texts and online, more than tripling from 2014 to 2015; social media rejoiced this year when the launch of Unicode 8 introduced more diverse skin tones, along with long-requested symbols such as the mosque, the cricket bat, and the taco. 

The similarity of the Japanese word emoji to the English word emoticon makes it easy for English speakers to remember, but the resemblance is entirely coincidental: emoji is derived ultimately from the Japanese words 'e' (picture) and 'moji' (letter, character), whereas emoticon is from the English words, emotion and icon. 
By Manash Pratim Gohain
With thanks to The Times of India