An emoji keyboard
(Image credit: MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP/Getty Images)

A picture's worth a thousand words, but whether those words are the same for everyone or a thousand different words determines if the image can be considered "language." For the Unicode Consortium, which standardizes letters, numbers, and emojis into numbers that computers can recognize, the legitimacy of emoji as a true language depends on who you ask.

"I can tell you, using language, I need to go get a haircut, but only if I can get there by 3 p.m., and otherwise I have to pick up the kids. You try to express that in emoji and you get a series of symbols that people could interpret in a thousand different ways," Mark Davis, the co-founder and president of the Unicode Consortium, told The New York Times.

But that doesn't mean emojis don't have potential:

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Mr. Davis concedes that emojis could one day evolve into something more."It's not a language, but conceivably, it could develop into one, like Chinese did," he said. "Pictures can acquire a particular meaning in a particular culture. I'll mention the infamous eggplant emoji, which has gotten to have a particular meaning in American culture, one which is not shared in a lot of cultures." (Some texters in the United States are using the fruit as a phallus emoji.) [The New York Times]

"In text, you're less expressive if you don't have emojis. And that's a very meaningful and emotional thing that they make you feel like you can express your personal style," elaborated linguist Tyler Schnoebelen. He doesn’t believe emojis are a fully functioning language just yet either, but that "they do function as a sort of written equivalent of body language." Others agree: At least one keyboard company has employed an "emoji grammarian."

The emoji consortium is currently preparing to vote on new emojis including an avocado, two strips of bacon, and a rifle (because, despite protests by gun control group, shooting is an Olympic sport and the new emoji keyboard will come out next summer in time for Rio 2016). Insert excited emoji here.

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Jeva Lange

Jeva Lange was the executive editor at She formerly served as The Week's deputy editor and culture critic. She is also a contributor to Screen Slate, and her writing has appeared in The New York Daily News, The Awl, Vice, and Gothamist, among other publications. Jeva lives in New York City. Follow her on Twitter.