I regarded these as technophilic hyperbole until, I realized, they were definitely true. Emoji, which existed five years ago only in primitive, emoticon form, now ornament the language of my everyday life. I use them with my parents and my managers and my friends. When my middle-school-age brother sent me a text with a emoji in it last month, I was so excited that I showed it to everyone else at the table.
It’s hard to call this emergent system of pictographic meaning anything other than a language.
But emoji, as a language, evolve in an unusually technocratic way. Though of course the meanings remain subject to the changes and innovations of millions of worldwide speakers, new symbols themselves must be adopted and ratified by the Unicode Consortium. The Consortium is the set of tech companies and user groups that oversee Unicode, the vast computer-text standard that converts computer code to readable text. If you can read these words, you can thank Unicode. Emoji themselves are overseen by a smaller working group within the organization, led by developers at Apple and Google.