La Nación, one of the leading newspapers of Argentina, recently published an in-depth interview with PRISMOJI founder Hamdan Azhar on how emojis reveal cultural differences. Read the full interview in Spanish to learn more about the origin of the name PRISMOJI, how emoji data science helps us understand popular sentiment, and more! Also, see below for an English version 🙂
“Emojis are like a prism. A prism takes light in one end and transforms it into its constituent colors. Emojis take raw human emotions on the one end and express them using a few hundred colorful symbols. Emojis are a universal prism because they’re used in nearly every language and can be used to express nearly every emotion: sadness, despair, hope, longing, fear, love, and more.”
Full Interview, in English
How can you describe your job about emojis?
I use emojis to understand how people feel about important world events. Emojis are like a prism. A prism takes light in one end and transforms it into its constituent colors. Emojis take raw human emotions on the one end and express them using a few hundred colorful symbols.
Emojis are a universal prism because they’re used in nearly every language and can be used to express nearly every emotion: sadness, despair, hope, longing, fear, love, and more. When a major world event occurs – whether involving politics, sports, culture, etc. – I look at the emojis people use when talking about the event to understand how they feel. I also do the opposite: I look at the words people use with emojis to understand what the emojis mean. It’s an endless cycle of emojis.
In which way can you apply your previous work experience at PRISMOJI?
As a data scientist, my specialty is finding patterns in and telling stories about large amounts of data. I’ve done this in the fields of neuroscience, political campaigns, demography, advertising, decision making, and more. Emojis on social media represent the ultimate form of unstructured data: for example, a tweet might have text, emojis, links, and images. On Election Day in the US, I collected over 2 million tweets. This is chaos, this is noise, this is very hard to interpret. But then we write some code and we visualize the emojis people use on Election Day, over time, and when mentioning Trump and Clinton, and suddenly there’s signal in the noise, we see patterns, we have the aha moment. This is the promise of emoji data science.
In relation to your last analysis about emojis, which results did surprise you the most?
I was surprised by how much commonality there was across the nine different languages in emojis they used about Ramadan. Across tens of thousands of people around the world, with over 1,800 emojis to choose from, people converge on three emojis most often: the red heart, the crescent moon, and the praying hands. This is cool!
We also see that Urdu and Arabic almost never use the praying hands emoji, while most other languages use it very often. This is a powerful example of emojis reflecting deeply held cultural beliefs and practices. In South Asia and the Arab world, praying with folded hands is seen as a Christian and Hindu practice. Muslims pray with our hands held open, turned towards our faces. So this emoji doesn’t show up in Urdu or Arabic tweets. In the West though, Muslims are a minority among a largely Christian population, so even though we still don’t pray with folded hands, using a folded hands emoji seems less foreign to us. More research is obviously needed, but if this holds up, this is a powerful sociolinguistic finding.
In your opinion, why do you think that more and more people use and ask for new emojis?
Emojis are universal. I can use them with my friends who speak Spanish, Chinese, Arabic and more. Emotions are tricky to convey in words and emojis make it easier. They’re also nuanced which is exciting because we can let them mean whatever we want.
How journalists can use emojis in their articles or TV shows?
Journalists can use emoji data science as a form of sentiment analysis to understand how peope are reacting to major world events. They add a valuable data point to opinion surveys and anecdotes drawn from journalists own news feeds.
What is your favorite emoji? And which one that still doesn’t exist, do you like to ask for it to Unicode?
🏽, information desk girl, is still my favorite because her name seems ripped from the pages of a Haruki Murakami novel.