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The Way We Use Emojis Evolves Like Language, Changes Their Meaning

By New Scientist

May 17, 2021

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The first study of emoji use over time found that their use and meaning evolves like language, with changes dictated by context.

Researchers at the U.K.'s University of Edinburgh tracked emoji use between 2012 and 2018 on Twitter, reviewing 1.7 billion tweets (with duplicate content and non-English tweets filtered out).

They used models that identify the semantics of how words are used based on surrounding words to analyze the tweets, to attribute meanings to the emojis used and to note changes to those meanings.

Edinburgh's Alexander Robertson said the researchers found patterns in the meanings of emojis that are also found in words, like seasonality (different meanings ascribed depending on the time of year).

Effie Le Moignan at the U.K.'s Newcastle University said the research is important but limited, because "this does not generalize beyond Twitter."

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