New York Magazine - Smile, You’re Speaking Emoji: The rapid evolution of a wordless tongue. 5-15min

It’s easy to dismiss emoji. They are, at first glance, ridiculous. They are a small invasive cartoon army of faces and vehicles and flags and food and symbols trying to topple the millennia-long reign of words. Emoji are intended to illustrate, or in some cases replace altogether, the words we send each other digitally, whether in a text message, email, or tweet. ... And yet, if you have a smartphone, emoji are now available to you as an optional written language, just like any global language, such as Arabic and Catalan and Cherokee and Tamil and Tibetan and English. You’ll find an emoji keyboard on your iPhone, nestled right between Dutch and Estonian. The current set is limited to 722 symbols—these are the ones that have been officially encoded into Unicode, which is an international programming standard that allows one operating system to recognize text from another. ... Emoji were born in a true eureka moment, from the mind of a single man: Shigetaka Kurita, an employee at the Japanese telecom company NTT Docomo. Back in the late 1990s, the company was looking for a way to distinguish its pager service from its competitors in a very tight market. Kurita hit on the idea of adding simplistic cartoon images to its messaging functions as a way to appeal to teens. The first round of what came to be called emoji—a Japanese neologism that means, more or less, “picture word”—were designed by Kurita, using a pencil and paper, as drawings on a 12-by-12-pixel grid and were inspired by pictorial Japanese sources, like manga (Japanese comic books) and kanji ­(Japanese characters borrowed from written Chinese).