An Investigation into Non-Verbal Communication and ideas of Universal Language

With my focus on ideas of universality, I have been looking at gestures that transcends languages and nations. Certain physical responses to emotions or experiences are universal regardless of culture or nationality.


An emoticon is a typographic version of paralinguistic features. Paralinguistics are the aspects of spoken communication that do not involve words. These may add emphasis or shades of meaning to what people say. Some definitions limit this to verbal communication that is not words.

With regards to my investigation into universal languge and gestural typography, I looked at the differences between Western and Eastern Emoticons. Western emoticons are read horizontally and the eastern emoticons are read vertically. This is reflective of their different writing systems. In the west we read left to right, and in the east they read top to bottom.

Therefore, we can conclude that the conventions of writing systems are applied elsewhere, even in a pictorial context when there is an overlap of word and image. As a result, pictorially eastern emoticons when typed are facing forward and Western emoticons are sideways. Japanese Emoticons express more details than the western emoticons.

I also found out that in East Asia people focus mainly on the eyes when trying to decypher expressions and emotions. As such the emoticons reflect this as well ^.^ (happy) and ;_; (sad), while in Western emoticons they focus on the mouth 🙂 (happy) and 😦 (sad)

(•ˋ _ ˊ•) An angry kaomoji face.

Kaomoji emoticons are similar to smileys, but they often incorporate Japanese characters. While they originated in Japan, Kaomoji emoticons are now used in many other countries as well. Because of the wide range of characters available, Kaomoji smileys can be used to express emotions, actions, and characters with more detail than traditional western emoticons.

The First Emoticons published

What is interesting is that in 1881 the US humour magazie Puck published the first emoticons before computers.


Letterpress printing would have been used to create this.

Other Emoticons that Express Feelings


 is a Chinese character that is commonly used as an emoticon in China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong. However, it is also used by non-Chinese speaking countries as well, especially in Korea and Japan. Because it resembles a person with an open mouth, it is used to convey distress, helplessness, disappointment, reluctancy, shock, dislike, defeat, embarrassment, and the like.


The original meaning of 囧 is “window,” and is pronounced jiŏng or jiong3 (Pinyin) in Mandarin Chinese, but is rarely used in this context anymore.

It is part of the ever growing Martian Language (火星文) popular among Chinese netizens and is also closely related to the orz phenomenon.囧



orz (also known as OTL) is an emoticon used to express one’s feeling of hopelessness in jest, often as a result of failure. The text visually represents a person kneeling on the ground with face down; “O” represents the head, “R” as the arms and “Z” as the torso. In East Asian cultures, the shape of “Orz” resembles a body gesture that signifies frustration or feeling of despair, typically as a result of one’s own failure though it can be used to convey frustration towards others similar to facepalm.


The physical gesture of “kneeling on the ground in defeat” has been previously portrayed through popular films, TV shows and mangas, both for comedic and dramatic effect. When used in a serious light, this posture is also known asdogeza, a sign of self-abasement used in formal apologies and to request great favors from persons of higher social status.

Attempts at a Universal Written Language

Blissymbolics Writing System

Blissymbolics were developed by Charles K. Bliss (1897-1985). Bliss originally called his invention “Semantography” and intended for it to be used as a universal written language which would enable speakers of different languages to communicate with one another. Since 1971 Blissymbolics have been used mainly as a communication aid for people with communication, language and learning difficulties. Such people have limited or no ability to use ordinary spoken and/or written language but manage to learn Blissymbolics.

Notable features

  • Blissymbolics consists of over 2,000 basic symbols which can be combined together to create a huge variety of new symbols.
  • The symbols can be formed into sentences and their order is based on English word order
  • The symbols are made up of simple shapes designed to be easy to write.
  • Blissymbolics are used in over 33 countries.


LoCos Writing System

LoCoS is a set of pictograms and ideograms, or “pictures” and “idea-symbols”. Its name comes from the phrase “Lover’s Communication System”, a title inspired by the hope that people from around the world could use LoCoS to communicate in the effortless manner of lovers.

The creators of LoCos belive that it is easy to lean and is an ideal way to communicate with people who speak a different language. They also belive that in the future it may even allow human beings and computers to interact more easily.

Each word in LoCoS is represented by a symbol formed from simple shapes. LoCoS has several fundamental symbols. For example, “Sun” or “day” is represented by the outline of a circle, and the concept of “feeling” is shown by a heart shape. The idea of existence at a particular point in time or space (the “point existence”) is shown by a single dot. It was inspired by the use of dots to indicate locations on a map.


Locos also has emoticon-like symbols and expressions. The Heart-shape incorporates human expressions.

anger forbearance happiness

Both LoCos and Blissymbols use the heart to convey the concept of emotion or feeling.