Very likely less than the amount of different native language speakers who understand the vast majority of your emoticons/emojis.
I suppose you don't care cause you just speak your native language with other people who are native speakers. But a universal language on top of that has huge benefits in international circles. And, my 3 month old understands the :) smile. One of the very first abilities a newborn learns is recognizing faces. That's when they cannot even see a meter far!
I find that difficult to believe. On the other hand, given enough time and global interaction in that medium, it could develop a stable enough meaning across a large enough conceptual space to have a situation no worse than exists between any "standard" language and its various dialects. That'd be interesting, but I'm not holding my breath.
Well, not always universal. Some are generally well understood. They're easy to learn (you might wanna also look into where to start if you're interested in learning many languages; I understood its best to start with an Asian language such as Japanese/Korean/Chinese), and on top of that even allow to learn languages easily (see Memrise and Duolingo who use SVG art to teach languages. They use the same SVG art in different languages!). Even on school when children learn their first words (which are in Dutch: boom/roos/vis/vuur, English meaning: tree/rose/fish/fire) this is done via pictures!
Emoticons and emoji are contextual, yes.
If I say:
That's fun ;) :)
That has a different meaning than:
That is fun :)
That is fun ;)
Different context, yet a wink or smile is universal.
And if I'd write:
Dat is leuk :)
You wouldn't understand it because you don't speak Dutch. But you would understand the smiley. Without using any translator. The emoticon & emoji always describes the text around it, like an adjective (though it could also describe other smileys). As such, it is descriptive.
True, sometimes the emoticons (and especially emoji) explanation must be explained. Once it is explained, it can be used in combination with any language. For example, the kappa emoji  which originates from Twitch can be used on an English stream, but also on a Spanish or Japanese one. Its generally understood within the gamer community, but if you'd start using it within your local hockey club they'd first need to understand the meaning.
> That's fun ;) :)
> That has a different meaning than:
> That is fun :)
> That is fun ;)
> Different context, yet a wink or smile is universal.
Really? Because I can't see any real difference between any of those examples. Does the wink mean you're being sarcastic? Or that you're coming on to me? What purpose does the smiley serve? you already said it was fun, one could presume that would leave you in a positive emotional state.
> the kappa emoji  which originates from Twitch can be used on an English stream
I hate those stupid things so much, probably because I have no context for understanding their meaning and, since its already an english stream, you could just use words! And if you're not speaking the same language as the rest of the stream, you can't express anything meaningful enough to be worth saying anyway.
That'd depend on the rest of the text. It could mean I am making a joke ("not serious" / "just kidding"). It could mean I'm sarcastic. It could mean that I'm trying to hit on you. I think that sums it up (though I'm open for different explanations).
Thing is, back in the days, even in native languages between native speakers (but more so with one or more non-native) sarcasm and jokes weren't always easy to detect. The wink smiley specifically filled that niche! If you don't know about the story behind it, you might find it interesting to look it up.
As for the difference between these, "That is fun :)" denotes no sarcasm, but warmth. Possibly still humor, but its a genuine statement. "That is fun ;)" was covered earlier above and "That is fun ;) :)" is a mixed bag which could go either way (possibly clever to "talk your way out of the meaning" e.g. when trying to flirt but its not well received, or to create some -albeit simple- mysticism around your flirt). That's without knowing the context. The context still matters and is, ultimately, decisive for the meaning.
I have autism, btw, so although I find this fascinating it is rather difficult for me to understand. It took me serious effort to learn the meaning of the different emoticons/emoji (as far as one can know them, since there's so many in unicode these days).
> I hate those stupid things so much, probably because I have no context for understanding their meaning and, since its already an english stream, you could just use words! And if you're not speaking the same language as the rest of the stream, you can't express anything meaningful enough to be worth saying anyway.
(I don't like it either but that's because it is overused in these circles, and it reminds me of my age ie. that I'm not youth anymore.)
The ability to understand a language isn't binary. (See e.g. the example of the wink where language is not being understood!)
Another example coming from my own is I understand some Spanish, some French, some and some German, but I do not want to learn any French or Portuguese, and my German is better than my Spanish but I'm very curious to learn more Spanish. My English is pretty good, as is my Dutch, but I'm only interested in learning more English and Spanish; Dutch not so much. YMMV obviously.
No, we can't. There is an inherent visual component to emojis. A picture worth a thousand words, et cetera.
It's not an abstract idea mapping to an arbitrary icon; without prior explanation, many emojis make sense (within a certain cultural context). Kind of like how we can't replace the essence of giving a friend a gift or a lover a flower with words or an arbitrary icon. Apple understands this in a way few technology companies do.
What a coincidence, the exact same thing is true about written words.
>Kind of like how we can't replace the essence of giving a friend a gift or a lover a flower with words or an arbitrary icon. Apple understands this in a way few technology companies do.
I feel like you're one of those people who would have been way into flaming guitar gifs and midi on your geocities page in the 90s. I mean, seriously? You're literally saying that sending a gif conveys so much more meaning meaning it is similar to giving a gift or a flower than sending a text.
Maybe you're right: https://tinyurl.com/y7xeu7dc