Female listener perceptions of the emoji in the context of text and speech

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Different from emoticons, which are composed of typographical marks, emojis refer to images that can replace the absence of non-verbal cues in mobile or Internet messaging and express diverse emotions, among other possible linguistic functions (Baron & Ling, 2011; Kaye, Malone, & Wall, 2017). Increasingly popular across gender and cultures, but mostly pervasive among the youth who are frequent mobile communication users (Forgays, Hyman, & Schreiber, 2014), it is not surprising that the US-based Unicode Consortium already offered version 10 of its standard international encoding for computer-based text, including emojis; now, users have around 1900 images to express themselves (Heaven, 2017). Several linguists underscored the importance of emoticons and emojis in shaping not only how people communicate but also how they think about communication (Baron & Campbell, 2012; Baron & Ling, 2011; Rob, 2014). While others criticize the use of digital objects as dumbing down communication or undermining deep communication (Rob, 2014), other linguists asserted that emojis can improve how people send and receive messages and how frequency of use and choice of emojis convey insights about personality and the cognition of communication (Heaven, 2017; Kaye et al., 2017).

One of the interesting dimensions of understanding emoji as a type of visual language is how women perceive them. Daud and McLellan (2016) and Riordan (2017) learned that more women than men use emojis in the social media and mobile channels; furthermore, women tend to use many emojis that express happiness and forms of social support, according anecdotal and cross-sectional studies (Heaven, 2017; Riordan, 2017). The main research question is: How do female listeners perceive emojis? Do they think that they can understand digital messages better when they are accompanied by emojis than without? Do they also respond more emotionally when receiving messages with emojis than without?


Two examples will help shed light on how women use emojis, starting with two 12-year-old girls who are both Chinese and have been living in the U.S. for five years. They met at school and have become friends. I knew their mother and they trusted me because they can talk to me about almost anything. In effect, they see me as an adult friend. I asked them to show me a week of their Facebook chat messages and they allowed me. The two subjects chatted at least twice a day: once in the morning and another in the evening. In total, they would send an average of 100 to 200 messages each day (i.e. each message consists of one “send,” including a word or an emoji.


linking real-life language to scholarly works (from your Annotated Bibliography [AB] and perhaps new ones),


of what this analysis means (why we should care), and


of this discussion to an academic audience with interest in your chosen domain – For a paper that adheres to one style of academic paper in this genre, consider using the ALL CAPS words as a section headers in your paper

The domain that I want to focus on is society, specifically linguistics in text and speech. I want to know how people are using emojis and if there are differences across gender (female versus male), generation (Millennial versus Generation Y), and culture (high-context versus low-context). By emojis, I refer to pictorial signs that are mobile-phone-specific (Miyake 58) and can be described as emoticons 2.0. My main question is: Do emojis help improve the perception and interpretation of messages in mobile text and online messaging? In connection, I want to understand how people use and interpret emojis. My secondary questions are: Are there gender, generation, and cultural differences in why people use emojis?

Thesis statement: My thesis is that people use emojis to fill up the absence of non-verbal cues in text and improve how listeners (message recipients) perceive and interpret the emotions and states of mind of the senders. Consequently, women, Millennials, and high-context cultures would use emojis more frequently than men, Generation Y, and low-context cultures, probably due to the desire to be more precise and effective in expressing themselves emotionally in text that could be based on gender, culture, and age.

Kaye, Linda K., Malone, Stephanie A., and Helen J. Wall. “Emojis: Insights, Affordances, and Possibilities for Psychological Science.”Trends in Cognitive Sciences, vol. 21, no. 2, 2017, pp. 66-68.

Kaye, Malone, and Wall, researchers from Edge Hill University, UK, and the Australian Catholic University, provide a description of the prevalent use and functions of emojis and how they present an enticing opportunity for psychologists to study online behaviors which can offer something unique about modern human behavior. Findings that summarized past research indicated that emojis help reduce uncertainty in communicative intent, perform verbal and nonverbal functions, and somewhat reveal the personality of the user. Furthermore, emojis can serve intrapersonal (e.g. help diminish communicative anxiety) and interpersonal functions (e.g. reduce misinterpretation of messages due to lack of nonverbal cues) (Kaye, Malone, and Wall 66).

The article is recently published this year and is valuable in providing a psychological perspective on the rich research opportunities that emojis offer to clinicians. An important quote from this article is: “Digital data provide a novel and exciting means by which to re-examine many psychological concepts relating to perception and communication, including emotional expression, emotional mimicry, emotional appraisal, pragmatics, and intention detection” (Kaye, Malone, and Wall 66). This quote is relevant to my research because it shows how studying digital data can help understand emotional expression and emotion assessment/appraisal in digital conversations.

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Meo, Rosa, and Emilio Sulis. “Processing Affect in Social Media: A Comparison of Methods to Distinguish Emotions in Tweets.” ACM Transactions on Internet Technology, vol. 17, no. 1, 2017, pp. 7-7.25. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1145/2996187.

University of Turin researchers Meo and Sulis determined if they can accurately realize binary emotion pairs expressed in short social media messages using emoticons and emojis. In addition, they compared three methods of analyzing messages with emotional content, the automatic lexical process, natural language processing, and latent factors. Findings suggested the possibility of accurately understanding emojis and emoticons.

While the article is current, it does not seem to fit the needs of the paper as it targets information technology experts than ordinary readers and psychologists. It focuses more on comparing methodologies for analysis than finding out the kinds of people who use emoticons and if the latter enhanced communication. This source is not valuable for the research and will be dropped.

Miyake, Kazuko. “How Young Japanese Express Their Emotions Visually in Mobile Phone Messages: A Sociolinguistic Analysis.”Japanese Studies, vol. 27, no. 1, 2007, pp. 53-72, doi: 10.1080/10371390701268646.

Toyo University researcher Miyake investigated the characteristics of young Japanese people’s mobile phone messages (MPMs) and the visual style of their presentation. After analyzing naturally occurring MPM data, findings suggested that they preserved the crucial features of traditional Japanese communication. By using emojis/emoticons, young people expressed intimacy and creativity while also maintaining traditional distance and reducing anxiety over losing face.

The article is ten years old and should still be added to the research because it offers early findings on how young high-context people use emoticons/emojis and why. It underlines the preservation of traditional cultural values in modern communication strategies. This research supports Kavanagh’s findings which suggested that the Japanese prefer to use emoticons that enable them to make their meanings more precise in online communication.

Pérez-Sabater, Carmen, and Begoña Montero-Fleta. “A First Glimpse at Mobile Instant Messaging: Some Sociolinguistic Determining Factors.” Poznan Studies in Contemporary Linguistics,vol. 51, no. 3, 2015, pp. 411-431. doi:10.1515/psicl-2015-0016.

Universitat Politècnica de València researchers Pérez-Sabater and Montero-Fleta explored the impact of age in using deviations from conventional language in WhatsApp written messages and the extent that this process was cross-cultural by comparing English and Spanish users. Findings used that both users deviated from standard language in their online communications but the Spanish used higher frequency of conversational styles than English users. Both groups used emoticons to show laughter, approval, and surprise, although Spanish adolescents used them more than Spanish adults and English adults and teenagers.

The article is recent enough to be included in the study and is valuable in comparing two age levels and cultural groups. It supports the findings of Miyake and Kavanagh that high-context cultures tend to be more expressive of their emotions through emoji usage. What is additionally valuable in this study from Pérez-Sabater and Montero-Fleta is that they added age differences, an important variable in my study.

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Steinmetz, Katy. “Forget Words, a Lot of Millennials Say GIFs and Emojis Communicate Their Thoughts Better Than English.” Time, 27 June 2017, http://time.com/4834112/millennials-gifs-emojis/. Accessed 10 Nov. 2017.

Time correspondent Steinmetz provided an interesting finding from a Harris Poll Survey. 36% of Millennials aged 18 to 34 years old who used emojis and other online visual expressions felt that these tools improved their ability to communicate more than words. Young people more than older ones believed that they were more comfortable in expressing themselves with smiley faces than face-to-face communication compared to those older than 65 years.

The article is valuable in showing how some Millennials feel about emojis and the centrality they play in modern communication. More than enriching or clarifying the intent of the message, emojis, for a percentage of Millennials, were better than words.

Thompson, Dominic, and Ruth Filik. “Sarcasm in Written Communication: Emoticons are Efficient Markers of Intention.” Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, vol. 21, no. 2, 2016, pp. 105-120.

The University of Nottingham researchers Thompson and Filik examined the use of emoticons in clarifying the intent of the users with a focus on sarcasm since this is hard to decode in written communication. They used two studies in which participants were asked to make their intentions clear at first without changing the wording, while the second study allowed the sampling to provide their own sentences. Findings indicated that tongue and wink emoticons were the main indicators of sarcasm and the ellipsis was more associated with criticism than sarcasm.

This recent article is valuable to my research because it suggests the importance of specific emoticons to clarifying communication content. It supports the findings of Kavanagh that people want to use emoticons to avoid being misinterpreted. Another importance is that the study did not find gender differences in the total frequency of emoticon usage or in likelihood of using any particular category of emoticons to indicate literal or sarcastic intentions.

“Vermont’s Fuse Weighs in on Gen Y, Gen Z and the Age of Emojis ;-).” Vermontbiz, 28 Sept. 2015, http://www.vermontbiz.com/news/september/vermonts-fuse-weighs-gen-y-gen-z-and-age-emojis. Accessed 10 Nov. 2017.

The article is from a business magazine and targets business owners because the information can help them cater better to different markets. It shows the difference in emoji and other visual expression use between Gen Y and Millennials. Findings indicated that more Millennials use emojis and that not all like them, thinking they are simply “silly” and “immature.”

The article is recent and valuable as it says something about generation differences in using emojis. What may seem silly to some may be important ways of communication to others. This can add to the knowledge of actual emoji use and negative perceptions of emojis as well.

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  1. Baron, N. S., & Campbell, E. M. (2012). Gender and mobile phones in cross-national context. Language Sciences, 34(1), 13-27. doi: 10.1016/j.langsci.2011.06.018
  2. Baron, N. S., & Ling, R. (2011). Necessary smileys & useless periods. Visible Language, 45(1), 45-67.
  3. Daud, N. and McLellan, J. (2016). Gender and code choice in Bruneian Facebook status updates. World Englishes, 35, 571–586. doi:10.1111/weng.12227
  4. Forgays, D. K., Hyman, I., & Schreiber, J. (2014). Texting everywhere for everything: Gender and age differences in cell phone etiquette and use. Computers in Human Behavior, 31, 314-321. doi: 10.1016/j.chb.2013.10.053
  5. Heaven, D. (2017, June 21). Say it with feeling: The complex world of emojis. New Scientist. Retrieved from https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg23431311-200-say-it-with-feeling-the-complex-world-of-emojis/
  6. Kaye, L. K., Malone, S. A., & Wall, H. J. (2017). Emojis: Insights, affordances, and possibilities for psychological science. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 21(2), 66-68.
  7. Miyake, K. (2007). How young Japanese express their emotions visually in mobile phone messages: A sociolinguistic analysis. Japanese Studies, 27(1), 53-72. doi: 10.1080/10371390701268646
  8. Riordan, M. A. (2017). Emojis as tools for emotion work: Communicating affect in text messages. Journal of Language and Social Psychology, 36(5), 549 – 567. doi: 10.1177/0261927X17704238
  9. Robb, A. (2014, July 8). How using emoji makes us less emotional. New Republic. Retrieved from https://newrepublic.com/article/118562/emoticons-effect-way-we-communicate-linguists-study-effects
  10. Wijeratne, S., Balasuriya, L., Sheth, A., & Doran, D. (2017). A semantics-based measure of emoji similarity. 2017 IEEE/WIC/ACM International Conference on Web Intelligence (WI). Leipzig, Germany: ACM, 2017. doi: 10.1145/3106426.3106490
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