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How do facial expressions promote understanding? Can emojis replace non-verbal aspects of conversation in text? University of Copenhagen student has investigated the use of emojis in her bachelor project
From the abject horror of Frowning Face with Open Mouth, the Cartman-katagelastic Smiling Face with Open Mouth and Tightly-closed Eyes through to the controversial evergreen Eggplant – emojis can express a wealth of emotions. Since Shigetaka Kurita’s first 176 pictograms from 1999 to their iOS implementation in the late 00’s, emojis have become a staple of digital communication: Today, there’s a very real chance that your last words are a string of emojis.
All the more reason to study them! Sandra Lyngsie Pedersen, a student of English with an elective in Psycholinguistics at the University of Copenhagen. Lyngsie Pedersen has written her bachelor project on emojis, entitled The Emotions of Textual Language.
“I often think that it is necessary to come up with a typographic symbol denoting a smile – some flourish or leaning closing bracket, which I could use to accompany my answers to your questions” – Nabokov, author of Lolita
The focus of the project has been to study how facial expressions aid understanding, and along the way Lyngsie Pedersen compares an emoji version of Romeo & Juliet with the original. The University Post has had a word:
What made you investigate emojis? And are you an avid user of emojis yourself?
“In 2015, the Oxford Dictionaries proclaimed the word of the year to be a specific emoji, namely the ‘Face with Tears of Joy’ emoji. I wanted to do a study of emojis as an individual language, but soon found out how difficult this would be, as emojis still is a rather new phenomenon for many of us, which leads me to the other part of the question,”
“I am not an avid user of emojis myself even though I find them rather hilarious. I, however, find them interesting from a linguistic point of view. Vladimir Nabokov, the author of Lolita also once said in an interview: ’I often think that it is necessary to come up with a typographic symbol denoting a smile – some flourish or leaning closing bracket, which I could use to accompany my answers to your questions.’This, I believe, was the catalyst to the invention of the smiley and later on, the emoji. However, it is also said that a picture says more than a 1000 words.”
Sandra Lyngsie Pedersen: “I found out that, even though text is able to depict some aspects of emotions in conversation on its own, it becomes easier to understand for the reader when incorporating emojis epitomising facial expressions as it can, according to the emoji used, change the entire mood of the word or sentence.”
What did you expect to find? And what have you found?
“I was hoping to find out to what extent emojis could replace non-verbal aspects of conversation in text. When two or people are having a conversation so much more than what is expressed verbally is a part of the whole mutual understanding between the two parts. Visual perception is very important and especially facial expressions say a lot of the mood of the conversation, which was my focus in my project, emojis epitomising facial expressions,”
“I found out that, even though text is able to depict some aspects of emotions in conversation on its own, it becomes easier to understand for the reader when incorporating emojis epitomising facial expressions as it can, according to the emoji used, change the entire mood of the word or sentence.”
In your analysis you compare Romeo and Juliet with the text message version, YOLO Juliet. How did they compare?
“To be honest, I chose Romeo and Juliet because I found YOLO Juliet with the help from my friend Andrea. I found it interesting to compare the two versions, as it is originally a play, where conversations with all parts of non-verbal communication is crucial to the understanding of the perceiver, the audience,”
“As facial expressions are incorporated in the YOLO Juliet version, that version was much more understandable to the reader, but still had some problems, as it is a modern version of the play written in text messages, but the plot itself lacked a touch of modernity.”
Are emoticons universal? From a psycholinguistic point of view, do people feel the same when they look at emojis?
“I actually wrote an entire section of my paper dedicated to the universality of emojis. It is difficult to find out whether people feel the same when they look at them,”
“However, as my focus was on emojis depicting facial expressions, I was able to discuss it in relation to Charles Darwin’s work on facial expressions from 1872 called The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals where he claims that expression of emotions through facial expressions is universal.”
Could you have written this project with nothing but emojis?
“That would be a simple ‘No’ to that question, as emojis is not a language and it wouldn’t be academic. But it would have been much fun.”
And finally, can you describe the following three things with emojis: 1) the day before, 2) the day, and 3) the day after you handed in your bachelor project?
1. The day before:
2. The day itself:
3. The day after:
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