The Communicative Functions of Emojis: Evidence from Jordanian Arabic-Speaking Facebookers
Purpose. This paper examines the communicative (also known as pragmatic) functions of the most common five emojis in the Jordanian context as perceived by Jordanian Facebook users.
Methods. The data were collected in four stages. First, the researcher shared a post on his Facebook account in which he asked his Jordanian-Arabic speaking virtual friends to report in a comment the most common emojis they use. The researcher compiled 174 comments / responses with 1716 emoji tokens. Second, the received tokens were used to identify the most common five emojis. Third, in order to identify the set of functions of each emoji, the researcher shared another post in which he asked the same previous group to report when each of them tends to press each emoji and for what purposes. Based on the received comments, a preliminary list of functions was prepared. Finally, the proposed functions were subjected to a validation process by two Jordanian-Arabic speaking linguists and three senior students from the Department of English at the University of Jordan. Most of their judgments were compatible with those of the researcher. To further validate the data, the acceptability of the identified functions were tested against the intuition of 261 Jordanian BA students at the University of Jordan.
Results. The findings show that the five most common emojis in the Jordanian context are (1) the Face With Tears of Joy, (2) the Red Heart, (3) the Slightly Smiling Face, (4) the Face Blowing a Kiss, and (5) the Winking Face. Furthermore, emojis are not only used to show emotions, but can also act as markers of illocutionary force, as face saving devices, and as boosters of rapport. The set of emojis examined in this study can be employed to perform 19 multiple illocutionary acts including but not limited to expressive acts (happiness, admiration, etc.), directive acts (e.g, directing the addressee to stop doing something) and declarative acts (e.g., threatening). Emojis are not solely used to convey the functions envisaged by their creators. Instead, with time, emojis start to drift extensively from their semantic import by acquiring a wide spectrum of new illocutions.
Conclusions. The study concludes that although emojis are evolving and developing at a rapid pace, becoming more diverse, pervasive and integral in our daily communications, sharing even some of the characteristics of human language such as arbitrariness, they remain a mode of communication within computer-mediated communication (CMC). At this stage, they can mainly play the role of non-verbal cues that help us understand the intended message and function as a parallel lingua franca limited in domains of CMC.
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