DOI: 10.1177/08944393231219481 ISSN: 0894-4393

Your Smiling Face is Impolite to Me: A Study of the Smiling Face Emoji in Chinese Computer-Mediated Communication

Kun Yang, Shuang Qian
  • Law
  • Library and Information Sciences
  • Computer Science Applications
  • General Social Sciences

This paper explores whether and in what situation the smiling face emoji will influence the interpretation of an utterance in a virtual context. The researchers drew examples from daily WeChat communication and posted them to participants in the experiment. Experimental studies found that the smiling face emoji decreases the politeness of an utterance but does not mitigate the illocutionary force of an impolite utterance. Further studies demonstrate that the interpretation is related to two features of WeChat: the interactant’s identity (age) and the situation of communication. For one thing, utterances with smiling face emoji may be interpreted as disrespectful by younger Chinese rather than the older. For another, the smiling face emoji is always interpreted as impolite when the utterances are related to the interactants’ feelings. We also infer from the findings that older people might respect the feelings of the addresser more than younger people in WeChat communication. This paper will help avoid miscommunication and contribute to understanding the socio-cultural features of interpersonal interaction in a virtual context.

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