Date of Award

7-2016

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

English

First Advisor

Jennifer Buckner

Abstract

The roles and characteristics of emojis are rapidly expanding within computer-mediated communication spaces, forcing many to acknowledge their seemingly inescapable social influence as tools of digital written communication. These colorful, contemporary icons—which became widely available through a range of global, technical platforms in 2011—convey interpersonal emotional expressions in a much more sophisticated manner than their charming appearance initially indicates. Communicators can learn a great deal about the processes of interpretation that are contributing to the continued and expanding use of emojis. An emoji’s perceived meaning can paradoxically be clear in one instance and ambiguous in another when utilized by individuals as compositional aids in computer-mediated communication spaces. An individual’s ability to make meaning from visual artifacts like emojis is constructed from various intersections of previous experiences, contextual relevance, and discursive rules of language. In addition, societal operations of communication and previous exposure to similar media forms also impact one’s ability to successfully decode various communicative exchanges involving emojis.

Using primary research and an emoji survey, this paper further explores the signs, symbolism, and intersections of meaning where signs may differ depending on contextual clues offered by the sender and rules of language and societal discourse, offering another integral point of reference regarding sites of emoji significance. In addition, this paper discusses the value of emojis within computer-mediated communication (CMC) spaces and suggests additional ways emojis reciprocate prior media forms and enhance personal technical communication practices. The value of emojis within non-interpersonal CMC (e.g. advertising practices) is also evaluated; and data is provided related to interpersonal communication shifts that can be expected in the future or that have already occurred since the invention and widespread use of emojis.

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