“Do you know what I mean? ” An intercultural cross-generational study on emoji interpretation.

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The use of emojis is pervasive. Research has shown that 92% of the online population uses emojis on a daily basis, 95% of Internet users have sent an emoji at some point and a staggering number of more than 10 billion emojis are sent each day. However, emoji interpretations are not agreed collectively. This study aims to examine the interplay between emoji interpretation and the demographic factors of age and nationality. An online survey was distributed to both Chinese (N = 68) and Dutch (N = 61) participants from Generation Z and from those born as and before Baby Boomers, to gather their interpretation of a variety of selected emoji (N = 25), including faces, gestures, animals, fruits/vegetables, and objects which were expected to elicit different interpretations. Analysis of the responses demonstrated that nuanced emoji interpretations occurred across ages and nationalities. The results indicate that Chinese participants were more likely to use the selected emojis for unconventional meanings (i.e. meanings not related to those listed on the well-known reference site Emojipedia) and some of the unconventional interpretations among the Chinese resulted from homophony. This study contributes to our understanding not only of emoji-filled computer-mediated communication in cross-cultural and cross-generational contexts, but also reveals new ways of the homophonic pun use in Chinese Internet language: the present study is groundbreaking in discovering and describing the (apparently Chinese) phenomenon of “homophonic emoji interpretations.”
Faculteit der Letteren