Anaphoricity in emoji: An experimental investigation of face and non-face emoji

Elsi Kaiser, Patrick Georg Grosz


Emoji are widely used, but have received relatively little attention in psycholinguistic research. Upon encountering a message consisting of both text and emoji, readers presumably construct some link between emoji and text. Based on a psycholinguistic study on text-emoji relations, we argue for (at least) two types of emoji-text dependencies, related to referential dependencies known to exist in the linguistic domain, namely (i) the dependency between an expressive (e.g. wow, damn, f*king) and the individual whose opinion it expresses, and (ii) the dependency between a pronoun (or other pro-form) and its antecedent. We extend the discussion of these dependencies to emoji, and provide experimental data that face emoji resemble expressives in that they tend to be interpreted as expressing the opinion of a salient experiencer, while action emoji are interpreted based on principles of discourse coherence (e.g. discourse relations like explanation), similar to what coherence-based accounts of pronoun resolution predict.


emoji; digital communication; anaphora; expressives; discourse coherence; first-person orientation; perspective shift; reference resolution; psych verbs

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