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Perceptual resemblance and the communication of emotion in digital contexts

Abstract: Online communication has created new ways to express emotions, including emoji and reaction GIFs. Emoji are often discussed as signs for meaning-making, adding emotional tone to communication. Reaction GIFs express emotions and attitudes in a playful manner. This study shows that through the lens of cognitive pragmatics, these phenomena are not distinct. Both are cases of non-verbal communication pointing to the communicator’s emotional state. Drawing on relevance-theoretic notions of the showing-meaning continuum and perceptual resemblance, along with relevance-theoretic analyses of metaphor and irony, I argue that emoji and reaction GIFs provide clues to ostension and communicate emotions by virtue of perceptual resemblance between what they represent and the communicator’s emotional state. I will also argue that both emoji and GIFs can involve echoic use of language, enabling the communicator to convey their attitude.
Keywords: emoji / emotions / GIFs / communication of emotion / theoretic / perceptual resemblance / argue / attitudes

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