English Journal Article

A social semiotic perspective on emoji: How emoji and language interact to make meaning in digital messages

New Media & Society |


This article presents a social semiotic analysis of emoji-language semiosis. Combining the theoretical architecture of Systemic Functional Linguistics and methodology of Multimodal Discourse Analysis, we propose an analytical framework that can identify how emoji make meaning both individually and in interaction with language. Using the web-based coding software WebAnno, we apply this framework to a dataset of text messages and social media posts. The results identify typical realisations of particular semiotic features by emoji as well as noteworthy dynamics in how emoji interact with language to realise meaning. We observe (1) how emoji and language jointly construing ideational meaning realise intermodal taxonomies (where hyper/hyponyms are distributed across modes) and particular fields of discourse (domains of experiential meaning), (2) how resources in one mode can serve to foreground particular regions of meaning potential in other modes, and (3) how attitudinal meaning realised by emoji appears to differ from the prosodic patterning of linguistic attitude