English Journal Article

Do you kiss when you text? Cross-cultural differences in the use of the kissing emojis in three WhatsApp corpora

Intercultural Pragmatics |


Emojis are pictographs added to messages on social media and websites. Researchers have observed that emojis representing kissing faces are often used to close instant messaging conversations. This has been interpreted as an imitation of cheek kissing, a common behavior in some cultural contexts. We analyze the use of seven types of kissing emojis in three corpora of WhatsApp chats, one from Spain (where cheek kisses in face-to-face interaction are commonplace in many situations), the other from Germany (where kisses are occasionally given), and the third from the German-speaking part of Switzerland (where cheek kisses are a common greeting between relatives and friends). To do so, we systematically categorize and compare the use of a sample of these emojis on WhatsApp. The analysis suggests that there are differences between the three corpora in the use of the kissing emojis. The emoji “face throwing a kiss” is often included in closing messages in the Spanish and Swiss-German data, while in the Federal German corpus kisses do not appear at the end of a conversation; using these emojis in openings is uncommon in all three corpora. This suggests that these emojis can exhibit cultural variation, but they do not clearly mirror face-to-face behavior.