English Journal Article

Emoji and rapport management in Spanish WhatsApp chats

Journal of Pragmatics |


Emoji are a set of pictographs available on several electronic platforms and applications, which are gradually replacing emoticons (sequences of punctuation marks representing facial expressions). Over the last decade, researchers have proposed that emoticons not only convey emotional content in computer-mediated communication, but they may also perform pragmatic functions, such as signaling the illocutionary force of the utterance (Dresner and Herring, 2010), mitigating threatening formulations (Wilson, 1993), or strengthening expressive speech acts (Skovholt et al., 2014). Despite their growing popularity, little pragmatic research to date specifically addresses emoji. The present paper bridges this gap by exploring the functions of emoji in a corpus of WhatsApp chats written in Spanish. Drawing on Spencer-Oatey’s (2000, 2005) rapport management framework, the analysis shows that emoji are used across different domains in the corpus: they not only upgrade or downgrade different speech acts (illocutionary domain), as pointed out by previous research, but they also contribute to achieving a successful interaction by signaling closing sections or by helping to negotiate openings (discourse domain), as well as serving as a way to frame playful interactions (stylistic domain). This study also shows that some practices related to the use of emoji may be influenced by Spanish culture.