How is Emotion Conveyed in Online Text?

By Amanda Lehnerd

When people communicate in person, their emotions can dictate how the other people listening detect their speech. Facial expressions, the tone of voice and actions can influence how a person understands the words being said.

The current generation of college-aged students is spending more time communicating online, versus face-to-face communication, which can lead to misinterpreting text or emotions displayed in text.

Jennifer Behney, Youngstown State University sociolinguistics professor, states that college students have become more accustomed to communicating through online platforms and text messaging compared to older generations.

“I actually think a great deal of emotional nuance is lost because of the brevity of such communications,” said Behney. “I believe that people have learned to make accommodations for this loss of emotional nuance through the use of vowel elongation and emoticons.”

Robin Stears, a YSU student studying the usage of emoticons, said emoticons are used as a digital form of facial expression.

“Emoticons are used as a digital form of facial expressions or body language like > : ( [angry face],” said Stears. “An emoji can be used to communicate more complex concepts and ideas.”

Emojis were created to be a visual language by Shigetaka Kurita using symbols that were already familiar to people, like the smiley faces and some of the same images used in the Olympic Village, as well as familiar concepts from Japanese culture, like manga.

“My paper discusses the possibility that emoji might be a language or at least a language-to-be,” said Stears. “Using the Swiftkey Emoji Report, which studied emoji use in text messaging, and by studying the Twitterverse and Tumblr, which is a more visual social media site, I was able to find real-life examples for all the Language Universals. It doesn’t necessarily “prove” that emoji is a language, just that emoji use fits the parameters that every language has in common.”

Kelly Johnston, a YSU graduate student and high school language arts teacher, said students struggle more with appropriating emotions through text messaging and email.

“I get a lot of students who send me emails and the emotion comes off as rude,” said Johnston. “I don’t think they mean to sound rude, but instead of giving me a ‘Hey, Mrs. J. I have a question’ I get ‘Why did I get that grade.’ They simply don’t understand netiquette.”

Students tend to have short quick responses to emails and texts, without implementing emotion, which stems from a lack of face-to-face communication. When communicating in person, people feel the emotions that are being conveyed. A simple phrase like “I love you,” can be understood much better when body language, facial expression, voice intonation and touch are present.

Students may lack in conveying emotion throughout emails and text messaging, but this is not displayed in their classwork.

“I don’t think online communication has had much of a negative impact on students,” said Johnston. “My generation didn’t have autocorrect so slipping in an ‘H8,’ ‘UR,’ ‘R,’ and ‘OMW’ was easy. Now many students use autocorrect, reducing the want to use these words. The problem that I see in papers is the usage of ‘kinda,’ ‘gonna’ and ‘wanna,’ which aren’t real words.”