Since then, they have evolved from simple symbols to sophisticated graphics depicting every emotion imaginable.
However, did emoticons come to be of such importance in our online communication? According to Byron (ABC 2007), we tend to misjudge the emotions of others in e-mail communications, due to the lack of cues provided in this online medium. The worst part is that we seldom realise our mistakes, which can endanger our real life relationships with others. Fortunately, this is where emoticons can save the day.
One cannot deny that one's message is clearer with the use of an emoticon. A simple statement, such as 'Don't joke with me!', can retain its original meaning as a warning, or be transformed into playful banter by the mere addition of a playful emoticon such as the one below.
(Source: www.logo.cafepress.com 2009)
Walsh's (2006) theories of meaning-making are relevant here. Through the use of emoticons, we are able to add connotations or meanings to mere text that could be interpreted many different ways. Kress and van Leeuwen (2006) however caution that images are too polysemous in their meaning, meaning that without the accompanying textual communication, the emoticon above could be misinterpreted as a taunt, for the meanings it could potentially convey range from sheer light heartedness to a flippant insult. Therefore, while emoticons do add meaning to the text they accompany, they must be used appropriately to ensure that we convey our messages, or our meanings, accurately.
Besides that, one must consider the genres in which these emoticons are used. Different genres alter the way we understand texts (Schirato & Yell 1996), therefore the use of emoticons must be considered depending on which cultural, or situational, context one is writing for (Halliday & Hasan1985; Schirato & Yell 1996). For example, to pepper a business e-mail with emoticons would be considered unprofessional and childish, leading to a negative impression of the sender by the receivers. However, using emoticons liberally in a personal e-mail to a friend is not only appropriate, it is also highly encouraged as the visual cues would prevent misunderstandings and fully convey one's intended meanings.
In conclusion, emoticons can either aid or debilitate communication, depending on the context of its usage.
Halliday, MAK & Hasan, R 1985, Language, context and text: aspects of language in a social-semiotic perspective, Deakin University Press, Waurn Ponds, Victoria
Kress, G & van Leeuwen, T 2006, Reading images: the grammar of visual design, Routledge, New York.
Walsh, M 2006, 'The 'textual shift': Examining the reading process with print, visual and multimodal texts', Australian Journal of Language and Literacy, vol. 29, no. 1, pp. 24-37.
Schirato, T & Yell, S 1996, Communication and cultural literacy: an introduction, Allen & Unwin, St. Leonards.