Accentuating Illocutionary Forces: Emoticons as Speech Act Realization Strategies in a Multicultural Online Communication Environment

Azianura Hani Shaari


The global acceptance of emoticons has acknowledged the development of digital symbols in a communication setting when language alone can become a barrier in expressing certain intentions and feelings. This paper discusses how emoticons help indicate the illocutionary forces in texts and serve as part of various conversation strategies in the online communication environment. To achieve the research objective, a documentation of naturally occurring conversations on Facebook was made over a 12-month period to compile daily updates and conversations posted by youngsters in Malaysia.  120 online users were identified using a purposive sampling technique. A corpus of 324 362 words was established and processed. This whole set of naturally occurring conversation was then analysed based on Searle’s (1976) five categorisations of illocutionary acts using Content Analysis and Wordsmith Tools 5.0. The findings demonstrate some emoticons that accentuated illocutionary forces of speech acts in the online communication environment. Discussion of the findings also explores the purposes and functions of emoticons in Malaysian digital communication platform and the way users of a multicultural society employ emotion-symbols to achieve social cohesion and embrace cultural diversity.


Keywords: emoticon; speech act; illocutionary force; online communication; indirectness; multicultural society

Full Text:



Asma Abdullah. (1996). Going Glocal: Cultural dimensions in Malaysian Management. Kuala Lumpur: MIM.

Austin, J. L. (1975). How to Do Things with Words. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Austin, J. L. (1962). How to Do Things with Words. Clarendon Press.

Azianura Hani Shaari. (2017). Language of the Digital Minds. Bangi: Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia Press.

Asmah Hj Omar. (1996). Wacana Perbincangan, Perbahasan dan Perundingan. Kuala Lumpur: Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka.

Al-Ghamdi, N. A., Almansoob, N. T., & Alrefaee, Y. (2019). Pragmatic Failure in the Realization of the Speech act of Responding to Compliments among Yemeni EFL

Undergraduates. 3L: Language, Linguistics, Literature, Vol 25(4), 227-240.

Baron, N. S. (2008). Always On: Language in an Online and Mobile World. Oxford University Press, New York.

Blum-Kulka, S., House, J., & Kasper, G. (1989). Investigating cross-cultural pragmatics: An introductory overview. Cross-cultural pragmatics: Requests and Apologies. Vol 31,


Brown, P. & Levinson, S.C. (1987). Politeness: Some Universals in Language Usage. Cambridge University Press.

Buller, D. B., & Aune, R. K. (1987). Nonverbal cues to deception among intimates, friends, and strangers. Journal of Nonverbal Behavior, Vol 11(4), 269-290.

Brew, F. P., & Cairns, D. R. (2004). Do culture or situational constraints determine choice of direct or indirect styles in intercultural workplace conflicts?. International Journal of

Intercultural Relations, 28(5), 331-352.

Chan, S. (1998). Families with Asian Roots. In Lynch, E. & Hanson, M. (Eds), Developing Cross-cultural Competence. Baltimore MD: Paul H. Brookes.

Chan, A. M. & Rossiter, J. R. (1998). Construction of a Chineseness Values Scale and a Chineseness Ethnicity Scale, in Hung, K & Monroe, K. B (Eds.), AP - Asia Pacific

Advances in Consumer Research, Volume 3, 61-67. Provo, UT: Association for Consumer Research.

Cumming, J. D. (1995). The Internet and the English Language. English Today. Vol 11 (1), 3–8. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Crystal, D. (2006). Language and the Internet. Cambridge UK: Cambridge University Press.

Deacon, T. (2011). The Symbol Concept. In M. Tallerman and K. Gibson (eds.). Oxford Handbook of Language Evolution (pp. 393-404). Oxford University Press.

Derks, D.,E.R. Bos, A. & Von Grumbkow, J. (2008). Emoticons in Computer-Mediated Communication: Social Motives and Social Context. CyberPsychology and Behavior. Vol 11

(1), 99-101.

Derks, D., E.R. Bos, A., and Von Grumbkow, J. (2008). Emoticons and Online Message Interpretation. Social Science Computer Review. Vol 26 (3), 379–388.

Derks, D., Bos, A. E., & Von Grumbkow, J. (2007). Emoticons and Social Interaction on the Internet: The Importance of Social Context. Computers in Human Behavior, Vol

(1), 842-849.

Dresner, E. and Herring, S.C. (2014). Emoticons and illocutionary force. In Perspectives on Theory of Controversies and the Ethics of Communication, (pp.81-90). Dordrecht:


Drake, L. E. (1995). Negotiation styles in intercultural communication. International Journal of Conflict Management, 6(1), 72-90.

Ernst, C. P. H., Huschens, M., Herrmann, S., & Hoppe, L. (2018). The Influence of Emoticons on the Perception of Job-Related Emails: An Analysis Based on the Four-Ear Model.

Multikonferenz Wirtschaftsinformatik, (p.121-132). Lüneburg, Germany.

Ernst, C. P., & Huschens, M. (2019, January). Friendly, Humorous, Incompetent? On the Influence of Emoticons on Interpersonal Perception in the Workplace. In Proceedings of

the 52nd Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences.

Elfenbein, H. A., Ambady, N. (2002a). Is there an in-group advantage in emotion recognition? Psychological Bulletin, 128, 243-249

Elfenbein, H. A., Ambady, N. (2002b). On the universality and cultural specificity of emotion recognition: A meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 128, 203-235.

Gao, L. (2001). Digital Age, Digital English. English Today, 67, Vol. 0 (3), 17-23. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Glikson, E., Cheshin, A., & Kleef, G. A. V. (2018). The dark side of a smiley: Effects of smiling emoticons on virtual first impressions. Social Psychological and Personality

Science. Vol 9(5), 614-625.

Goffman, E. (1978). The presentation of self in everyday life (p. 56). London: Harmondsworth.

Hogenboom, A., Bal, D., Frasincar, F., Bal, M., De Jong, F., & Kaymak, U. (2015). Exploiting Emoticons in Polarity Classification of Text. Journal of Web Engineering. Vol 14(1&2),


Hofstede, G. (1991). Cultures and organizations: Software of the Mind. London: McGraw-Hill.

Jan, J. M., Wun Chiew Pung. (2016). Strategies Used and Cultural Considerations in Seeking Advice on InVitro Fertilisation Online: A Case of Malaysian Women. 3L: The

Southeast Asian Journal of English Language Studies. Vol. 22(2), 1-16.

Lewin, B. A., & Donner, Y. (2002). Communication in Internet message boards. English Today, Vol 18(3), 29-37.

Lee, J. S. (2006). Exploring the Relationship between Electronic Literacy and Heritage Language Maintenance. Language Learning and Technology. Vol 10 (2), 93-113.

Retrieved from

Lee, V. & Wagner, H. (2002). The Effect of Social Presence on the Facial and Verbal Expression of Emotion and the Interrelationships among Emotion Components. Journal of

Nonverbal Behavior. Vol 26 (1), 3-25.

Li, X. S., Chan, K. W., Kim, S., & Aggarwal, P. (2018). Service with Emoticons: How Customers Interpret Employee Use of Emoticons in Online Service Encounters. Journal of

Journal of Consumer Research, Vol 45 (5), 973–987.

Lo, S. K. (2008). The nonverbal communication functions of emoticons in computer-mediated communication. CyberPsychology & Behavior, 11(5), 595-597.

Maros, M., & Halim, N. S. (2018). Alerters in Malay and English Speech Act of Request: A Contrastive Pragmatics Analysis. 3L: Language, Linguistics, Literature, Vol 24(1), 69 –

Maros, M. & Rosli, L. (2017). Politeness Strategies in Twitter Updates of Female English Language Studies Malaysian Undergraduates. 3L: The Southeast Asian Journal of

English Language Studies. Vol 23(1), 132-149.

Maros, M. & Abdul Rahim, S. (2013). Reconfirming (In)directness Preference of Request Strategies among the Malays. Pertanika Journal of Social Sciences and Humanities.

Vol. 21, 221-234.

Maynor, N. (1994). The Language of Electronic Mail: Written Speech? In G. D. Little & M. Montgomery (eds.). Centennial Usage Studies. (pp. 48–54), Tuscaloosa: Alabama UP.

Negretti, R. (1999). Web-based Activities and SLA: A Conversation Analysis Research Approach. Language learning and Technology. Vol 3 (1), 75-87.

Ross, N. (2006). Writing in the Information Age. English Today 87. Vol 22 (3), 87-115. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Rashid, N. A., Boon, P. Y., & Ahmad, S. F. S. (2012). Murid dan Alam Belajar. Kuala Lumpur: Oxford Fajar.

Recanati, F. (1986). On Defining Communicative Intentions. Mind & Language, Vol 1 (3), 213-242.

Sproull, L & Kiesler, S. (1986). Reducing Social Context Cues: Electronic Mail in Organizational Communication. Management Science, 32, 1492-1512

Sanderson, D. (1993). Smileys. Sebastopol, CA: O’Reilly and Associates.

Searle, J. R. (1968). Austin on Locutionary and Illocutionary Acts. The philosophical Review. Vol 77(4), 405-424.

Searle, J. R., & Searle, J. R. (1969). Speech acts: An Essay in the Philosophy of Language. Vol. 626. Cambridge: Cambridge university press.

Searle, J. R. (1976). A classification of illocutionary acts. Language in Society. Vol 5(1), 1-23.

Skovholt, K., Grønning, A., & Kankaanranta, A. (2014). The communicative functions of emoticons in workplace e-mails: :-). Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication. Vol

(4), 780-797.

Swidler, A. (1986). Culture in action: Symbols and strategies. American Sociological Review, 273-286.

Takahashi, K., Oishi, T., & Shimada, M. (2017). Is☺ smiling? Cross-cultural study on recognition of emoticon’s emotion. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 48(10), 1578-

Tossell, C. C., Kortum, P., Shepard, C., Barg-Walkow, L. H., Rahmati, A., Zhong, L. (2012). A longitudinal study of emoticon use in text messaging from smartphones.

Computers in Human Behavior, 28, 659-663.

Teo, K. T. (1996). The acquisition of Malay as a Second language: A case of the essentiality of culture learning. pp. 365-388. September 6, 2009. Retrieved [1.12.2018]


Takahashi, S. (1996). Pragmatic Transferability. Studies in Second Language Acquisition. Vol 18(2), 189-223.

Thompson, P. A, & Foulger, D. A. (1996). Effects of Pictographs and Quoting on Flaming in Electronic Mail. Computers in Human Behaviour. Vol 12 (2), 225-243.

Twenge, J.M., (2017). IGen: Why Today's Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy--and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood--and

What That Means for the Rest of Us. Simon and Schuster.

Uhlirova, L. (1994). E-mail as a New Sub-variety of Medium and its Effects upon the Message. In S. Mejrkova and P. Frantidek (eds). The syntax of Sentence and Text: a

Festschrift for Frantidek Danes. (pp.273–282). Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

Valentine, T. (1994). When “No” Means “Yes”: Agreeing and Disagreeing in Indian English Discourse. Paper presented at the International Conference on World Englishes Today,

Urbana IL, March 31-April 2, ERIC ED: 378830. Retrieved [1.12.2018] from:

Walther, J. B., & D’Addario, K. P. (2001). The Impacts of Emoticons on Message Interpretation in Computer Mediated Communication. Social Science Computer Review. Vol

(3), 324-347.

Wierzbicka, A. (1985). Different cultures, different languages, different speech acts: Polish vs. English. Journal of Pragmatics. Vol 9(2-3), 145-178.

Wu, T. Y. (1980). Roots of Chinese Culture. Singapore: Federal Publications.

Yang, C. K. (1972). The Chinese Family in the Communist Revolution. Cambridge: M.I.T. Press.

Zilic, M. (1999). Linguistic Compression in Computer- Mediated Communication, Senior Honors Thesis. Urbana-Champaign: University of Illinois.

Zahid, I. & Hashim, N. (2018). Strategi dan Struktur Kesantunan Melayu dalam Kritikan Mentor: Rancangan Realiti Televisyen (Strategies and Structures of Malay Politeness in

Criticism on Mentor: A Reality Television Programme). GEMA Online® Journal of Language Studies.18(2), 134-153.



  • There are currently no refbacks.




eISSN : 2550-2247

ISSN : 0128-5157