Skin-tone modified emoji and first-person indexicality

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Abstract

Beginning in 2015, people have been able to transform many emoji–typically 18 byte, 12 × 12-pixel images inserted into digital text–with “skin-tone modifiers.” Racialized aspects of self-presentation have a long history of being marked in various ways in semiotic practice. However, this article argues that, parallel to other systems of social indexicals like honorifics and gendered speech, skin-tone modified emoji represent a robust example of the complex ways language and culture are bound together dialectically. Based on the views of 451 anglophone American respondents to a survey, I demonstrate that the selection of emoji–even yellow emoji–can appear as a social and political choice for certain speech communities. For these individuals, the addition of skin-tone modifiers in the emoji set may remove the possibility of remaining outside this system of author identification when using signs that have the potential to bear such modifiers.

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APA

Halverson, C. M. E. (2021). Skin-tone modified emoji and first-person indexicality. Social Semiotics. https://doi.org/10.1080/10350330.2021.2000333

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