Emojis and conditionals: Exploring the super linguistic interplay of pictorial modifiers and conditional meaning
Patrick Georg Grosz
November 2021

In recent years, formal linguistic analysis has expanded its scope to include objects of study beyond natural language, under the umbrella of Super Linguistics (intending the Latinate meaning of 'super', namely 'beyond'), see Patel-Grosz, Mascarenhas, Chemla and Schlenker (forthcoming). One super linguistic object of study are emojis, which can be analyzed as digital counterparts of gestures and facial expressions, but which also share properties with natural language expressions such as 'alas' and 'unfortunately' (Grosz, Greenberg, De Leon and Kaiser 2021b). In this paper, I use conditionals as a case study to argue that natural language semantics can benefit from a study of emoji semantics. I start by arguing that face emojis (disk-shaped pictographs with stylized facial expressions) operate on contextually salient propositions. I show that they can comment on the presuppositions of wh-questions and definite descriptions, but not on conversational implicatures. I then show that face emojis can also comment on the counterfactual inferences of subjunctive conditionals (or, more broadly, subjunctive if-clauses). This suggests that these counterfactual inferences may be presupposition-like and not, as widely assumed, an instance of implicature (cf. Zakkou 2019 for recent discussion). The study of emojis, a non-standard object for linguistic inquiry, can thus directly inform more traditional linguistic exploration.
Format: [ pdf ]
Reference: lingbuzz/006341
(please use that when you cite this article)
Published in: To appear in Linguistics Vanguard
keywords: face emojis, emotive markers, conditionals, super linguistics, semantics
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