Digitally Mediated Communication of Emojis By Visually Impaired Users: The Case of Sarcastic WhatsApp Messages

Fahad Alzahrani (1), Radwa Elshemy (2)
(1) Languages & Translation Department, University of Tabuk,, Saudi Arabia,
(2) Special Education Department, University of Tabuk, Saudi Arabia, Saudi Arabia


In today’s digital age, emojis have come to compensate for the nonverbal cues that speakers use to communicate their attitudes or emotions as they speak, and hence become an essential element of online communication. In the realm of WhatsApp, where written conversations with an immediacy level close to that of spoken are supported, an ironic or sarcastic message is likely to be misunderstood, as it involves decrypting a meaning that often contradicts what is said. The functions of emojis could facilitate the correct interpretation of a message. However, the phenomenon of emojis may not be ideal for visually impaired WhatsApp users. Distinguishing sarcasm from the sincerity tone of a message requires distinct semantic and cognitive processes. This study aims to uncover how visually impaired users (VIU) use emojis on WhatsApp to clarify sarcastic versus literal intent. To meet this aim, two experimental tasks were conducted. Results provide clear evidence that emojis are necessary tools for VIU in online communication. However, their use varies with emojis linked more to literal WhatsApp messages than sarcastic ones and in praise situations than in criticism.

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Fahad Alzahrani (Primary Contact)
Radwa Elshemy
Author Biographies

Fahad Alzahrani , Languages & Translation Department, University of Tabuk,

Dr Alzahrani is an assistant professor of applied and computational linguistics at the University of Tabuk. He has +10 years of teaching and research experience within Saudi Arabia and overseas. His primary research interests revolve around the connections between linguistic form, meaning, and function in discourse. Furthermore, he is interested in quality assurance, performance management, innovation and strategic management.

Radwa Elshemy, Special Education Department, University of Tabuk, Saudi Arabia

Dr Elshemy is an associate professor of special education at the University of Tabuk. Having authored various books and published many articles, she is specialized in meeting the needs of students with visual impairment. Her main research interests include single-subject design and positive behaviour support. Dr Elshemy is an experienced educator who has worked in various higher education institutions in Saudi Arabia and overseas.

Alzahrani , F., & Elshemy, R. (2023). Digitally Mediated Communication of Emojis By Visually Impaired Users: The Case of Sarcastic WhatsApp Messages. Journal of Intercultural Communication, 23(2), 58–65.

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