Say it with [A Smiling Face with Smiling Eyes]: Judicial Use and Legal Challenges with Emoji Interpretation in Canada

  • Laurence Bich-CarrièreEmail author


Ah, emojis ☺. Some enthusiastically speak of them as a new universal language. In 2015, the Oxford English dictionary crowned one of them as its word of the year. Sixty million are exchanged daily on Facebook. Along with emoticons and various other smileys, emojis are now part of daily communications. Visual add-ons or superscript, they are meant to indicate intent or add emotions to written messages, which do not benefit from the tone or body language of the interlocutor. As such, they present themselves as tools for clarification, but one can wonder if they do not, too, introduce uncertainty in language. Aimed at barristers as well as jurilinguists, this paper seeks to underline some design and perception biases that can hinder communication, with a focus on rules of evidence and legal methodology. Empirically rooted in Canadian case law, the findings resonate in other jurisdictions, as emojis, indeed, are a global phenomenon.


Emoji Emoticon Semiotics Linguistics Evidence Case law Canada 


Les plus enthousiastes en parlent comme d’une nouvelle langue. Mot de l’année 2015 pour le dictionnaire Oxford, il s’en utilise environ soixante millions par jour seulement sur Facebook. Émojis, binettes, émoticônes: autant d’aides visuels à la communication devenus usuels. Alors qu’on les donne pour plus clairs que le texte seul, qui ne rend pas l’expressivité faciale ou la gestuelle du locuteur, on peut se demander s’ils ne contribuent pas, parfois, eux aussi à introduire une part d’incertitude dans le discours. Assurément, plaideurs autant que jurilinguistes doivent prendre conscience de certains biais de conception (notamment sur le plan des normes informatiques internationales) et de perception qui peuvent nuire à la communication, particulièrement en matière de preuve et de méthodologie de la recherche. Le caractère véritablement mondial des émojis permet de penser que les considérations théoriques soulevées par le présent article, trouvent appui au-delà de la jurisprudence canadienne qui l’illustre.


emoji émoticône sémiotique linguistiques preuve jurisprudence Canada 



© 2018 Laurence Bich-Carrière; BCL, LLB McGill (2008); LLM Cantab (2009), member of the Quebec (2009) and Ontario (2011) Bars. The author is currently a lawyer at Lavery, de Billy llp and a research scholar at the Paul-A. Crépeau Centre for Private and Comparative Law. This paper was presented as a workshop at the 12th Summer Institute of Jurilinguistics (Montreal, 15 June 2018), organized by the Crépeau Centre at the Faculty of Law of McGill University, and is part of wider research she conducts on emojis and the law. Unless otherwise indicated, the search is up-to-date and hyperlinks are functional as at 1 June 2018, and all underlining is the author’s, who wishes to thank all those who patiently bore with her emoji-testing texting as well as Mr. François Beaudry and Ms. Victoria Cohene for his dynamic and her patient comments on an earlier version of this conference paper.

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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.MontrealCanada

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