Grammarly’s Emojis and My Commitment to Make Them Happy

Noa Yaari, CRRS 7/30 (detail), 2019. Mixed media. 21 x 28 cm. Toronto

I recently wrote an email to a friend of mine in which I used : )  Since I have Grammarly as a plug-in on my Chrome, I’m able not only to see the level of my grammatical performance but also the tone of my communication. Grammarly’s emoji reacted seriously to that email; their eyes were open, and their mouth was flat. Those of you who know Grammarly might have already guessed: it was the “neutral” one.

But, I thought, I used : ) in my email. How can Grammarly look so neutral? Can’t they see that I’m quite happy, and that I’m ensuring that my reader receives the right tone of my massage? While asking these questions, my first step was to sound more cheerful. I changed my wording until Grammarly smiled along with my smiley. And my second step was to look for information about what determines Grammarly’s moods or reactions.

The Grammarly website says: “Grammarly’s tone detector relies on a combination of rules and machine learning to identify signals in a piece of writing that contribute to its overall tone. By analyzing your word choice, phrasing, punctuation, and even capitalization, Grammarly can tell you how your message is likely to sound to someone reading it.”

Apparently, Grammarly’s analysis doesn’t recognize : ) as it computes features such as wording, phrasing, and punctuation. Let’s try to make sense of this technological, and ultimately cultural, phenomenon.

Grammarly uses an emoji to signal to the users of the application how they might sound to their readers. It means that while the application’s input is verbal, its output is visual. In the spacetime between the input and the output, the verbal information changes into a visual one. In principle, if the words sound serious, Grammarly looks serious. And if the words sound exciting, Grammarly looks excited.

Grammarly’s output in the form of a neutral emoji in my email tells me that the application is “blind” to the icon : )  Moreover, further examination has shown that it doesn’t recognize emojis that Gmail offers as well. Lastly, the company’s website doesn’t mention emojis as a variable that the tone detector processes; this confirms my observations.

How is it possible that Grammarly uses emojis to denote tones while it ignores them at the same time? It makes sense to me that if Grammarly “believes” in emojis, it has to “respect” them equally to words. Until then, I’m committed to making Grammarly’s emoji happy. In my emails, my friend, no one leaves you neutral : )

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