Online communication methods have evolved rapidly in recent years in contact with digital technology. To study these developments, Swiss scientists are calling on WhatsApp conversation donations to better understand the subtleties surrounding the use of emojis.
The university research project “What’s new, Switzerland?”, Funded by the Swiss National Research Foundation (SNF), aims to study the evolution of language – and its ambiguities – through digital technology. It takes place within the consortiuma national interdisciplinary research center on language, at the crossroads of social sciences, linguistics, informatics and natural sciences.
“This great national project aims to study the evolution of language from its origins to its most recent developments related to new technologies”, specifies Aris Xanthos, professor of languages and information sciences at the University of Lausanne, questioned on Monday at 12: 30.
In this context, “What’s new, Switzerland?” seeks to study how humans communicate their emotions through instant digital messaging, particularly on WhatsApp. Scientists are particularly interested in the evolution of the use of emojis, which now often play an important role.
“We already know that they serve to clarify the meaning of the messages or to maintain a certain atmosphere in the conversation. Sometimes even for purely aesthetic purposes”, explains the researcher Unil. “But we also see that they have quite significant potential to generate ambiguity.” She also points out that in addition to the global dynamics linked to the appearance of emojis in various technologies, internal dynamics in conversations are also developing.
Improve the fight against cyber harassment
An invitation to donate WhatsApp conversations was launched on Monday. As the project already has a database of conversations, but these were collected as part of a first study of this type in Switzerland,between 2010 and 2014. It is an eternity considering the speed with which digital codes and practices have spread and changed in recent years.
Scientists are therefore trying to create a more recent corpus that can be compared to see how the communication of emotions has evolved in eight years with, for example, the introduction of new emojis, the development of stickers or the integration of gifs. . .
“For us, having authentic conversations to analyze is a first step towards more concrete applications, such as cyber harassment detection,” explains Aris Xanthos.
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it will contain conversations in the four national languages in addition to English. It also aims to improve automatic language processing (NLP) models in poorly documented languages, such as Romansh or Swiss-German dialects.
The call is open to anyone residing in Switzerland over the age of 16. The whole procedure is explained online,. Furthermore, the firm is strictly independent of the digital giants and data protection is taken very seriously.
“There are several automated steps to remove from chats anything related to personal information, names, addresses or numbers. Users also have the option of specifying terms they would like masked, such as nicknames. And the original data will be completely destroyed, we only keep anonymous data at the end which is reserved for strictly scientific use ”, explains Aris Xanthos.
Interview by Yann Amedro
Web adaptation: Pierrik Jordan