Body Language in the Virtual World

Dr John put up another interesting post over on Ars Technica: this time he's interpreting a study that looks at emoticons and cultural differences in facial expression.

I love emoticons that are visually innovative, like the bald head
(: )
or the pope/cardinal hat
+<): )
or my signature "Canadian/Lumberjack emoticon"

However, I find emoticons very difficult to use on a day-to-day basis. I can use emoticons on web fora (Like the Ars Openforum) with limited success, but when I try to use them in my 'blog posts or in e-mails it just feels wrong. As a prose stylist, I hate giving away the emotion behind my writing like that; if the reader can't figure out what I'm writing, then I need to find some other way to write.

This leads me to wonder, if the facial expressiveness in North Americans is significantly different than that of a Japanese person, is the style of writing any different? Is the "eye-vs-mouth" phenomenon visible in the way a letter to a friend might be different for Japanese and North American cultures? What about Europeans, or Arabs?

What's scary is that every time I see an article about something interesting and language-related, I usually take a few seconds and try to spin it into an MA thesis proposal in my head. Unfortunately, [Thankfully??] most of them are rubbish.

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