The humble full stop. It started its life as one of the most important punctuation marks in our arsenal, one of the first grammatical structures we learn at school as children and has now become the symbol of passive aggressiveness. The days of texting and instant messaging have led us to perceive one of the most simple grammatical tools as a sign of blatant insincerity. If you have ever received a text message that tends with a full stop you’ll know what I mean. Those who haven’t, or have never thought about it, will think I’m crazy, but there has been a study to prove it. A study at Binghamton University’s Harpur College carried out a study in which it observed 126 students who read series of messages displayed as texts on a screen or handwritten notes on loose-leaf paper, similar to the notes sent before the world of texting. There were sixteen experimental exchanges, half the participants’ responses were with a full stop and the other half did not. Based on the responses, the text messages that ended with a full stop were less sincere than text messages that did not. However, the students who read the notes on the paper reported that the messages sounded sincere, regardless of whether there were full stops or not. This suggests that punctuation can misconstrue or influence the meaning of a text message.
Mark Liberman, a professor of linguistics at the University of Pennsylvania, said “In the world of texting and IMing…the default is to end just by stopping, with no punctuation mark at all. In that situation, choosing to add a period also adds meaning because the reader(s) need to figure out why you did it. And what they infer, plausibly enough, is something like ‘This is final, this is the end of the discussion or at lest the end of what I have to contribute to it'”. The development of technology, such as the way we see our messages on the screen, means we are more likely to text as if we are talking therefore we don’t see the need for a full stop unless it marks the end of the discussion. Celia Klin, associate professor of psychology and associate dean at Binghamton University has said that “Texting is lacking numerous social cues used in actual face-to-face conversations…when speaking, people easily convey social and emotional information with eye gaze, facial expressions, tone of voice, pauses and so on” which of course, aren’t conveyed over text. The development of the way we communicate through technology has had a fascinating impact on linguistics, need I remind you of the word, or emoji, of the year? So next time you want to construct a grammatically correct sentence over text message, think about how insincere you will sound to the person on the receiving end. Unless that’s your aim, then text away you passive aggressive texter.
Featur image from here.