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Do we need punctuation in text messages?

by: Marilyn Owen (13 August 2014)

For some time, I've found myself becoming mildly irritated at sentences in text messages seemingly flowing into each other without any full stops to at least let me know when one idea is terminated and another is about to begin. I've grown used to the idea that many texters avoid punctuation whenever they can (usually always), and so I wouldn't expect to receive completely punctuated text messages.

But what about clarity and understanding?

Many people sending texts seem to assume that their recipient is psychic! I've received texts containing long garbled strings of words where the sender's meaning is not immediately apparent, if at all. It does appear that "proper sentences" have fallen out of fashion, at least as far as text messages are concerned. After all, a sentence is supposed to begin with an upper case letter and conclude with a full stop (or period in US English) isn't it? It does so in mainstream written English but the world of texting apparently has its own rules and etiquette.

The aggressive full stop and the enthusiastic exclamation mark

In researching this topic I've come across a couple of interesting articles concerning texting language. And I've now learnt that often to use a full stop in a text can imply some level of aggression. According to Henry Baker in his interesting article "Why Has Using a Period in Text Messages Become Aggressive?" punctuation is now used in texts to "express inherent emotion" and the full stop no longer merely signifies a definitive pause, but rather is often used to express anger. Baker uses an example from a recent article in the New Republic by Ben Crair, where "a boyfriend, tired from work, asks whether, instead of eating at a restaurant for his girlfriend's birthday that night, they can eat at home. Her answer of "we could do that" is laid back. The answer becomes passive-aggressive, however, if it is "we could do that."

As Baker notes, there is data to support this it was found in an American University survey that only 39 per cent of college students used final sentence punctuation in texts and 45 per cent in online chats. Also, the exclamation mark is increasingly being used to denote enthusiasm and sincerity as in "I love it!" according to Baker, and there are other signs of changing punctuation trends in the world of texting.

Finally, we needn't fear that language is degenerating in the form of texting. In his new book Txtng: The Gr8 Db8 Professor David Crystal gives his view that language evolves to fit the context and that, importantly, experienced texters actually demonstrate that, by using abbreviations for what they want to say, they do, in fact, have a good knowledge of spelling, grammar and syntax. It is all language in evolution . . .

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Comments...

Ref: 102 I had no idea that a full stop is considered aggressive. And I fail to see how "we could do that" with a full stop is passive aggressive. From the way the girl's text reads, she is obviously a bit more careful in her texting otherwise it would be "we cud do dat" With or without full stop.
Romany - 16:18 13-08-2014
Ref: 101 Yes, we do. How about this? It makes me angry when I see that texters can't be bothered to punctuate their texts properly, and I take such lack of care as a direct insult.
Garry - 15:54 13-08-2014

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