Punctuation and its Personality: How Texting has Transformed Language

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Punctuation is recognised as being a somewhat mundane feature of written language. It has its uses – it organises sentences in ways that make them more understandable – but it isn’t particularly exciting.

Yet, technological advances have made it so that we communicate far more via written language than we have in the past, and punctuation has evolved; it has developed some pizazz, and it has gotten some serious personality. How, you ask? Check out these three examples of how punctuation marks now pack more of a punch.

The Period (.)

In more formal writing, the period is a tame beast that fulfils an essential role. It seats itself at the end of sentences and gently suggests to readers that one thought is wrapping up and another might begin shortly. Skilled writers can manipulate them with tact, forcing a sentence to an abrupt halt, or letting it taper to a close, but the emotion lies in the content rather than the punctuation.

The period in texting is not so tame. It has developed an emotionally charged personality, and it doesn’t need aggressive content to provoke a fight. The texting period is a far more vociferous creature, and it creeps from the shadows only every now and again. Why’s that? Well, text messages are short. Sure, for the person typing an essay to his girlfriend, a few periods might be innocently scattered around, but in most cases, a text isn’t long enough to warrant a stop. For instance,

Boy: mind postponing date night?

Girl: sure

vs.

Boy: mind postponing date night?

Girl: sure.

Gentlemen, she probably does mind. The period is powerful - use it with caution.

The Ellipsis (...)

So, what happens when you tack a few periods on together to form the fun little (...) we call an ellipsis? Formerly, this strategic number was used to indicate that a piece of text had been removed, but creative writers filched it to simulate long pauses or elongation in speech. For instance, “‘Okay…’ she cautioned.”

And yet texting has modified it yet again. Ellipses are used in a couple of different ways, and like periods, they often come equipped with some emotive qualities.

Take for instance this conversation:

A: I just signed up for a marathon! Do it with me?

B: …

Person A is super excited; person B’s enthusiasm does not exist. The ellipsis, used on its own in this case, effectively conveys that and also implies the sender’s initial reaction is along the lines of “are you joking?”

The Exclamation Mark (!)

Ahh, the exclamation mark – one of the most overused and insincere marks of punctuation in the book. Originally reserved for the end of exclamations – e.g. ‘Oh, my goodness!’ or ‘Wow!’ – the exclamation mark now slyly appears in writing in attempts to infuse excitement into the sentence.

However, texters have taken the exclamation mark to a whole new level. Because text messages are so short, and because tone and inflection cannot always easily be incorporated into them, insincerity can crop up where it doesn’t belong. Enter the exclamation mark. In the texting sphere today, people insert this handy little punctuation to convey sincerity when their messages have been misinterpreted.

For instance:

Girl: wanna go to the movies?

Boy: okay

Girl: we can do something else if you dont want to

Boy: no I do!

Look up some showtimes, ladies, because you’re going to the movies.

***

There are plenty who moan about text-speak being the degradation of the English language, but it’s more subtly nuanced than one might think. Texters today have discovered a means of using punctuation to convey emotion swiftly and successfully. Punctuation has got personality these days!

Let us know what you think about punctuation in text messages in the comments below. Still learning English and a little confused about what all this might mean for your texting purposes? Contact us to find a language tutor near you, and discover even more English linguistic gems!