In Texting, Punctuation Conveys Different Emotions. Period.

By Christina Passariello for the WSJ

texting-girlsTechnology is changing language, period

The use of a period in text messages conveys insincerity, annoyance and abruptness, according to a new study from the State University of New York Binghamton. Omitting better communicates the conversational tone of a text message, the study says.

As with any study by university researchers, though, it’s not that simple. The study found that some punctuation expresses sincerity. An exclamation point is viewed as the most sincere. (I overuse exclamation points!)

“It’s not simply that including punctuation implies a lack of sincerity,” said the study’s lead author, Celia Klin, an associate professor of psychology at Binghamton. “There’s something specific about the use of the period.”

The study asked 126 undergrads to evaluate conversations that appeared as text messages and handwritten notes (who uses those anymore?). The exchange started with an invitation, such as, “Dave gave me his extra tickets. Wanna come?” The students were asked to react to one-word responses – “Okay, Sure, Yeah, Yup” – with or without a period.

Grammar is evolving as we use new communication tools. Ms. Klin said she suspects periods in email to be more acceptable than in text messages, for example, because email is less conversational. Text messages are often short one-word replies, she said.

“The rapid exchange of text messaging gives it a speech-like quality,” said Ms. Klin. “It makes sense that texters rely on what they have available to them — emoticons, deliberate misspellings that mimic speech sounds and, according to our data, punctuation.”

Ms. Klin’s study, “Texting insincerely: the role of the period in text messaging,” appeared in the journal Computers in Human Behavior last month.

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