Issue 9 |

Punctuation in the Age of the Internet

by on December 28, 2016

Punctuation marks (, . : ; ” ” ? !) are a very important aspect of languages. Though not really visible in spoken language, they have always been paramount in the written language. They can change and give new meanings to sentences. They signal when a sentence ends or starts, and just by looking at them one can understand the context and the meaning of a sentence. For example, if you read that your Grandma said: “It’s time to eat kids!” instead of “It’s time to eat, kids!” you might have a very different reaction to her. In the two sentences, the same words and the same order are followed. Yet just by inserting the comma in the second sentence, we gave a completely new meaning to the sentence. In the first sentence, Grandma sounds like she is suggesting that we go and eat children, but in the second one, she’s just telling the kids that the time to eat has come!

Even though the standard, “correct” use of punctuation is still important in books, formal letters and messages to the public, with modern technology and the different code of languages that young people especially have started to use, punctuation seems to no longer be considered as important as before. Sometimes punctuation marks are omitted although they should be there and sometimes we see people use more than necessary in one sentence. This is in an effort to add more emphasis or express their enthusiasm. For example, we tend to find messages like:

Really!!??,

How are you???

Yes, you can come visit me!!!

Another not so encouraging trend when it comes to using good grammar and punctuation is the use of a popular language called texting-language or SMS language. It consists of abbreviations and use of letters with numbers, and is the new way of communicating today on social media:

BTW how you doin bro

Standard English: By the way, how are you doing bro?

___________________________________________________________________________________

idk ur name

Standard English: I don’t know your name.

But why don’t people pay attention to the rules of punctuation in their text messages to each other or their posts on social media?

People don’t need proper punctuation to send texts that others understand

Today, people do not really pay attention to every grammar rule when they are chatting with their friends or posting things on social media. A 2007 study, for example, showed that students at American colleges only use punctuation in 39% of their text conversations and that punctuation at the end of sentences in instant-messaging conversations was only used 45% of the time. What’s probably more important for most people is to send a text that is understood by the other person.

Given all the sorts of language and codes that people have created to communicate to each other, most punctuation marks also do not find a place in private or public chats or may even be unnecessary. In text-language, punctuation rules are not quite applied properly, and the use of a question mark, for example, is not needed to know whether a sentence is a question or a statement. We usually see people write: sup, how you doin or you good and recognize that all of these are assumed to be questions.

It is also an opportunity for those who never learnt or mastered the use of punctuation to express themselves as much as they want without feeling inadequate. Another thing is that when people communicate on social media or other applications, they like to answer and be answered instantly. Most of us would use “internet language” or “text-language” in order to minimize the effort and time for communication, which means that punctuation is not prioritized and may even be left out entirely.

Peer pressure

Many people are pressured into using text-language because they are influenced by others, because their group of friends uses that sort of language, and sometimes they give in to it because it give them the impression of looking cool. People usually tend to find “cool” what everybody does, in order to be “modern”. Someone who does not understand text-language can have a pretty hard time chatting with most people because the trend is really popular, especially amongst young people.

We can clearly see that apart from the question mark (?) and the exclamation mark (!), today, most of the punctuation marks are either not used properly or not used at all. Sometimes, celebrities play a certain role in spreading the so popular trend of text-language too; we see that a lot in their posts. And most of us imitate them.

John Cena recently posted this on Twitter:

Next week @WWEUniverse in #NYC set your DVR for #RAW and get to @TheGarden for #SmackDownLIVE ill C U THERE!!! #NeverGiveUp

Not long ago I came across a tweet from Nicki Minaj, saying:

Yooo I’m scryinnn. My app lit!!! U sound madd cute!! AHHH lmfaoo.

I am not sure I completely understood what she said, but it seems like most of her fans and most people on Twitter do.

Conveying emotions

Though the growing trends of texting-language has altered the way punctuation is used, studies have shown that some people leave out punctuation in their messages to avoid being misunderstood, or avoid punctuation to convey a different emotion from what they really feel. Punctuation marks at the end of sentences have specific meanings, for example the exclamation mark is interpreted as an expression of enthusiasm and multiple question marks at the “???” can be interpreted as a sign of real excitement.

A 2013 article by New Republic on the period suggests that it can sometimes be perceived as cold in a conversation. For example:

+ How are you bro?
– I am fine.
+ What’s wrong? Are you angry?

Punctuation marks when used in texting and instant conversation express a certain feeling or state of mind of the person who is writing. People really pay attention not to the rules of grammar, but to the tone and impression that every punctuation mark communicates to the correspondents.

Conclusion

Innovations in “texting-language” and the internet have really affected the way we write and the perceptions we have about what is “writing properly”.  Even though some people try to advocate the good use of grammar on social media by writing properly and correcting other people’s mistakes, the trend of text-language is very popular and people are not quite ready to stop that. Many people are just too busy with their daily routine, and using text-language offers them a solution to send their messages or post what they want to quickly, bearing in mind that respecting all the rules of grammar may be rather time consuming in this fast-paced world.

As long as people understand each other, it is fine for them even if they are ungrammatical or don’t use punctuation in their communications. Punctuation marks that have always been a very important part of the written language are having their roles in sentences altered, thanks to social media and the need for a way to communicate freely, instantly and without any constraints.

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