Linguists claim the use of full stops makes the sender look overly formal and detached
Despite repeatedly drilling into you in primary school the importance of proper punctuation, the advent of digital communication has turned the inclusion of full stops in text and instant messages into a minefield. Correctly placed periods can come across as aggressive and angry, even if it’s clear in the context that the communication is benign. But now some linguists have weighed in on the phenomenon, explaining why they think it’s so tricky.
Speaking to The Conversation, linguist Mark Liberman suggests that adding in a full stop implies that you are bringing the messages to an end, making it appear to the recipient that you are colder or more detached. Psychologist Danielle Gunraj also carried out a study into messages littered with punctuation and found that this was a complaint unique to digital text, with participants not noting any insincerity when hand-written messages are properly formatted. As such, the medium rather than the message and the method of delivery that is key.
Referred to as “situational code-switching” by linguist John J Gumperz, he reveals that: “When using one in a text message, it’s perceived as overly formal. So when you end your text with a period, it can come across as insincere or awkward, just like using formal spoken language in a casual setting like a bar.”
As such, it’s probably easiest to sum up punctuation in text messaging as an example of something being in the wrong place at the wrong time, entirely out of context. Those who can’t break free from the primary school cycle are advised to swap the full stop for an exclamation point, but warned to be prepared to be perceived as an idiot.