AirTalk for November 26, 2013

How texting is changing the meaning of punctuation marks

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Does a period in a text message mean something different from one on paper?

An American University study found in 2007 that college students use sentence-ending punctuation marks only 39 percent of the time in texts and 45 percent of the time during instant messaging.

That was six years ago and the safe bet is that our punctuation-skipping habits have only become more ingrained over time. This gradual disappearance, some linguists and language observers argue, has changed the meaning of certain punctuation points.

A story editor at The New Republic, for instance, has recently written about how the commonplace period at the end of a text message now communicates anger or dismay, as opposed to just the end of a thought.  

Others have called for (though in jest) new punctuation to be invented to help better communicate emotions, or sarcasm. At issue is how to retain the nuance and complexity of language when we are communicating through a new technological medium.

Guest:

Geoffrey Nunberg, Linguist and Professor in the School of Information at UC Berkeley; Author of numerous books including “Ascent of the A-Word” (PublicAffairs 2013) and “The Linguistics of Punctuation”


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