A Journal of Teaching English Language and Literature

ISSN Print : 2229-6557, Online: 2394-9244

The Mysterious Disappearance of the Punctuation Dot: An Exploratory Study

Maria Teresa Cox and Riya Pundir

Introduction

The impetus for this research project is an article by Rhodri Marsden titled “The Full Stop is Dying”, that was published in the Sunday edition of The Tribune (13 December 2015). It was subsequently posted in the e-paper on 25 January 2016 under the section “Bling it On”.

In the article, the author pointed out that the “beloved punctuation mark is dying” and attributed it to “rapid-fire electronic communication”. He added that the punctuation dot was being replaced with exclamation marks, ellipses, line breaks and emoticons, as it was deemed too serious or sometimes even lacking in sincerity. According to the article, a survey of American students found that only 29 per cent were using the “full stop” or period dot to end their messages. A team led by Celia Klin (Gunraj, Drumm-Hewitt, Dashow, Upadhyay, Klin, 2015) in the Department of Psychology at the State University of New York at Binghamton recently completed a study titled “Texting Insincerely: The Role of the Period in Text Messaging”. The study concludes that language users believe that using a full stop is a bad way to convey heartfelt emotions. The article also claimed that leaving out the full stop seems to convey an air of nonchalance, where replies seem more casual and jokes more impromptu. This research project was undertaken to investigate whether a similar situation prevails in our local context with regard to text messages and to investigate the mystery of the disappearing full stop, and why, how and with what it is being replaced. An attempt has been made to assess the use of various applications, frequency of messaging, language used, use of grammatical punctuation marks, and reasons for not using the punctuation dot in current trends of electronic communication. A trend of substitutes for the period dot has also been identified.

Review of Literature

In punctuation, the full stop or period is a punctuation mark chiefly used to mark the end of a sentence expressing a statement. The full stop symbol derives from the Greek punctuation introduced by Aristophanes of Byzantium in the 3rd century B.C., to indicate the relative length of pauses in the spoken form of the text. A low dot “.” indicated a short breath after a short phrase, a mid-dot “・” meant a longer breath after a longer passage, and a high dot “˙” marked a full stop at the end of a completed thought. The full stop as a low dot was regularized with the advent of printing, first as block books in Western Europe from around 1300, and then in the mid-fifteenth century as movable type printing, with William Caxton bringing it to England in 1476. (Williamson, 2008; Nicolas, 2005). 

Full stops are one of the most commonly used punctuation marks; analysis of standard texts indicates that approximately half of all punctuation marks used are full stops. However, short text messages, particularly those sent by phone or through the Internet, seem to tell an entirely different story, one in which the full stop is making only a sporadic appearance.

In British English, the mark is usually called a “full stop”, while in American English, it is referred to as a “period dot”. In both cases, the full stop or period is used to indicate the end of a grammatically complete sentence. Both terms are sometimes also spoken or written to indicate that a matter is settled, for example:

“You’re not allowed to drive the car yet. Period.”

“We’re not going to discuss it anymore, full stop!”

The Devanagari script that is used to write Hindi and Sanskrit, among other Indian languages, uses a vertical line (“l”) (Devanagari danda) to mark the end of a sentence. In Hindi it is also known as poorna viraam. However, it has been generally noticed nowadays that the vertical line is being replaced by the period dot in many written texts.

A study on young adults conducted by researchers from Binghamton University reveals that text messages that included sentences ending in full stops—as opposed to those with no terminal punctuation—were perceived as insincere, though they stipulated that their results apply only to text messages. According to head researcher Celia Klin, “Our sense is that because [text messages] were informal and had a chatty kind of feeling to them, that a period may have seemed stuffy, too formal, in that context” (Gunraj, et al., 2015). The study did not find handwritten notes to be similarly affected.

Hypothesis

On the basis of general observations it was hypothesized that:

The most popular application for messaging is WhatsApp and the average person sends/ receives messages more than thirty times a day.

Most commonly used language in messaging conversations is Hindi written in English script (H.E.).

In most text messages, there is no use of full stops.

The least used punctuation mark is a full stop as it is considered rude in messaging.

Ellipses and emoticons are replacing the full stop to a large extent.

Objectives of the Study

Intrigued by the findings of other researchers, and having noticed a similar trend of not using the full stop, especially in text messaging and on social media platforms, we undertook this study to ascertain this vaguely perceived trend. As a specific objective, our aim was to study the trend of reduction in the use of the punctuation dot in messaging conversations among adolescent youth, to identify the reasons for its decline, and map the alternative forms of emerging punctuation markers. This would enable us to predict the trend of substitutes for the punctuation dot in the messaging among the adolescent age group. Our objective was also to find out whether our hypotheses could be validated.

Procedure

We adopted a survey method and devised a questionnaire. This was backed with face-to-face interviews, as well as actual samples of text message conversations, which were analysed in detail. With time and other resources being extremely limited, and this being an exploratory study, only a random sample of twenty people in the age group of 13 to 19 years was taken up. The questionnaire comprised six questions, each of which required a brief reply. We interviewed 20 students, chosen at random, studying in government and public schools of Chandigarh. Further, we took snapshots of the messaging conversations of these subjects and analysed them to verify and substantiate the answers given by them in the questionnaire.

Responses, Data Collection and Findings

The six questions and their responses are discussed as follows:

Q. 1     Which messaging application do you use?

The answers revealed that WhatsApp was the most frequently used application. Other applications such as Facebook and Hike were less frequently used in comparison.

Q. 2     How often do you message on a daily basis?

            a.      10 times

            b.      20 times

            c.      30 times

            d.      More than 30 times

The responses indicated that people communicated very often and used phone apps more than thirty times a day. Out of the 20 subjects, 12 said that they used messaging apps more than 30 times a day, 3 said they used them about 30 times a day, while 5 said that they used them between 10-20 times a day.

Q.3      Which language do you prefer while communicating via social media?

            a.      English language, English script

            b.      Hindi language, English script

            c.      Hindi language, Hindi script

            d.      Punjabi language, Punjabi script

The responses to this question supported our hypothesis that Hindi written in English script was the most preferred mode of text messaging. Out of the 20 respondents, 17 said that they used this mode of messaging, while 2 said they used English language and English script, and only 1 used Punjabi language and Punjabi script. Interestingly, none of the respondents stated that they used Hindi language and Hindi script.  

Q.4      While using the messaging application, which punctuation mark do you use from the following? Label them as:-

            1.  for “most frequently”, 2 for “sometimes” and 3 for “least”

            a.      Ellipses (…)

            b.      Exclamation mark (!)

            c.      Comma (,)

            d.      Full stop (.)

The answers revealed that comma is the most frequently used punctuation mark, whereas full stop along with exclamation mark is the least used punctuation mark. The following table 1 shows the frequency of punctuation marks used by the respondents:

Table 1

Frequency of Punctuation Marks Used by Respondents

 

 Various punctuation marks used

Ellipses

Exclamation

Comma

Full Stop

Most Frequently

3

3

8

4

Sometimes

8

5

1

4

Least Used

9

12

11

12

 

Q. 5     What impression do you get when a person uses a punctuation dot (.) in a message? The person is:

            a.      Rude

            b.      Demanding

            c.      Formal

            d.      No particular impression

Out of 20 respondents, 9 said that when people use a punctuation dot or a full stop, people either consider them to be formal or have no particular impression. Only 2 respondents answered that the impression created is that the person is rude and demanding.

Q.6      What do you prefer instead of a full stop: an emoticon, a sticker, ellipses or any other attribute. Give your reasons in not more than 30 words.

The most preferred attributes used while messaging are emoticons, followed by stickers, ellipses and line break. These attributes are used instead of the punctuation dot. While as many as 10 respondents listed emoticons as their first choice while messaging, 8 preferred stickers, 6 chose ellipses, and 2 chose line breaks.

Most of the respondents stated that they preferred emoticons as they “look attractive and interesting”. They “have fun” using the different cute, funny and nice looking emoticons at their disposal. Also, they find it “easy to express” their feelings through the emoticons; some respondents felt that these emoticons conveyed a “personal signature style” which also saved time as they did not have to write a whole explanation; moreover, they were easily understood by the receiver.

The respondents added that they use ellipses because it was “very comfortable” and provided a positive response to an ongoing conversation. Some people stated that it was a kind of a style which showed that you were a straight-forward person.  The few who preferred line breaks said that it “saves the time to use a full stop”.

A close study of 100 snapshots of text messaging conversations of the respondents substantiated the findings from the survey. It also revealed an interesting trend of a very marked decline in the use of full stops. In all only 3 full stops were used! Emoticons registered the highest presence, at 165. This was followed by about 156 line breaks and 50 ellipses. There were only 19 question marks, 16 commas and 10 exclamation marks used across 100 conversations.

Conclusion

The study of current trends clearly shows that the punctuation dot is indeed disappearing from the domain of text messages. Written informal conversations are now marked by other attributes such as emoticons, ellipses and line breaks.

This study also reveals that most messaging conversations are typically informal conversations, with the most popular application for messaging being WhatsApp. The average minimum frequency of use of such applications is more than 30 times on a daily basis. Further, the most commonly used conversational language is Hindi, again with no use of the full stop. Though people use the English script, they tend to leave their sentences hanging as they do not use a full stop.

 Our study applies only to one particular medium of communication, i.e. electronic messaging. Our assumption is that a replication of our exploratory study on a larger scale would yield similar results. However, our study focused on the adolescent age group of 13 to 19 years. It would be interesting to find out if similar trends prevail among other age groups, especially the 50+ age group. 

We would like to conclude that the punctuation dot may be heading for extinction from the scene of text messaging, and is being increasingly replaced by the more expressive and “friendly” emoticons, which succinctly and graphically convey a range of emotions. However, one would not go so far as The Washington Post did, in equating the use of a full stop as “an act of psychological warfare”. It must also be recognized that informal text messaging is only one register out of a large number of domains, ranging from the most informal to the most formal or frozen.

References

Full stop. (n.d.).  Retrieved March, 26, 2016 from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Full_stop

Full stop vs. period. (n.d.). In Grammarist. Retrieved March 26, 2016 from http://grammarist.com/usage/full-stop-period/

Gunraj, Danielle N., Drumm-Hewitt, April M. , Dashow , Erica M., Upadhyay, Sri Siddhi N. & Klin, Celia M. (2016). Texting insincerely: The role of the period in text messaging. Computers in Human Behavior, 55(B). 1067-1075.

Marsden, Rhodri. (2015, December 13). The full stop is dying. The Tribune. Retrieved January 25, 2016, from www.tribuneindia.com/news/perspective/full-stop-is-dying-period-meet-sub... 170028.html

Meyer, Charles F. (1987). A linguistic study of American punctuation. (Series XIII. Vol 5). New York, NY: Peter Lang Publishing Incorporated.

Nicolas, Nick. (2005). Greek Unicode Issues: Punctuation. 2005. Retrieved  October 7, 2014 from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greek_orthography

Williamson, Amelia A. (March-April 2008). Period or comma? Decimal styles over time and place. Science Editor, 31 (2), 42-43.

Maria Teresa CoxRiya Pundir

mariateresacox24@gmail.com    
rpundir_93@yahoo.com
Maria Teresa Cox and Riya Pundir are Post Graduate students at PG Govt. College for Girls, Sector 11, Chandigarh and are keenly interested in researching language trends in Social media.