The Period and Tone in a Text Message

To some, using a period in a text message changes the tone. Because few people use any punctuation in texts, the period, according to one article, is taking new meaning.

Texting and periods

Mark Liberman, professor of linguistics at the University of Pennsylvania, explains how a period may be intepreted by a reader:

"In the world of texting and IMing … the default is to end just by stopping, with no punctuation mark at all. In that situation, choosing to add a period also adds meaning because the reader(s) need to figure out why you did it. And what they infer, plausibly enough, is something like 'This is final, this is the end of the discussion or at least the end of what I have to contribute to it.'"

Instead, paragraph breaks are more common to start new sentences, presumably because the return key is easier to access than the period. (On the iPhone, the return key is on the same screen as the alphabet, while the period requires a keyboard change to access.)

The article author claims that the question mark also has "outgrown its traditional purpose," now used to downplay an otherwise "cocky" statement, such as "I think he likes me?"

Image source (from article).

Discussion Starters:

  • Do you agree with the author's assessment of the period? Does it imply tone to you?
  • I've been accused of over-punctuating text messages. And it's not unheard of for me to use a semi-colon in a text. Do I need professional help?