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Full stop is ‘intimidating’ to young people who interpret it as a sign of anger, linguists say

Full stops intimidate young people when used in social media communication as they are interpreted as a sign of anger, according to linguistic experts.

Teenagers and those in their early twenties, classified as Generation Z, have grown up with smartphones which they use to send short messages without full stops. 

And a study from Binghamton University in New York suggested that people who finish messages with full stops are perceived as insincere. 

Linguistic experts are now investigating why teens interpret a correctly-punctuated text as a signal of irritation. 

The debate was reignited after writer Rhiannon Cosslett tweeted: ‘Older people – do you realise that ending a sentence with a full stop comes across as sort of abrupt and unfriendly to younger people in an email/chat? Genuinely curious.’ 

Several Twitter users expressed disbelief, and, despite her own use of a full stop, one even accused her of ‘peak snowflakery’. 

That prompted crime novelist Sophie Hannah to reply: ‘Just asked 16-year-old son – apparently this is true. If he got a message with full stops at the end of sentences he’d think the sender was “weird, mean or too blunt”.’

According to experts, youngsters used to communicating electronically break up their thoughts by sending each one as a separate message, rather than using a full stop, which they use only to signal they are annoyed or irritated. 

Some have said the full stop is redundant when used in texting because the message is ended just by sending it. 

According to The Telegraph, Linguist Dr Lauren Fonteyn of Leiden University in Holland, tweeted: ‘If you send a text message without a full stop, it’s already obvious that you’ve concluded the message. 

‘So if you add that additional marker for completion, they will read something into it and it tends to be a falling intonation or negative tone.’

A linguist from the University of Cambridge, Owen McArdle, told the newspaper: ‘I’m not sure I agree about emails. I guess it ­depends how formal they are.

‘But full stops are, in my experience, very much the exception and not the norm in [young people’s] instant messages, and have a new role in signifying an abrupt or angry tone of voice.’

And the potential change in meaning of the full stop, in relation to online communication, has been debated by linguists for years. 

Professor David Crystal, one of the world’s leading language experts, argues that the usage of full stops is being ‘revised in a really fundamental way’. 

In his book, Making a Point, he says that the punctuation mark has become an ’emotion marker’ which alerts the recipient that the sender is angry or annoyed.   

He wrote: ‘You look at the internet or any instant messaging exchange – anything that is a fast dialogue taking place. People simply do not put full stops in, unless they want to make a point.

The full stop is now being used in those circumstances as an emotion marker.’ 

In 2015, a study from Binghamton University in New York suggested that people who finish messages with full stops are perceived as insincere.

The study involved 126 undergraduates and the researchers found that text messages ending in the most final of punctuation marks – eg ‘lol.’, ‘let’s go to Nando’s.’, ‘send nudes.’ – were perceived as being less sincere.

Unusually, texts ending in an exclamation point – ‘lmao!’, ‘just a cheeky one!’, ‘what body part even is that? I hope it’s your arm!’ – are deemed heartfelt or more profound.

Research leader Celia Klin said at the time: ‘When speaking, people easily convey social and emotional information with eye gaze, facial expressions, tone of voice, pauses and so on.

‘People obviously can’t use these mechanisms when they are texting. Thus, it makes sense that texters rely on what they have available to them – emoticons, deliberate misspellings that mimic speech sounds and, according to our data, punctuation.’ 

The full stop derives from Greek punctuation introduced by Aristophanes of Byzantium in the 3rd Century BC. 

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