Full stops intimidate young people because they see them as a sign of anger, say linguists

Kit Heren
·2-min read
Shutterstock / Maridav
Shutterstock / Maridav

Young people are intimidated by full stops because they seem like a sign of anger in social media messages, linguistics experts have claimed.

Generation Z, made up of people born after 1995, is a cohort of youngsters that has largely grown up with informal text messaging as a default way of communicating.

In this largely punctuation-free context an unexpected full stop can seem deliberate, as if showing that something negative is meant by the message, say linguists.

Leiden University's Dr Lauren Fonteyn tweeted: "If you send a text message without a full stop, it's already obvious that you've concluded the message.

Context remains key, linguists argue (Getty Images)
Context remains key, linguists argue (Getty Images)

"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."

Some experts argue that the act of hitting send on the message itself acts as an end point to the message, so there is no formal need for the full stop.

But others think that context is all-important and that some kinds of message still need to be structured by punctuation.

Owen McArdle, a linguist at the University of Cambridge, told the Telegraph: 'I'm not sure...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."

Using a full stop can even seem insincere, one study found (Shutterstock)
Using a full stop can even seem insincere, one study found (Shutterstock)

A 2015 study among university undergraduates found that using full stops could actually make people seem insincere.

The study by Binghamton University in New York surveyed 126 students and found that text messages ending in a full stop, like "lol.", were considered less sincere.

But texts ending in an exclamation mark - like "lmao!" were seen as sincere and profound, the researchers found

Lead author of the study 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."