"Text messaging is one of the most frequently used computer-mediated communication (CMC) methods. The rapid pace of texting mimics face-to-face communication, leading to the question of whether the critical non-verbal aspects of conversation, such as tone, are expressed in CMC," the researchers write in the study, which was published recently in the journal Computers in Human Behavior.
To test whether the period had become a social cue within the context of CMC, the researchers presented a small group (126 undergraduates — admittedly not representative of the entire global population but at least fairly representative of the most-prolific texters) with a series of exchanges framed as either text messages or handwritten notes.
As in the example above (which I harassed a friend into making with me, lest you worry that I'm having drinks with a robot that doesn't understand how to love) the experimental messages featured an invitation followed by a brief reply. When that reply was followed by a period, subjects rated the response as less sincere than when no punctuation was used. The effect wasn't present in handwritten notes.
According to Klin and her fellow researchers, that's an indication that the text message period has taken on a life of its own. It is no longer just the correct way to end a sentence. It's an act of psychological warfare against your friends. In follow-up research that hasn't yet been published, they saw signs that exclamation points — once a rather uncouth punctuation mark — may make your messages seem more sincere than no punctuation at all.
"Texting is lacking many of the social cues used in actual face-to-face conversations. When speaking, people easily convey social and emotional information with eye gaze, facial expressions, tone of voice, pauses, and so on," Klin said in a statement. "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."
It's no surprise that language is evolving in weird and potentially scary ways, because language has always done that. Just chalk this one up to human ingenuity — even when we can't talk face to face, we'll always find ways to be jerks to one another.
So take heed, members of pre-CMC generations: If you insist on grammatical correctness, you may suffer consequences.