Potter College News
WKU English Graduate Fallon Russell Presents Research on Text Message Punctuation
- Joseph Shoulders
- Monday, July 19th, 2021
Most students agree that they would never write a paper the same way they write text messages. Even so-called “grammar nerds” forgo strict rules when texting in favor of more positive communication. People type casual conversations with little thought, and they might not realize that text messages do have accepted linguistic rules since the language seems so natural to them. However, people notice when someone else does not follow those rules.
For example, in a recent article, The New York Times discussed how ending texts with a period is often perceived as rude. Many people end their texts with periods to be grammatically correct and do not realize the negative connotation. An article such as this one provides an explanation for people who do not find text language so natural—such as older people who did not grow up texting, autistic people who have difficulties with social cues, and people who do not have native proficiency of the English language.
Finding an explanation for why people do not end texts with periods was the starting place for a research paper written by 2021 WKU English graduate Fallon Russell. Russell wrote the paper “Typographical Tone in Texting” as part of an Honors Augmentation Contract in Dr. Jones’s Editing and Publishing course, and she presented her findings at the 2021 Student Research Conference. Russell summarized the paper, “I discuss how periods at the end of texts communicate abruptness, how repeated letters communicate exaggeration, and how tildes communicate emphasis.”
Russell was intrigued by the topic because she frequently texts people of all ages, and she noticed different texting practices amongst them. “For me and many people around my age, there seem to be unspoken rules that we follow when we text to communicate tone, and I wanted to learn more about how the rules developed, what function they serve, and why they are important,” Russell explained.
The Student Research Conference was the first experience Russell had presenting alone, which made her nervous at first. “All of the students and faculty in attendance were very kind and supportive, and the faculty members seemed engaged, which helped me feel more confident,” Russell said.
“One professor seemed concerned because she said that she frequently sends texts with periods at the end. She was asking, ‘Do people think I'm rude because I do this?’” Russell shared. “It was a neat opportunity for me to explain how communicators demonstrate audience awareness not only when they send messages, but also when they receive and interpret messages. I explained how if I receive a text message from my grandmother that says, ‘Call me.,’ I wouldn't think anything about it, but if I received the same message from one of my friends, I would be concerned.”
A portion of Russell’s research consisted of analyses of text messages between herself and her friends and family. She searched for typographic elements and considered the context and audience of each instance. She then turned to academic sources to support her claims. “I found a few recent academic articles, but I wish that there were more out there,” Russell said. “In Editing and Publishing, I learned about how long the publishing process can be, so it makes sense to me why there isn’t a lot of research yet for new topics. However, I also gained the sense that the topic hasn’t always been deemed academic, but I think there is beginning to be more of a shift in that direction as quick interpersonal communication becomes more complex.”
For more recent studies, Russell used reputable news/magazine articles. When Russell was writing her paper, the NYT article had not yet been published. Russell enjoyed reading the NYT piece and commented, “I really like how Harrison-Caldwell emphasized how periods at the end of messages are not really needed. Further, I agree that a lot of the changes/practices within texting are reflective of speaking patterns and practices because texting is a quick and personal form of communication.”
The article also piqued Russell’s interest in continuing that line of research. She said, “I think it would be neat to further explore other textual elements like ellipses and capitalization patterns.” Russell is currently working at KirkpatrickPrice as a writer and added, “I'm interested to see how the implications of my work take place in communication with my coworkers via Microsoft Teams.”
Current students may be interested in researching text message linguistics further but may be daunted by the topic being less traditional in English studies. Russell offered some advice for these concerns.
“The best advice I have for doing research on new or unfamiliar topics is to ask a lot of questions. Specifically, ask why, and ask for help,” Russell said. “Asking ‘Why does this happen and matter?’ always helps me to dive deeper and find answers to questions while also staying focused on the big picture of what I’m doing. And never be afraid to ask for help. Professors (especially those in the English department) are available and willing to help, and they often can help you make great connections for your academic and professional career.”
Russell added, “If you are really interested in an article or book, try reaching out to the author(s)! Writers generally take great joy in people who are interested in their work, so I think it’s always worth a shot to reach out and ask more questions.”