Episode 7: Punctuation

photo: <a href='http://www.flickr.com/photos/mag3737/3023743564/'>mag3737</a>

photo: mag3737


Punctuation can help clarify what we mean -- even emphasize certain points. But with the proliferation of smart phones, tablets and Twitter, many of us are tapping out shorter messages faster, often tossing punctuation aside. Or, to make sure our message is noticed, we use punctuation excessively, using five exclamation points instead of one!!!!! Then there's the whole other group of graphic punctuation: emoticons. :-) We're asking how technology is changing the way we use punctuation, and where we're at in the punctuation evolution.


Before we go forward, we're going to go back: waaaaay back. We'll find out what punctuation was originally used for, and whether it's now less about proficiency and more about performance. Henry Hitchings will talk about the punctuation evolution. He's the author of a number of language books, including The Language Wars: A History of Proper English.

The emoticon is one way that punctuation has really evolved in the past few decades. In fact, it was almost thirty years ago that the smiley was created. In September 1982, the colon, the hyphen and the closing parenthesis were first combined to create a smiley face. We'll talk with the guy who did it: Scott Fahlman, a research professor at Carnegie Mellon.

Then it's onto debate whether we should just use less punctuation. Two editors will help us tear into that. Karen Virag is the supervising editor at the Alberta Teachers' Association and the Director of Publications for the Editors' Association of Canada. She's a rule follower, so she takes the prescriptivist side. Virginia Durksen is the owner of Visible Ink, a company that teaches workplace writing, and is a member of the Editors' Association of Canada. She's more laissez-faire so she takes up the descriptivist side. The commas will fly!

As our punctuation usage changes, we'll explore how people who speak English as a second language navigate the commas, apostrophes and semicolons. It's a minefield out there!

We'll wrap up by looking at the future of punctuation. We've gone from none at all...to grammatical...to graphic...so, what's next? David Gerhard, associate professor of computer science at the University of Regina, will fill us in.

Before you go, take two minutes to check out the new reality show: Punctuation Party Mansion!!!   punctuation party.mp3 

If YOU were a piece of punctuation, what would you be? Tell us about it below, or leave any other comment you have about our changing use of punctuation!