How Hashtags, Texts, And Tweets Are Influencing Digital Language

Have texting and tweeting killed the period?

Vocabulary: syntax, hashtag, sarcasm, tone


Photo by Jacob Ufkes on Unsplash

Are hashtags and emoji becoming a new form of online punctuation? It seems digital communication, like all other types of language, has its own evolving rules. Psychologist Celia Klin tells us why a period in a text can convey a different emotion compared to a written messages. Internet linguist Gretchen McCulloch takes us through the different meanings of this, THIS, and #this, and how punctuation, syntax, and hashtags are being used to create a digital tone of voice.

Audio Excerpt “How Hashtags, Texts, and Tweets Are Influencing Digital Language” July 29, 2016. (Original Segment)

Print this segment transcript.


  • Do you think that your text messages are misinterpreted more by your peers or people of a different generation (younger or older)? Where is the disconnect happening?
  • What is one example of a text message that you think is often misinterpreted? Design a study like Celia Klin’s where you adjust the syntax of that message. What did you do to change it? What were the different meanings you intended to convey? If you can, conduct your experiment to examine how syntax affects the meaning of a text.
  • Do you use hashtags and emoji in texts? If so, why? Is there a particular tone where you’re more likely to use emojis?
  • How would you figure out if texting had an impact (positive or negative) on a person’s formal standard English?

Activity Ideas

  • Take a suggestion from Gretchen McCulloch: Have students take a literature passage and translate it into a text message conversation, then take the text message and translate it back into formal writing.
  • Have students design a study to pick out likely places for misinterpretation in text messages in their own text conversations.