Maybe you shouldn't be so worried that smartphones are ruining your child's written language.
According to a recent study from Binghamton University, State University of New York, emoticons, irregular spellings and exclamation points in text messages aren't sloppy - these "textisms" actually help convey meaning and intent in the absence of spoken conversation.
"In contrast with face-to-face conversation, texters can't rely on extra-linguistic cues such as tone of voice and pauses, or non-linguistic cues such as facial expressions and hand gestures," said researcher Celia Klin. "In a spoken conversation, the cues aren't simply add-ons to our words; they convey critical information. A facial expression or a rise in the pitch of our voices can entirely change the meaning of our words."
"It's been suggested that one way that texters add meaning to their words is by using "textisms"-- things like emoticons, irregular spellings (sooooo) and irregular use of punctuation (!!!)."
"In formal writing, such as what you'd find in a novel or an essay, the period is almost always used grammatically to indicate that a sentence is complete. With texts, we found that the period can also be used rhetorically to add meaning," said Klin. "Specifically, when one texter asked a question (e.g., I got a new dog. Wanna come over?), and it was answered with a single word (e.g., yeah), readers understood the response somewhat differently depending if it ended with a period (yeah.) or did not end with a period (yeah). This was true if the response was positive (yeah, yup), negative (nope, nah) or more ambiguous (maybe, alright). We concluded that although periods no doubt can serve a grammatical function in texts just as they can with more formal writing -- for example, when a period is at the end of a sentence -- periods can also serve as textisms, changing the meaning of the text."
Klin said that this research is motivated by an interest in taking advantage of a unique moment in time when scientists can observe language evolving in real time.
"The results of the current experiments reinforce the claim that the divergence from formal written English that is found in digital communication is neither arbitrary nor sloppy," said Klin. "It wasn't too long ago that people began using email, instant messaging and text messaging on a regular basis. Because these forms of communication provide limited ways to communicate nuanced meaning, especially compared to face-to-face conversations, people have found other tools."
The study, 'Punctuation in text messages may convey abruptness. Period,' is published in Computers in Human Behavior.