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商业 - 科技

科技为什么消灭不了标点符号?

Katy Steinmetz/TIME 2016年09月28日

标点符号对人们的交流意义重大,一个句号有时能抵千言万语。

随着沟通方式日新月异的发展,很多标点符号已经成了古书上才能见到的活化石。9月24日是美国的“国家标点符号日”,每到这天,人们才能想起那些已经许久没有用过的标点符号,只有一个标点符号例外——句号到目前为止尚未被打入冷宫。虽然也有人哀叹这个圆滚滚的小符号也已行将就木,但是在可预见的将来,句号君依然会执著地陪伴着我们。一项最新的针对手机短信(它本该是宣判了句号死刑命运的媒介)的研究能帮我们解释这是为什么。

计算机语言学家泰勒•斯科诺贝伦最近仔细分析了他自己收藏的157,305条短消息,以得出人们对句号的使用模式。他的初步研究成果独家发布在了《时代》周刊上。“句号实际上起到了非常有趣的作用。”

这15万条短信包含了他在7年的时间里与1100余人通信的内容。他注意到,在这短时期里,虽然很多发信者大大降低了句号的使用频率,但出于很多原因,人们依然还会在手机屏幕的右下角点击两次,给短信划上一个圆滚滚的句号。(斯科诺贝伦指出,当然该研究只局限于一个人的社交圈子,或许不具有广泛的代表性,但它也是截止目前为止规模最大的一次针对手机短信的语言学研究。)

第一个原因是结构。我们人人都接到过奇长无比的短信,有的是朋友发来的八卦,有的是被劈腿的前女友发来的怨毒控诉,也有的是才高八斗的父母以标准的雅思阅读长难句的水平给你发来一堆人生的经验。斯科诺贝伦发现,一条短信的长度越长,它以句号结束的机率越大。在长度不足17个字母的短信中,只有13%以句号结尾。而在长度超过了72个字母的短信中,则有60%以句号结尾。72个字母大约是一条微博字数限制的一半。短信的长度越长,它就越像新闻、小说和法律文件一样需要标点符号,因为“人们会迷失在没有标点符号的文字海洋里。”同时,句子堆砌得越多,就会自然而然地产生前后呼应的倾向。也就是说,如果短信很长,我们就会在中间用上几个句号,然后我们就会强迫症地在最后一句话后面再添一个句号,哪怕文本框本身就包含了“这段话就到这儿了”的意思。

斯科诺贝伦还发现,句号还可以是情绪的象征。以往的著述中已经对句号的作用着墨颇多,这里不再赘述。总之,句号曾经是个中立的符号,如水一般,不带感情色彩。但用在手机短信里,却可以显得发信人很愤怒、气恼或没诚意。当然,它是不可能同时传达这么多涵义的。语言学家大卫•克里斯托曾经叹道,由于新闻媒体都有能不用句号就尽量不用的习惯,甚至导致人们的语言习惯也发生了变化。对此他举了一个很好的例子:

约翰来参加聚会了(陈述事实了)

约翰来参加聚会了。(我的天哪!——此处自带小岳岳表情包)

不过句号所传达的含义也有可能是友好的。当一位朋友遭遇到不好的事情,句号可以传递你的真挚同情,它也可以表明你的情感是真诚的。句号还可以最大程度上降低给人留下粗心和语义不明的感觉的风险。根据斯科诺贝伦的分析,以句号结尾的短信,往往大量含有“告诉”、“感觉”、“约会”、“难过”、“看起来”和“聊天”等词。而在没有用句号结尾的短信中,往往包含许多更为轻松的常用词,如“哈哈”、“你”、“好”、“OK”、“就要”等等。值得注意提,像哈哈(lol)这样的语气词,有时本身就充当了标点符号的作用,就像颜文字表情一样。

随着我们通过短信联系的人越来越广,我们不仅要发短信给自己的好友,还要发给同事、远亲、公司和客户等等,而句号等标点符号则有助于区分语境。因为决定了一场对话是否正式的,并非是我们所使用的媒介,而是我们的谈话对象。斯科诺贝伦表示:“标点符号是正规化的一种象征。并不是每个跟你发短信的人都想跟你用大白话聊天。”

斯科诺贝伦还发现,句号在有一类短信中是很少出现的,这就是传说中的“文爱”。这位老司机机智地指出,像“失礼了,请问我能褪去你的小裤裤么?”这样的请求在床第之间会显得有些出戏,所以在文爱时一本正经地使用标点符合估计也会有点破坏气氛。

“国家标点符号日”是一个为了纪念那些我们时而滥用、时而错用、时而不用的标点符号而设立的日子。斯科诺贝伦的研究还有一个发现,那就是标点符号不仅是简点的点线圆圈。至少从他收藏的那15万条短信中可以发现,人们通常会模仿对方使用标点符号的方式,最终对话双方的短信写作风格会更加接近。也就是说,句号有助于构建对话者之间的关系,突出团体的身份感。

当然,如果大家都不用标点符号了,也有能营造出同样的效果。但斯科诺贝伦的这份研究也表明,只要有人还在使用句号,就总会有其他人在回短信时也附上一个圆滚滚的句号。 (财富中文网) 

译者:朴成奎

There are punctuation symbols that have largely gone the way of the dodo. But while National Punctuation Day, Sept. 24, may be an occasion to pour one out for the pilcrow, that’s not the case for the period. Despite much yammering about this familiar little dot being on life support, or already dead, the period is here to stay for the foreseeable future. And a new analysis of text messages—a medium that is supposedly spelling the period’s demise—helps illustrate why.

“Periods are not dead,” says computational linguist Tyler Schnoebelen, who turned to his own trove of 157,305 text messages to analyze how the final period—a period at the end of a thought or sentence—was being used and shared his initial results exclusively with TIME. “They’re actually doing interesting things.”

These were messages that he sent or received over a period of about seven years with about 1,100 other people, and while he did notice that many of those texters severely declined in their use of periods over that time, he also found that there are a lot of reasons people are still double-tapping their smartphone screens. (Schnoebelen presents the caveat that this, of course, is just one man’s social network, but it also happens to be the largest linguistic analysis of SMS texting done to date, he says.)

One reason is structure. We’ve all gotten that loooooong text from a rambling friend, or jilted lover, or parent who apparently believes there are prizes to be awarded for Most Letters Used In a Single Sitting. Schnoebelen found that the lengthier a message was, the more likely it was to end in a period. While only 13% of messages that were shorter than 17 characters (about this length) ended in a period, 60% of messages that exceeded 72 characters got the period treatment. That’s about half the length of a maxed-out tweet. Longer text messages, like news articles and novels and legal filings, need more punctuation and will continue to need it “because people would get lost without it,” as Schnoebelen puts it. And there is a natural tendency towards parallelism: If the text was long enough that we needed to use periods within it, it feels natural to plop another one on the end, even if text bubbles themselves often act as their own visual “thought stops here” indicator.

Schnoebelen also found that a period can be a signal of emotion. There has been much ink spilled about how the period, once neutral as water, now makes texters seem angry, irritated or insincere. And it certainly can connote all those feelings. Linguist David Crystal, who has lamentedthat his comments about language change got overblown by news outlets wishing the period better luck in the next life, gives a fine example:

John’s coming to the party [statement of fact]

John’s coming to the party. [Oh dear!]

But that gravity can also be kind, expressing sincere empathy when something bad has happened to a friend, or conveying the sincerity of your own feelings. Periods can help minimize the risk of looking careless or being unclear. Texts ending in a period, in Schnoebelen’s analysis, had a disproportionate amount of the

words told, feels, feel, felt, feelings, date,sad, seems and talk. By contrast, many of the words that tended to show up in texts that did not end with a period were more casual kinds of speech:lol, u, haha, yup, ok, gonna. (lol, it’s worth noting, is arguably used as a form of punctuation itself sometimes, like emoji.)

As the world of people we text with continues to expand, from just our closest friends to our colleagues, our distant relatives, businesses, customers, and so on and so forth, punctuation such as the period will help distinguish the registers we use. Because it’s not just whatever medium we’re using that determines how formal our speech is: it’s also who we’re talking to on whatever medium. “Punctuation is a way to convey standardness,” Schnoebelen writes. “Not everyone who texts with you wants to be (or thinks they can be) colloquial with you.”

By contrast, he discovered that one of the more unlikely places to find periods was bouts of sexting. Much as a query like “Pardon me, but might I remove your pants?” would seem out of place in most bedrooms, so too does assiduous punctuating have potential to ruin the mood.

National Punctuation Day is a day meant to celebrate these marks and signals that we sometimes misuse or abuse or take for granted. And one of Schnoebelen’s findings suggests how much more they are than mere organizing splotches and lines. He found that people, at least in his texting world, often mirrored each other when it came to final period use, reflecting back the same kind of style of whoever wrote the text. That means, in their small ways, periods can help build relationships and underscore group identity.

Sure, a complete absence of punctuation could serve the same purpose. But this finding also suggests that so long as there are people using periods, there will be other people sending them right back from whence they came, coming full circle.

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