Author Assignment date Course Course Supervisor Punctuation Marks in English Writing: Why Do We Use them? Abstract Punctuation in English writing is becoming less of a focus in general public writing throughout the English-speaking world. As particularly electronic methods of communication grow, informal language and instant electronic communication among particularly younger people, and English Second or Third Language users, writing does not always rely on formal and traditional punctuation…
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Introduction More and more users of English are joining this language community worldwide, as globalization increases. A common language to use in communication across the globe is necessary: electronic technology allows people to reach anyone, from anywhere in the world, so communication has to take place in a common language, if the advantages of instant access and wide connectivity are to be realized. The structure, syntax and construction of English have been, throughout its history, adaptable. From its earliest documentation, by writers such as Geoffrey Chaucer, to its latest uses in text-messaging and social website writing, this language has changed. These changes have often been visible in the words used, the structure of sentences, the positions of parts of speech in expressed sentences, and in the punctuation marks used in writing. Punctuation is defined in the Encyclopedia Britannica as “The use of spacing, conventional signs, and certain typographical devices as aids to the understanding and correct reading, both silently and aloud, of handwritten and printed texts.” Many say that punctuation is necessary to “clarify meaning” and that its misuse “appears to reflect wider social decline” (Hitchings, 2011, web page), and hence it needs to remain traditional. But clear and accurate meaning is important in any written communication, and changing a language for the sake of change is not wise. Still, there seems to be room for change in the punctuation of English. Thesis Statement This essay will focus on the question of why we use punctuation marks in English writing. To explore this question, the flowing ideas will form the structure of the discussion: The historical development of punctuation marks in language, with specific focus on English The current use of punctuation marks in English, and how this is changing The continued need for accurate use of punctuation, to ensure clear communication Background – The Historical Development of Punctuation in Written Language Earliest Forms In classical times, the Greeks and then the Romans used punctuation to indicate to speakers when and for how long they had to pause in their speech. These symbols were eventually named after the pauses they represented, so that a period came to show the longest pause, when a speaker had reached the end of a complete idea; the comma indicated a short pause, for breathing or effect; and a colon indicated that a clause, or a sub-idea, had ended (Nordquist, 2011, web page). Nordquist cites W.F. Bolton (A Living Language, 1988), who suggests that these punctuation marks came to assist speakers in planning the pace, emphasis and elocution of a speech. The Vulgate Bible, for example, allowed St. Jerome to begin to standardize the use of punctuation – he used the period to show when a passage should be read in one breath – from period to period – rather than to end an idea (Crandall, 2008, web page). From the Fifth to the Twelfth Centuries, punctuation continued to determine the reading style of a passage, rather than any syntactical structure, even
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