I am not sure I understand the distinction between paralinguistic and extralinguistic.

Let's eat, grandma. Here, grandma is the adressee of the message, the actor (invited). Grandma is the one to eat.

Let's eat grandma. Now grandma is the direct object, the recepient of the action. Grandma is the one to be eaten.

With examples like prosody, pitch, volume, intonation I would also include emotion (when vocalized), style, pauses etc. These are paralinguistic.

Instead extralinguistic would be the fact that A and B are housemates therefore the phrase the "The doorbell is ringing" means "open the door".

Since written language does not seem to have prosody, pitch, volume, intonation etc and it appears to be a record of oral language these features would have to be marked with punctuation.

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Punctuation seems to either be part of Syntax or Semantics/Pragmatics (but pragmatics deals with extralinguistic environment)

My question is "What is (the nature of) punctuation; where would it be studied (maybe syntax)?"

  • There is no single view about whether punctuation is about prosody or not. But I don't think either extralinguistic or paralinguistic is accurate. Here is a detailed overview of punctuation: dc.uwm.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1470&context=etd
    – Lambie
    Commented Jan 1, 2023 at 18:35
  • Here's another. Punctuation is not a linguistic matter; it has to do with the technology of literacy, not with much in the actual language. So you won't find much in traditional linguistic classes or texts about it. English would still be the same if all its speakers were illiterate; writing things down affects life, but not language.
    – jlawler
    Commented Feb 1, 2023 at 19:28
  • @jlawler But it still affects the meaning of the message. Doesn't it? Is it an extralinguistic feature? Is seeing a comma before grandma like knowing that A and B are housemates? Commented Feb 1, 2023 at 21:27
  • It affects the meaning of the written message, perhaps, if it's done right. But necessarily only to the writer. The reader isn't there, and they won't know what else the writer considered, or why they chose this punctuation. Since everybody literate has learned to read in their own idiosyncratic way (there are no reading genes or brain centers -- literacy is new technology, like electric skateboards, and most people aren't very good at it). Intonation, rhythm, volume, facial expressions, eye contact, and many other variables are also not part of language, but they change messages.
    – jlawler
    Commented Feb 2, 2023 at 16:33
  • @jlawler Prosody, intonation, rhythm, volume, (and pauses which best fit punctuation) are paralinguistic features. Is the answer then that punctuation is a paralinguistic feature? If the effect of the extralinguistic environment is studied by/in pragmatics where would the effect of the paralinguistic features be studied? A pause (vocal or marked by punctuation) directly affects the syntax (depending on a comma a word may syntactically be the direct object or not). Commented Feb 2, 2023 at 17:47

1 Answer 1


From a very applied linguistic point of view that does not care what things "ARE", but just computes statistics about them, punctuation is studied in stylometry with applications to authorship attribution and forensic linguistics.

And of course, punctuation is taken very seriously in language teaching, both for correct spelling in the L1 and for mastering written L2.

  • Don't see punctuation here: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stylometry
    – Lambie
    Commented Jan 2, 2023 at 16:31
  • It see it even there, in section features you find the parenthesis "(e.g. checking for how the author uses interpunction or how often the author uses agentless passive constructions)" Commented Jan 2, 2023 at 16:35

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