Responding to a funny text isn’t the only reason “haha”, “LOL” or any of the other acronym is used over text message. We have all had moments where we actually did not laugh out loud, but sent an “LOL” or “haha” text message anyway. What is the point of displaying laughter over text, and is this concept just relative to North America? When AOL and MSN Messenger were popular, individuals would respond to messages with smiley faces, and eventually “LOL” or “haha” were used to indicate laughter. American linguist John McWorter confirms that the role of the internet laughter has shifted, to not only mean “that was a hilarious text”, but also as a marker of social accommodation and empathy. In conversation, you can hear sarcasm, sense hints of awkwardness or anger in speech, and read body language. In texting, you cannot sense these emotions, and social markers, such as “LOL” and “haha” provide these cues.
Easing awkwardness is one reason. For example, when you have to text something that isn’t pleasant, many add a “haha” to ease the tension in the conversation, such as “it’s time to pay your share of the rent haha”. Individuals also use “LOL” as a social marker, to answer to a text message when they are unsure of what else to say. Are these social markers seen across languages?
I strongly believe that one has mastered a new language when they are able to joke in a foreign language. One sign of language immersion, and often the over-arching goal of language learning, is blending into a culture and fooling locals to thinking that you are one of them. The easiest way to do this is to incorporate slang into conversation, which is something that you do not always learn in language courses.
Curious about how other languages convey laughter over text? Check out one of my favourite articles — you will definitely crack a smile.