I strongly believe that one has mastered a new language when they are able to joke in that 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 in a conversation, which is something that you don’t always learn in language courses. I am someone that likes texting in a foreign language to practice, and to google translate my words to confirm my spelling (#busted). A question that I have always wondered is how do speakers of various languages convey laughter over text? I took to Facebook to ask my multilingual friends and their answers amazed me. I received 23 various responses and categorized them based on their linguistic features.
In English we have multiple ways of laughing over text or messenger. Besides “lol” (laugh out loud), we have “ha”, “haha” and “hahaha” based on the hilarity of the previous message. German, French and Spanish follow a similar patten. In French and German, locals convey laughter with a “haha” or a giggling “hihi”. Spanish’s “h” sound is written with a “j” — “jaja” or “jiji”. Mandarin also shares the “haha”, represented 哈哈哈.
One of my favourite responses came from Greek! The Greek word for laughter “χαχα” (haha) is a derivation of the word “Χαζομάρες” meaning foolishness.
Brazilian Portuguese and Japanese’s representation of laughter is an acronym for the word laughter. Japanese laughter is represented by wwww, short for warai meaning ‘laughs’. In Brazilian Portuguese laughter is expressed with rs rs rs, which is short form for the word risos meaning ‘laughs’. Kkkkk is also used in Brazilian Portugese. Similar to Brazilian laughter, Koreans laugh with a ㅋㅋㅋ (“k”) sound as well.
In many languages, the conjugation of specific words change depending on the gender of the speaker. In the Ethiopian language of Amharic, women laugh with hahahuhu and men laugh with hahahoho. Cool, eh?
For Italian, I received three different responses from three different Italians and I hypothesized an explanation. In the 1990s and early 2000s, hihi was the main representation of laughter. Although now, laughter is expressed differently depending on which region you are in. In Northern Italy, ahah is the popular online form of laughter. In Southern Italy hahaha is the standard form of laughter and hehehe represents “impure” laughter in response to crude humour.
Hebrew and Arabic are Semitic languages that are built around the roots of a word, as every word is built around a two/three letter root word. The vowel pronunciation of a word changes depending on the inflection of the word, and typically vowels are omitted from words. Therefore rather than the English “hahaha”, Arabic and Hebrew just type “hhhh” (eliminating vowels), a guttural sound pronounced in the back of the throat, written ههههههه in Arabic and in חחח Hebrew. Russian also laughs with the guttural throat sound and say xaxa in response to a joke.
In the Filipino language Tagalog, laughter over text is just a “hehe”. In Thai, the number 5 is pronounced like the sound “ha”, so locals will type 555555 to express their laughter. Finally, in Turkish random letters in sequence are written to express random laughter due to true hilarity (ex: hsndfgmd).
Laughter is a true gift, and each translation that I received was truly contagious. It is so interesting to see how each language has their own unique way of expressing happiness, which is said to be an unspoken language in itself. When we learn more about various cultures, we close the gap between us and other cultures, through understanding a cultural piece of another country. I challenge you to adopt hehe, 5555, jijiji or xaxa in your texting. I promise it’ll make you laugh.