However, although a smiley face may appear culturally unambiguous, the way in which we use signs and text to express emotions is still largely dependent on our linguistic and cultural reference points.
One example of this is how we express laughter in writing – meaning, the actual sound of laughter. This is a common practice in informal conversations online. More than ever before, people – and young people in particular – talk to their friends by sending messages on their phone. These conversations often take place in real time, meaning that – as in an ordinary face-to-face conversation – there is a need to express immediate and spontaneous reactions. Since facial expressions and body language are off limits, other modes of expression must be employed.
Hence the need to express the sound of laughter. In English, the letters chosen to convey the phonetic sound are hahaha. Many of us will also be familiar with the more descriptive LOL (laughing-out-loud) and ROTL (rolling-on-the-floor-laughing), among others. Then of course, there is the smiley (:-D), and countless emoji everyone with a smartphone can choose from. Nothing out of the ordinary so far. What is interesting is the linguistic differences that exist across the world. Did you know, for instance, that ‘kkk’ is Korean for ‘hahaha’, or that Russian ‘xaxaxa’ and the Spanish ‘jajaja’ are pronounced almost identically? Below is a list of how to laugh (in text) in other languages (from a Reddit thread where users discuss internet culture in their first language):
ㅋ is a letter of the Korean alphabet, Hangul, and represents the sound ‘k’. In Korean culture, ‘kkkkk’ (ㅋㅋㅋㅋㅋ) represents the onomatopoeic sound of laughter you are unable to hold back. Just think of the sound you make in a situation that is funny, but where you are trying not to laugh.
Spanish: ‘jajaja’ or ‘jejeje’
The ‘j’ sound in Spanish is a guttural sound, used to represent the sound of laughter.
Russian: ‘xaxaxa’, ‘xixixi’
The same principle applies to Russian, in which the Cyrillic letter ‘x’ is the same guttural sound as the Spanish ‘j’.
Japanese internet users often write ‘w’ to express laughter. Although the origin of this choice is not completely clear, it is probable that ‘w’ is a shortening of ‘warai’ (laugh), which is the pronunciation of the Kanji character 笑.
French uses the same sound as English (‘hahaha’), but the French have a singular acronym, MDR, which means ‘mort de rire’. It literally translates as ‘dead from laughing’, and is the French version of ‘LOL’.
In Thai, 5 is pronounced ‘ha’, so people often just write ‘5555’ instead of ‘hahaha’. In Chinese, on the other hand, 5 is pronounced ‘wu’ – meaning the exact opposite, so ‘5555’ is sometimes used for ‘wuwuwu’, meaning ‘boohoo’.
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