The Online Space Laughter Oddity

Wkwkwk and The Untold Discourse: How a standardized online laugh looks like? if any?

(This is written as part of the assigment for Sociolinguistics in Education Course)

Remarking on almost one year of my studying abroad far from home, I come to realize I have collected the most frequently asked questions from beloved friends and acquaintances, which are mostly circling around culture shock (and how to survive academically, lol). But I found an untold phenomenon that is unique to Indonesian and Indonesian only who study abroad: the culture shock of expressing virtual laughter.

Don’t get me started.

I was not aware of how bizarre the way Indonesian laughter is if I put it against the “normalized, standardized” convention of laughter that we use universally, that is, hahaha.

Not until one of my domestic American friends sent me a meme about studying, my muscle memory automatically type “wkwkwk,” and hit send. Only later he replied me back and said what is that?!

I was stunned to speak. How should I explain if we, Indonesian, use wkwkwk to laugh virtually? Not to mention, I have no idea who invented this, where does this come from, or why it happened. Until I ask around. With the power of technology (re: social media) and a helping hand from a curious friend, we had a mission to do the mini-quest to solve the mystery of wkwkwk origin and why it connotes Indonesian identity.

After thousands of Quora QNA, Twitter threads, and Reddit answers, apparently, there’s no light at the end of the tunnel. But life must go on, and we must continue living despite failing to search for the wkwkwk root.

Instead of sulking in our failures to complete the quest, why don’t my domestic & international friends and I learn how we laugh. Thus, we are all accustomed to the e-laughter culture around the world?

There you go another quest.

I start to preach Indonesian e-laughter to academia. Let’s play with it, I said. So we begin to search for how to laugh around the world. We are not the only one who is “bizarre.” There are many laughter varieties worldwide, and it only looks odd if we put hahaha as our standard. What if we remove the idea that hahaha is the standard? What if we treat hahaha just as another mainstream variation that does not uphold superiority values? What if we try to use different types of laughter and see if it still conveys the meaning that we genuinely laugh?

Then it works. I started to laugh in Chinese using 哈哈哈哈, and my friend laughed in wkwkwk. We began to treat all laughter equally.

Now, come to the serious part. If wkwkw, 哈哈哈哈哈, and hahaha are a part of language and we can treat them all with no hierarchy, why don’t we uplift this perspective to all elements of speech?

Hold up, wait, Putri, what do you mean?

OK. I gotcha. Let’s break it down.

Notice how we worship standard American or British English? How do we think other types of English besides those two, such as African American English or Singlish, are less valuable than what is perceived as standard English? However, if we observe carefully, no language is “pure” language. Language must intersect, combine, and modify with other languages they encounter at some point in the historical journey. Notice how the Indonesian language has a lot of roots in Arabic, Dutch, Portugal, and even English? Yes, I’m talking about how colonialism and trades affect our own vocabularies. Don’t you think Anglais or English has roots in the Germanic language? No? so how come it’s pure?

Sorry to break it to you but in the end, no language is a pure-blood like in Harry Potter’s world. (Not to mention HP is canceled anyway after a transphobic remark by J.K.R)

Anyway, I think I’m a bit distracted, and no, we are not gonna talk about the origin of language.

What I ask you to start to think and reflect on how the world we live in has shaped our language ideology and how we connote identity by language that one bespeak.

Instead of accusing one language is degrade or racializing certain languages of a specific race, why don’t we start to think about who I am to judge? How can I be a better civilized, functioning society that embraces variations around the world and does not conform to any artificial superiority by what is socially constructed as standard?


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