Monday, May 17, 2010

Laughter as a Foreign Language

Even the vocalizations that seemingly need no translation from one language to the next feature different spellings and phonetic identities. In English, a dog goes "ruff ruff ruff" or "bow wow wow," but in French he goes, "oua oua oua!"

I've been taking note of the different ways laughter is spelled by my online Portuguese-speaking friends. One spelling is "rsrsrsrsrsrsrsrsrsrsrs," which to my ear is more of a snicker than a chuckle. Incidentally, another popular spelling is "kkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkk." Em fim, finally, there's "asuhasuhasuhasu!" I have no idea how that's supposed to sound, but it features a few vowels which leads me to think it's a bit more booming than the other two.

A scene from The Simpsons comes to mind. I can't remember the exact episode (sorry, comic book guy), but it involves either Lisa or Bart interrupting a French class in Shelbyville. The teacher, of course, is a beret-wearing, prison-stripes Frenchman cliche. The children laugh in the usual adolescent American idiom: "heeheeheehee," but are stopped by the gruff teacher, "Non on on, en français!" And so the children recommence: "ron ron RON!"

In one of my first French classes, before the professor entered, I asked my fellow students if they had been practicing their French laughs. They looked puzzled. Then I broke into a loud "ron ron RON!" They laughed in English.

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