Perhaps it’s appropriate that laugh is a funny word. Not funny ha ha at least, but certainly funny peculiar. Take a moment to put the word out of your mind, to forget about it, and particularly how it sounds. Now imagine seeing it for the first time, without any context, and try to think how you might pronounce it. I certainly wouldn’t be obvious that it’s pronounced /læf/ or /lɑ:f/. While -gh can often sound like f, it’s not always obvious. Thankfully, if we don’t want to use the word laugh, we can find alternatives.
Because of course, there are many different ways to laugh, and the English language provides us with a lot of ways to refer to them. You can chortle, or chuckle, titter, giggle, r guffaw. Even if you’d never encountered any of these before, you might be able to figure out what style of laughter they refer to. Most are onomatopoeic to some degree, and at least could be considered ideophones: evoking a sense of what they refer to. When you hear the word guffaw, it’s hard not to imagine a healthy, hearty belly laugh.
And when it comes to representing laughter in print, there are a lot of options there too. Ha ha, hee hee, tee hee, ho ho ho, Bwah hah hah! etc. Ha ha ha is the most common though, probably because it’s the closest to how most people laugh. That’s the case for English though: other languages represent language differently. Some are pretty similar. Spanish people might write ja ja ja, but then the letter j in Spanish has mostly the same sound as the letter h in English. German speakers might write ah ah ah, French hé hé hé, Italian eh eh eh, or Dutch hi hi hi. But then a Brazilian person might write kkkkk. This is because in Brazilian Portuguese, the letter k is pronounced like ka!, so with that in mind, it makes more sense. Japanese people might write www, as the Japanese character for laughter is pronounced warei, and often abbreviated to w online. One of the stranger-looking representations of laughter is in Thai, which is 55555, because the number 5 in Thai is pronounced ha. Perhaps my favourite though is LWKMD. Used in Nigerian internet slang, it stands for Laugh Wan Kill Me Die, basically the equivalent of ROFL. It really captures that feeling when you laugh so much you feel helpless.
It’s nice to know that whatever our differences, we all appreciate a good laugh, and seem to approach it in the same way. How do you laugh in your language?