Laughter Onomatopoeia as Role Language: A Study of the Comic “ONE PIECE”

Author: Yihui Xia (Department of Theoretical Linguistics, Graduate School of International Cultural Studies, Tohoku University, Japan)
Speaker: Yihui Xia
Topic: Language Socialization
The CALA 2021 General Session


Yakuwarigo ‘Role Language’ is a concept created by Kinsui Satoshi (2000), which refers to stereotypical language usage associated with particular character types using spoken language features and phonetic characteristics. The onomatopoeia of laugh used in comics immediately allow readers to deduce the type of role. For instance, Kinsui (2014: 171) suggested that “hoho” would be described as the laughter of the Young Lady from a Good Family. Also, Sumita (2019: 147) states that “huhu” is a feminine impression, whereas,” kaka” and “hahha”, including the geminate consonant, are masculine. Moreover, Kadooka (2007: 116) emphasized that “hihi” and “hehe”, including the front vowel, symbolize the negative impression of vulgarity and concealment. However, only a few studies focus on variable laughter onomatopoeia that underwent exaggeration and transformation. Accordingly, summarizing its regularity is essential in order to better understand Japanese onomatopoeia.
Thus, the objectives of this thesis are: 1) to explore the external and personality characteristics of laughter onomatopoeia with different phonological features; and 2) to examine the process of phonological features connected to specific character types.
Phrases were collected from the Japanese comic series “ONE PIECE”, which was written and illustrated by Eiichiro Oda and uses the notation of laughter well in order to assign a specific role. As a result, 89 characters were found, including “male characters” (68 people, 86 sentence) and “female characters” (21 people, 30 sentences). The collected words were then classified according to the following types of consonants, and the role attributes were gathered by referring to related websites.

1) the voiced sound type: zehaha, gababa, digaga, etc;
2) the p-sound type: apapa, pukuku, pupupu, etc;
3) the hard palate type: wahyahya, kyakyakya gyahaha, etc;

According to the corresponding findings, characters using laughter onomatopoeia that contained the same phonological elements were found to possess similar external and personality characteristics. The sound symbolism of laughter onomatopoeia was shown to affect the character’s attributes. The differences are that: 1) the voiced sound type usually has a “large” and “muscular” body with a “powerful” “violent” impression; 2) the p-sound type tends to have a round body, which emphasizes cheerfulness, cute and childish characters; 3) the hard palate type has a slender figure with sharp and small body parts, as well as a sensitive and neurotic personality; and 4) characters of upper-class males use laughter, including frequently voiced sounds, whereas words containing p-sound and hard palate were irrespective of gender and status.

Keywords: Role Language, Japanese Onomatopoeia, phonological features, sound symbolism, personality characteristics