Linguistics: Wololo

Submitted by hadrian on Tue, 12/10/2013 - 00:00

Linguistics can be an interesting field of study. Nearly all humans use language and it is, indeed, considered to be an integral part of being human. More interesting is the huge amount of languages that are spoken (about 6000 at present), each of which different in grammar and vocabulary. Yet, in this veritable forest of possibilities, this seeming chaos of potentialities, order can be found. Rules can be determined that are the same for all languages, not just grammatically but also in the distribution of word-meaning.

Moreover, every single human speaks language differently. This varies from simple variations in phonology to a slightly different lexicon for every person. On top of that, every group can have different words and phonemes unique to that group. A phoneme is defined, roughly, as the smallest linguistic unit which carries semantic information. As such, the word `walk' has one morpheme which carries the meaning of the act. However, `walked' has a second morpheme which denotes the past tense.

Now one of the groups of which I am a part has a unique morpheme spelled as `wolo-'. It can denote a sign of mild non-urgent frustration. The kind of frustration which annoys you for all but half a second. Or, alternatively, the kind of frustration that is common and accepted simply because we don't have the will and energy to change it. As such, it is possible to say wolophp when we get temporarily annoyed by something about php.

Now, the interesting part about this morpheme is how it came about. It originated in a programming project (of which I was no part) where the utterance wololo, which was used by priests from a computer game, was merged with the word lobby. This created the word wololobby. Oddly enough, the only thing that wolo- did in this word was limit the potential of game lobbies to the game lobby they had coded.

Quickly, however, the word wololo itself became used and was imbued with the meaning above. It was not yet used, in its clipped wolo- form, as a bound morpheme. The word wololo itself is still used in our lexicon and maintains its meaning.

It was only after a little while that the bound wolo- morpheme got into use. The interesting part is that this could have happened in any group with any competence in the English (or Dutch) language. It was formed using completely normal morphological processes from either language. However, I can see at least two possible processes that might have caused the wolo- morpheme to be created:

  • Either the morpheme was formed by clipping the word (wololophp doesn't sound nice anyway).
  • The morpheme could be formed by a kind of folk etymology from wololobby.



Folk etymology is not entirely unlikely nor uncommon. A common example is the word bikini which, originally, was monomorphemic. However, it was reanalysed as consisting of the morpheme bi- (two) and kini (the actual clothing). From this, monokini and burkini could be created. Now, the wololobby was formed as a blend and had become, in our lexicon, monomorphemic. The same process as with bikini could have taken place.

As I said, language/linguistics can be extremely interesting. Although there are probably not many people who start deconstructing sentences they utter themselves. Then again, there are also plenty of linguists record their own kids to study the way they learn language.