POP GOES THE WORLD By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 6 May 2010, Thursday
The Invasion of the Jejemons
“mUzta nA pOw u. jEjEm0n aQ, kAy0w?”
Much has been made in the news media recently about the “jejemon” phenomenon – a style of spelling mobile phone text messages that leaves many people confused at best or angry at worst.
There are many origin stories, one being that Jejemonese was developed to save on texting costs. The word “jejemon” comes from “jeje”, the Spanish spelling of “hehe”, denoting laughter; and “Pokemon”, the ‘90s Japanese anime featuring cuddly monsters. Perceived to be used mostly by teens and young adults of the lower socio-demographics, the current ubiquitousness of the trend has language purists and snobs up in arms, spawning “We hate jejemons!” groups on social media networks and other Internet forums.
Why are jejemons so disliked? Among the comments against them are that they are maarte, making things complicated rather than simplifying them; their messages are difficult to interpret, “which wastes time”; that they highlight mediocrity and incompetence in the use of language. Other remarks are more judgmental – “baduy, stupid, cheap” – casting aspersions on jejemons’ taste, intelligence, and economic power.
Snow Belarmino, a 21-year old female bartender, explains why she became a jejemon. “I’m an ‘addict texter’,” she said. “Jejemon is just a style of writing your text messages. It’s cute to text by adding symbols and changing the spelling of words. Nakakagana, sikat, cool, astig. I like doing it this way because it reflects my personality.”
How does she feel about the haters? Snow is calm; it doesn’t bother her. “Other people just don’t understand the format. Some people ask me to spell the normal way – my mother, a cousin. I adjust, depending on the person I’m texting to.” She estimates that among the people she knows, around 85% of teens are jejemons.
Is Jejemonese really so hard to understand? Its language base is Tagalog and it follows certain internal rules. Spelling is transformed. For instance, the first-person pronoun ako (“I”) may be rendered “aQ”, “aKoH”, “Ak0w”, and so on. Snow says this is “style”. There is heavy use of intercapitals, some doing it for every other letter; unusual symbols such as exclamation points and the rarely-used letters x, q, and z are sprinkled here and there, again for style; and symbols are substituted for others (the numeral zero instead of the letter O). Apart from style, one notices the almost excessive use of the honorific po in jejemon messages.
The difficulty of interpretation is present at the beginning, but I’ve noticed that over time, one picks up on the peculiarities of jejemon spelling quirks, which are fairly consistent for each individual. There is certainly a learning curve, which I don’t mind, as a communication scholar with a special interest in jargons of subcultures.
But others are not as patient or as curious. Facebook, to name just one social media network on the Internet, harbors many anti-jejemon groups. “I hate jejemon!” has 4,411”fans” (or “likers”, now that Facebook has done away with the “Become a fan” button); “Anti-jeje”, 4,869; “I hate jejemon ka pa jan! Ganyan ka nga dati eh!” 2,269; “Weh? Anti-Jejemon ka? If I know jejemon ka rin dati!” 1,325; “STOP using irritating language such as the JEJEMON language!” 459; “Jejemon Haters”, 24,713. By far one of the largest groups is named “GOTTA KILL ‘EM ALL JEJEMON!” with 167,587 – the population of a small city. Now that is scary.
Jejemons, on the whole, remain unperturbed. One commented at a hater’s group: “Does this mean war? Not that I’m interfering, but aren’t you being rather harsh to jejemons? What’s objectionable with their words? It’s just spelling, isn’t it? They still use Tagalog. Aren’t you being bitter?” Of course, it was written in elegant Jejemonese.
Another jejemon set up a tongue-in-cheek Facebook group called “Jejemon Evolves to… Wakekemon!” with 1,994 members. “We are evolving – be afraid!” “Wakeke” is ‘90s hacker-speak and denotes laughter, just as “jeje” does.
Language has always been used primarily as a means of communication, but it is also a tool for self-expression. Jejemonese has been likened to the American “leet speak” of gamers (which uses alpha-numeric symbols to save data ) but is not its exact counterpart. Leet is acknowledged to be more “intellectual” and used primarily by geekdom. American jejemonese is like this: “!f yUh t!yP3 Lyk3 DihS Don’t talk to me!” (It’s the title of a Facebook group with 824,267 fans), and is used mostly by non-geeks, non-techies, and Justin Bieber fangirls.
Dean Rolando Tolentino of the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication says the rise of the jejemons is a symptom of the partitioning of society into sub-classes. For linguist Alex Maximo, the phenomenon is linked to hegemony: who has power, who doesn’t, and how the conflicts that arise from the concomitant societal stresses are expressed.
For writer Sarah Grutas, it’s a matter of exclusivity. “It’s like gay speak. (Jejemon) is a form of exclusive language – if you don’t understand it, you don’t belong to the group.” She scoffs at claims of jejemons being poorly educated. “They aren’t stupid, because they had to know the original spelling before they can transform it into jeje. In fact it requires more creativity to type that way. I won’t use jeje language myself, the same way I do not use gay speak. I therefore belong to the out-group.”
I agree with Sarah – jejemons are not dumb. In fact, I have less patience with those who voice their irritation of jejemons and claim to be better educated and more adept at using language, yet use words like kalurkey, a variant of kaloka. What’s with that?
Jejemonese may be considered by some to be the jargon of a sub-culture, but I don’t see jejemons as a true sub-culture. A sub-culture would be horseracing fans, for instance, with their salitang karera, or otaku anime fans. The meanings of their codes – jargons and gestures, the secret words and handshakes – are agreed-upon by in-group members in the pursuit of their activities and are understood only by them.
But jejemons come from many walks of life. Their spelling style that has grammar nazis on the warpath is just a fad. We’ve seen them come and go, from beatnik to hippie to jeprox. Then there was punk and chong and jolog. Now we have jejemons and their evolved forms the wakekemon. People will, in time, get tired of this and move on to the next “cute” fashion.
So chill, people. Next time you get a message like “mUzTah nA yEw poh?”, reflect, instead, on the fact that your jejemon friend is concerned about you and is asking politely how you are. Yes, the medium is the message. But let’s focus on the meaning behind the message, which is the primary reason we use language in the first place. aY0wZ p0w bAh? ***