Mama and papa

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
For the American vocal group of the 1960s, see The Mamas & the Papas.

In linguistics, mama and papa is the sequences of sounds /ma/, /mama/ and similar ones known to correspond to the word for "mother" and "father" in many languages of the world.

The basic kinship terms mama and papa are said to comprise a special case of false cognates. The cross-linguistic similarities between these terms are thought to result from the nature of language acquisition.[1][2][3][4] These words are the first word-like sounds made by babbling babies (babble words), and parents tend to associate the first sound babies make with themselves and to employ them subsequently as part of their baby-talk lexicon. Thus, there is no need to ascribe to common ancestry the similarities of !Kung ba, Aramaic abba, Mandarin Chinese bàba, Persian baba, and French papa (all "father"); or Navajo amá, Mandarin Chinese māma, Swahili mama, Quechua mama, Polish mama, Romanian mama and English "mama" (all "mother"). However, many scientists believe that 'ma' and 'pa' were among first words that humans spoke.[5]

These terms are built up from speech sounds that are easiest to produce (bilabials like m, p, and b and the open vowel a). However, variants do occur: for example, in Fijian, the word for "mother" is nana, the Mongolian and Turkish word is ana, and in Old Japanese, the word for "mother" was papa. The modern Japanese word for "father," chichi, is from older titi. In Japanese the child's initial mamma is interpreted to mean "food".[6]

In the Proto-Indo-European language, *mā́tēr (modern reconstruction: *méh₂tēr) meant "mother" and *pǝtḗr (modern reconstruction: *ph₂tḗr) meant "father", and átta meant "papa", a nursery word for "father".

European language examples[edit]

'Mother' in different languages [1]:

Indo-European languages[edit]

  • Bulgarian мама (mama)
  • Catalan mamà / mama
  • Croatian mama
  • Dutch mama / mam
  • English mama / momma / mam/mum/mom
  • Faroese mamma
  • French maman
  • German Mama
  • (Modern) Greek μάνα, μαμά (mana, mama)
  • Icelandic mamma
  • Irish mam
  • Italian mamma
  • Lithuanian mama
  • Lombard mader
  • Norwegian mamma
  • Polish mama
  • Portuguese mãe / mamã / mamãe (only in Brazil)
  • Persian madar مادر is the formal word for mother, whereas ممان or maman is the informal word for mother. pedar پدر is the formal word for father whereas baba or بابا is the informal word for father.
  • Romanian mama / mamă
  • Russian мама (mama) In Russian papa, deda and baba mean "father", "grandfather" and "grandmother" respectively, though the last two can represent baby-talk (baba is also a slang word for "woman", and a folk word for a married woman with a child born). In popular speech tata and tyatya for "dad" were also used until the 20th century.
  • Serbian мама / mama
  • Spanish mama / mamá
  • Swedish mamma
  • Swiss German mami, but mame in the dialect from Graubünden and mamma in certain dialects from the Canton of Bern
  • Ukrainian мама (mamа)
  • Urdu the words for mother are maa/mɑ̃ː ماں , madar مادر or walidaوالدہ formally and ammi امی, 'mama' مما informally, whereas father is baap باپ (not used as salutation), pedar' پدر or 'walid' والد formally and baba بابا or abba ابّا or abbu ابّو informally.
  • Welsh mam

Finno-Ugric languages[edit]

  • Estonian ema
  • In Hungarian, which is a Uralic language unrelated to the Indo-European languages, apa means "father" and anya means mother. Which tends to use open vowels such as [ɑ] and [ɐ]. For formal usage, these words are applied, but both mama and papa are used as well, in informal speech. For family internal addressing, apu and anyu (variants of "apa" and "anya", respectively) are also used.
  • Finnish emä (note: The use of "emä" is considered archaic in the meaning "mother of a child". The modern word is "äiti" derived from Gothic "aiþei".)


Kartvelian languages[edit]

  • Georgian is notable for having its similar words "backwards" compared to other languages: "father" in Georgian is მამა (mama), while "mother" is pronounced as დედა (deda). პაპა papa stands for "grandfather".

South Asian languages[edit]

Dravidian languages, like Tamil, Kannada, Malayalam, and Tulu, all have the words amma and appa.

  • Though amma and appa are used in Tulu, they are not really Tulu words but used due to the influence of Kannada. The actual words for mother in Tulu is appe pronounced IPA: [ape] and the word for father in Tulu is amme pronounced IPA: [amæ]. Note that the usage of these words is at odds with the usage pattern in other languages (similar to Georgian in that sense).
  • In Telugu, amma and naanna are used for mother and father respectively. 'aam aam' is also for food and 'appa' for snacks in baby language.
  • In Malayalam "Amma" for mother. Hindus use "Achan"(അച്ഛൻ) for father and Christians "Appan". "Appan" was also previously used by matriarchal Hindu castes to denote the mother's husband who may or may not be the biological father. The word "Achan" is a transformed Malayalam equivalent of the Sanskrit "Arya" for "Sir/Master" (Arya - ajja -> ayya . "Achan" gained almost universal acceptance as the word for father among most Hindus during the 20th century. However, some families and communities also use 'appa' etc. at least within their circles. The Malayalee Christian communities often use a different set of words for father such as chaachchan (ചാച്ചൻ),appachan (അപ്പച്ചൻ) etc. The Muslim communities use vaappa (വാപ്പ), vaappachchi (വാപ്പച്ചി), uppa (ഉപ്പ) etc.
  • In Tamil, "Thaai" and "Thanthai" are original Tamil words for mother and father; Amma and Appa are common words for mother and father respectively, which are used for addressing them as well (called viLi words).
  • In Kannada language "Thaai" for mother and Thande" for father are used. But to address them Kannadigas use amma or Avva or even abbe for mother and appa or anna for father

Among Indo-Aryan languages:

  • Hindi has the word mātā as the formal word for "mother", though the shorter informal term ma is more common. Due to English borrowings, the words mamma and pappa are also common.
  • Assamese has ma and aai as "mother" and deuta and pitai as "father".
  • In Bengali, the words maa ("মা") and baba ("বাবা") are used for "mother" and "father".
  • In Konkani language, the words like "amma" or "aayi" for "mother" and "baba" or "aan" for "father" are used.
  • In Sinhalese, the word for mother originally was "mawa"("meniyande") and father was "piya" ("piyanande"). Use of "amma" for mother and "thaththaa" for father is due to influence of other languages. In some areas of Sri Lanka, particularly in the Central Province, Sinhalese use the word "appachchi" for father.
  • Nepali aama.

East and Central Asian languages[edit]

  • In Japanese, 父 (chichi) and 母 (haha) are for "father" and "mother" respectively. They are the basic words which do not combine with honorifics *papa (modern Japanese /h/ derives from the bilabial fricative [ɸ]) which in turn is from the older *p.) Japanese has also borrowed informal mama and papa along with the native terms.
  • Khmer has different words that indicate different levels of respect. They include the intimate ម៉ាក់ (mak/meak) and ប៉ា (pa), the general ម៉ែ (mai/me) and ពុក (puk), and the formal ម្ដាយ (madaay) and ឪពុក (ovpuk).[7]
  • In Korean, 엄마 (eomma) [ʌmma] and 아빠 (appa) are mom and dad in informal language, which is ultimately derived from the formal words, 아버지 (abeoji) and 어머니 (eomeoni) as father and mother.
  • Kutenai, (a language isolate of southeastern British Columbia) Ma
  • In Mandarin Chinese, 父親 (fùqīn) and 母親 (mǔqīn) are for "father" and "mother" respectively. However, parents are usually referred to by their children as 爸爸 (bàba) and 媽媽 (māma) — "Dad" and "Mom". And sometimes in informal language, they use and mā for short. (Note: The f sound was pronounced bilabially (as with p or b) in older and some other forms of Chinese, thus fu is related to the common "father" word pa.)
  • In Vietnamese, mẹ is mother and bố is father. and ba or cha respectively in Southern Vietnamese.
  • Tibetan uses amma for mother and appa for father.
  • Thai, me3e (long e with glottalized high-low falling tone). and "father" is pho3o (with aspirated /pʰ/). Mama' and papa' are also used in Thai.
  • In Tagalog, an Austronesian language, mothers can be called ina, and fathers as ama, however nanay for mother and tatay for father is borrowed from Nahuatl.[citation needed] The inay for mother and itay for father is due to mixing of ina, nanay and tatay.[citation needed] Owing to contact with Spanish and English, mamá, papá, ma(m(i)), and dad [dʌd] or dádi are also used.
  • Uyghur, a Central Asian language, uses ana or apa for mother, and ata for father.

Other languages[edit]

Very few languages lack labial consonants (this mostly being attested on a family basis, in the Iroquoian and some of the Athabaskan languages), and only Arapaho is known to lack an open vowel /a/. The Tagalog -na-/-ta- mom/dad words parallel the more common ma/pa in nasality/orality of the consonants and identity of place of articulation. However, there is nothing of motherhood or fatherhood inherent in the sounds.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Jakobson, R. (1962) "Why 'mama' and 'papa'?" In Jakobson, R. Selected Writings, Vol. I: Phonological Studies, pp. 538–545. The Hague: Mouton.
  2. ^ Nichols, J. (1999) "Why 'me' and 'thee'?" Historical Linguistics 1999: Selected Papers from the 14th International Conference on Historical Linguistics, Vancouver, 9-13 August 1999, ed. Laurel J. Brinton, John Benjamins Publishing, 2001, pages 253-276.
  3. ^ Bancel, P.J. and A.M. de l'Etang. (2008) "The Age of Mama and Papa" Bengtson J. D. In Hot Pursuit of Language in Prehistory: Essays in the four fields of anthropology. (John Benjamins Publishing, Dec 3, 2008), pages 417-438.
  4. ^ Bancel, P.J. and A.M. de l'Etang. (2013) "Brave new words" In New Perspectives on the Origins of Language, ed. C. Lefebvre, B. Comrie, H. Cohen (John Benjamins Publishing, Nov 15, 2013), pages 333-377.
  5. ^ Gosline, Anna (26 July 2004). "Family words came first for early humans". NEW SCIENTIST. 
  6. ^ "まんま". Daijisen. Sanseido. Retrieved 2011-06-21. 
  7. ^ អឹង, គឹមសាន (2015). រិទ្យាសាស្រ្ដសិក្សាសង្គម (Grade 1 Society School Book). Cambodia: Publishing and Distributing House. pp. 2–3. ISBN 9789995001551.