Talk:Mama and papa

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Request for expansion[edit]

I'm not sure where to find the studies I mentioned in the article, but I'm sure I've seen them. A few examples of other (unrelated) languages where /ma(ma)/ and /pa(pa)/ etc. mean "mother" or "father" are welcome, but please no lists. What is the physiological basis of this easiness of pronunciation? Links to external sites welcome, too. Examples of languages with no labials? I'm sure I've heard of some (Native American?). --Pablo D. Flores 23:18, 10 Jan 2005 (UTC)

I came across mama and papa coming from false cognate, where I added a little paragraph about this phenomenon. The main source is Jakobson (1962). I also found a nice overview article, including some other references, here. mark 21:21, 16 Jan 2005 (UTC)
Also words like "tata" and "dada"...
Might be helpful :-? : in Persian children and adults when speakin' informally say "/mämän/" and "/bäbä/" for "/mädær/" and "/pedær/" for "mother" and "father"--Downtownee 10:30, 18 Jun 2005 (UTC)

I added the Latin, Sanskrit and thus Indo-European. Did it not occur that all the languages in the first paragraph share linguistic descent? Never mind. Eriathwen 21:42, 6 Feb 2005 (UTC)

The point of this phenomenon is that this is a class of words for which linguistic descent is not the only possible reason for similarity. However, I agree with you that it is good to mention that those languages share linguistic descent. The article needs more cross-linguistical examples though. mark 22:36, 6 Feb 2005 (UTC)
Indeed. Not mentioning shared descent as a confounding factor seems to imply that all Indo-European languages came up with the word completely independently. Possible, but a little unlikely given the clear etymology. Eriathwen 22:53, 7 Feb 2005 (UTC)


I removed the definition of "baba" as "strong woman" as this seems to be an example of subtle vandalism. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 06:35, 29 November 2008 (UTC)


...that is, Mandarin, has mǔ "mother", fù "father" (fùmǔ meaning "parents"), māma "Mum" and bàba (voiceless b) "Dad". The style levels are kept apart much like in English.

Spanish papa looks to me much like Latin pabulum "pudding/porridge/mush/pap" and Serbocroatian papica with the same meaning (-ica being a diminutive), so perhaps we have to put this etymology long before the origin of Spanish.

David Marjanović 22:26 CET-summertime 2005/8/7

This theory in this article fails, at least some Eastern Asian languages. In classical Chinese, "mom" is almost never called "妈妈" (māma). In old literature, the most common verbal word (mum) is 娘 (niáng), and the formal word is 母亲 (mǔqīn). In Song Dynasty, the word 妈妈 means a bawd. In Qing Dynasty, 妈妈 generally means an old lady. It was only until late Qing and early Republican period did 妈妈 start to mean mom in Mandarin. So I tend to think this word as an exonym, combined with an existing word, to give a different meaning. (Just like the word telephone, almost every language calls it alike. Even the first name in Chinese was 德律風, "délǜfēng".) (talk) 21:02, 7 July 2014 (UTC)


in polish it's mama for mom and tata for dad, they're used even among grown ups as diminutives of matka and ojciec meaning of course mother and father respectively. sometimes tato is used as nominative case which is considered incorrect, because it's derived from vocative case of this word and should be used only in this way. konradek 12:03, 21 August 2007 (UTC)


In Russian also mama and papa.--Nixer 14:57, 12 November 2005 (UTC)


In Sesotho, mother is mme and father is ntate. Ntate is probably related to isiXhosa utata. In the Nguni languages mother is unyoka but most people consider this very rude and use mama instead. Father in isiZulu is ubaba. The other Sesotho_languages use rre for father which is not particularly easy to pronounce (syllabic voiced rolled lingual). User:ZyXoas 21:24, 17 March 2006 (UTC)

BTW, Nguni unyoka may well be related to the Proto-Benue-Congo root nyo 'breast'. — mark 14:17, 16 July 2006 (UTC)


Another datum: In the Tamil language --- which is Dravidian, not Indo-European --- the words are amma and appa, if I recall correctly. Sorry, I don't know the IPA. Joshua Davis 15:09, 15 May 2006 (UTC)

American English[edit]

"American English has no [a]?" - Father? Dog? Enjenue? -Ste|vertigo 16:40, 31 May 2006 (UTC)

Technically, in many varieties of American English the vowel of 'father' is more like /æ/ or /ɑ/. However, including such technicalities in the article is needlessly confusing, so I've pulled out the following aside:
(Arabic has no [p] but does have /b/ and /m/, and American English has no [a] but it has other low vowels like /æ/ and /ɑ/).
The statement that 'no language lacks a mid or low centralized vowel like [a]' is clear enough, I think. — mark 17:43, 31 May 2006 (UTC)

"always rather low and centralized like [a]"?[edit]

The article says, English has mama (or momma) as slang for "mother", and the affectionate term mum/mom (with /m/ and a vowel that varies among dialects, but is always rather low and centralized like [a]). I don't think this last part is true; in a Yorkshire or Lancashire accent, wouldn't it be "mum", pronounced [mUm]? And as for the issue of being centralized, many Americans (perhaps most) would pronounce "mom" with [A], which is back, not central. Further complicating the issue is the fact that "mama" isn't actually very commonly used in modern British English (the Cambridge Dictionary says "UK old use"). I'm going to edit the text accordingly. --The Lazar 22:03, 30 August 2006 (UTC)

Isn't "mommy" used more than "mama" nowadays? Odd that the article doesn't mention this. Esn 02:28, 23 February 2007 (UTC)

Any theory on more specific cause?[edit]

"The cause for this curious crosslinguistic phenomenon is believed to be the easiness of pronunciation of the sounds involved." If this is the only cause one would expect that p is as often used for mama as it is for papa and idem m would be about as often used for mama as for papa. But they are not. To what extend could a common root of languages be a possible cause? Vliegnaarbeer 22:46, 9 July 2007 (UTC)

Brutal error re. Basque[edit]

"In the non-Semitic Basque language, aba also means "father"."

False. Father, dad is aita (apparently from archaic ata, as attested in the ancient texts of Iruñea-Veleia - what makes it closer to Turkish "ata", if anything). Aba appears maybe in some Aranistic neologisms (but S. Arana was convinced that Basque was related to Sumerian), like aberri (fatherland) and also in the word apaiza ("priest", that has the same Semitic root as English abbot).

I'm deleting the above misleading falsehood.

Instead mother is ama in Basque, like (more or less) in so many other languages from West Africa to India and beyond.

--Sugaar 17:41, 2 November 2007 (UTC)

non-semitic language section: why???[edit]

Why a section about non-semitic languages? there are just a few completely random examples whose presence doesn't make much sense. We should have instead a table with the words for mum, dad, mother and father and people speaking the language can add the word in their languages, if it follows the pattern.--Lgriot (talk) 01:58, 11 August 2008 (UTC)

Major flaw[edit]

There seems to be a major flaw in this theory. Why are certain sounds so prevalently used for mother and different certain sounds so prevalent for father? By this theory shouldn't we expect an even distribution of these sounds for both mother and father? This article gives a single example that runs contrary to the "ma" for mother and pa/va/da/ta for father for which there are dozens of examples.--Ericjs (talk) 08:24, 22 February 2010 (UTC)

Yes, and even worse, the article presents that single example (Japanese "papa" for mother) as if it was an exception to the rule that easy words are formed from the sounds m, p, b, and a! The above post "Any theory on more specific cause?" raises the same point. The PIE example "appa" implies that there is also a theory of a common root, since PIE is reconstructed: somebody must have gathered together a lot of ancient examples of "papa" and drawn that conclusion.  Card Zero  (talk) 11:57, 9 October 2013 (UTC)


Why, under European language examples do we list Chinese, Tamil, Hindi, etc? Tooironic (talk) 01:32, 8 March 2010 (UTC)

My point exactly, calling it European is arbitrary from a linguistics point of view. Hindi should be with English and Polish under "Indo-European", for example. (talk) 16:50, 23 October 2013 (UTC)Tom in Florida

These words came from Africa![edit]

  • "father" = baba < Bantu *-bààbá Maybe the root is just "ba". ba (in Zande) = "father"
  • mother < Bantu *-máá
  • also; "father" = ata/tata < Bantu *-tààtá and ata (in Ewe language) = "father"
  • Maybe these were the words of the Aurignacian culture. These words came to Europe from Africa (via Middle East). Böri (talk) 12:57, 14 March 2013 (UTC)

They really "come from" onomatopoeia based on infant babbling. Bantu is about 50,000 years too late to be relevant to the origin of human languages... AnonMoos (talk) 15:06, 14 March 2013 (UTC)

British Columbia and other observations[edit]

Reserving personal conjecture (since wikipedia is meant for tested research), I will point out that a language isolate in British Columbia doesn't belong grouped in with central and East Asian matter how much an adherent of Nostratic might be pushing that agenda (joke).

Truth be told, shouldn't the groupings be based on language relationships and not geography since this is a linguistics-oriented article? Shouldn't "European" and "Indo-Aryan" be in the same Indo-European category, freeing up Hungarian to be with Finish and Estonian in Uralic. Likewise Mandarin should be with other Sino-Tibetan languages like Vietnamese and then a final category could be created for isolates, like Basque, Japanese, Korean and the language in British Columbia (with special notes on language borrowing where necessary- I.e., proximity to Spanish for Basque, etc...). (talk) 16:48, 23 October 2013 (UTC)Tom in Florida

Kutenai is an East/Central Asian language?[edit]

Pretty sure it's an indigenous North American (First Nations) language. It's not Asian any more than Basque is Berber. (talk) 17:41, 15 April 2015 (UTC)W.Dust

Language organization[edit]

Should we be grouping languages by major family -- Indo-European, Dravidian, Sino-Tibetan, etc. -- by sub-families -- Finno-Ugric, Kartvelian, etc. -- or by geographic location of primary origin -- European, Southeast Asian, East and Central Asia, etc? Because right now it is a terrible hodgepodge with no organization whatsoever. Case in point: Persian is an Indo-European language found in west central Asia, so does it belong under the European Indo-European group, or with the East and Central Asian languages? I have no opinion on which system we use, as long as we pick one and stick with it. TechBear | Talk | Contributions 05:16, 11 September 2016 (UTC)