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In linguistics, mama and papa are considered a special case of false cognates. In many languages of the world, sequences of sounds similar to /mama/ and /papa/ mean "mother" and "father", usually but not always in that order. This is thought to be a coincidence resulting from the process of early language acquisition.
'Mama' and 'papa' use speech sounds that are among the easiest to produce: bilabials like /m/, /p/, and /b/, and the open vowel /a/. They are, therefore, often among 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, and Persian baba (all "father"); or Navajo amá, Mandarin Chinese māma, Swahili mama, Quechua mama, and Polish mama (all "mother"). For the same reason, some scientists believe that 'mama' and 'papa' were among the first words that humans spoke.
Linguist Roman Jakobson hypothesized that the nasal sound in "mama" comes from the nasal murmur that babies produce when breastfeeding:
Often the sucking activities of a child are accompanied by a slight nasal murmur, the only phonation which can be produced when the lips are pressed to mother’s breast or to the feeding bottle and the mouth full. Later, this phonatory reaction to nursing is reproduced as an anticipatory signal at the mere sight of food and finally as a manifestation of a desire to eat, or more generally, as an expression of discontent and impatient longing for missing food or absent nurser, and any ungranted wish. When the mouth is free from nutrition, the nasal murmur may be supplied with an oral, particularly labial release; it may also obtain an optional vocalic support.— Roman Jakobson, Why 'Mama' and 'Papa'?
Variants using other sounds do occur: for example, in Fijian, the word for "mother" is nana, in Turkish, word for mother is ana, and in Old Japanese, the word for "mother" was papa. The modern Japanese word for "father," chichi, is from older titi (but papa is more common colloquially in modern Japanese). 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.
Examples by language family
- Aramaic: Imma for mother and Abba for father
- Hebrew: Ima for mother and Aba for father
- Dialectal Arabic/Maltese أم ("Imm") for mother and أب ("Ab") for father
- 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).
- Vietnamese, mẹ is mother and bố is father. Má and ba or cha respectively in Southern Vietnamese.
- Tagalog, mothers can be called ina, and fathers ama. Two other words for the same in common use, nanay and tatay, came from Nahuatl by way of Spanish. Owing to contact with Spanish and English, mamá, papá, ma(m(i)), and dad [dʌd] or dádi are also used.
- In Indonesian, mother is called Emak (mak) or Ibu (buk), father is called Bapak or Ayah. The modern Indonesian word for father is papi and mother is mami. The words mami and papi have been used since the days of the Dutch Indies Colonial, causing the mixing of the words "Papa & Mama", Europe to "Papi & Mami", Indonesia.
- In Māori, Papa is the name of the Earth goddess in the creation myth, and as such is sometimes used to refer to the embodiment of motherhood. The sky father in the same myth is called Rangi.
- Though amma and nana are used in Tulu, they are not really Tulu words but used due to the influence of neighboring states' languages. The actual words for mother in Tulu is nane (pronounced [nane]) and the word for father in Tulu is amme (pronounced [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, "Thalli" and "Thandri" are used for mother and father in formal Telugu. amma and nana or bapu are used for mother and father for the informal way. Notice how nana refers to maternal grandfather in Hindi, and how that differs from its Telugu meaning. "Nayana" is also used for father in informal Telugu in the Rayalaseema region of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana of India. Note that the usage of these words is at odds with the usage pattern in other languages (similar to Tulu and Georgian in that sense).
- In Malayalam, the common word for mother is "Amma" and for father is "Achan". In scholastic usage, Mathav and Pithav are used respectively. "Achan" is either a transformed Malayalam equivalent of the Sanskrit "Arya" for "Sir/Master" (Arya - >Ajja -> Acha) or originated from a native Dravidian word that means paternal grandfather (cf.Ajja in Kannada and Ajje in Tulu meaning grandfather and Achan is an uncommon word for father in Tamil). Other words like "Appan","Appachan","Chaachan" (all 3 forms common among Christians, Appan is also used by Hindus of Tamil influenced areas),"Baappa/Vaappa" ,"Uppa"(both common among Muslims) etc. are also used for father, and words such as "Umma"(among Muslims), "Ammachi"(among Christians) for mother. Christians use Achan to mean Church Father."Thalla" which means mother and "Thantha" which means father are currently never used formally and are considered derogatory/disrespectful. "Thaayi" is another old and extremely uncommon word for mother.
- In Tamil, "Thaayi" and "Thanthai" are the formal Tamil words for mother and father; informally Amma and Appa are much more common words for mother and father respectively.
- In the Kannada language, "Thaayi" for mother and "Thande" for father are used formally. But to address them informally Kannadigas use amma for mother and appa for father.
- Estonian ema for mother and isa for father.
- Hungarian 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".)
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".
- Catalan mamà / mama and papà / papa
- French maman / papa (mother / father) and mamie / papy (grandmother / grandfather)
- Galician nai, mai / pai
- Italian mamma and papà or babbo
- Lombard mader
- Portuguese mãe / pai (mother / father); Portugal: mamã / papá; Brazil: mamãe / papai
- Romanian mama / mamă (mother) and tata / tată (father)
- Sardinian mama and babbu
- Spanish mamá and papá
- Belarusian мама (mama) for mom and тата (tata) for dad.
- Bulgarian мама (mama)
- Croatian mama
- Czech máma and táta
- Lithuanian mama
- Rusyn мама (mama) for mom and татo (tato) for dad.
- Polish mama and tata
- 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
- Slovak mama / tata, also tato
- Slovene mama / ata, also tata
- Ukrainian мама (mamа) and тато (tato) (папа (papa) in South-eastern dialects).
- Dutch mama / mam / ma and papa / pap / pa
- English mam (regional British and regional Irish) /mum (standard British) /mom (US/Canada/sometimes regional Irish) / mama / momma and dad / dada / mommy and daddy / ma / papa / and pa/da
- Faroese mamma
- German Mama and Papa
- Icelandic mamma; pabbi
- Norwegian mamma and pappa
- Swedish mamma and pappa
- Swiss German mami, but mame in the dialect from Graubünden and mamma in certain dialects from the Canton of Bern
- Irish "Máthair" (pronounced [ˈmˠaːhəɾʲ])
- Scottish Gaelic màthair ([ˈmaːhəɾʲ]) / athair ([ˈahəɾʲ])
- Welsh mam tad (mutates to dad)
Old Indo-Aryan (Sanskrit): Mātṛ / Ambā
- Assamese has ma ("মা") and aai ("আই") as "mother" and deuta ("দেউতা") and pitai ("পিতাই") as "father". However due to English borrowings, the words mamma and pappa are sometimes used today.
- Bengali, the words maa ("মা") and baba ("বাবা") are used for "mother" and "father". Other ways include abba (আব্বা) and abbu (আব্বু) for dad as well as baap (বাপ) for father. Other ways of saying mum are amma (আম্মা) and ammu (আম্মু).
- Gujarati uses mātā, or mā, for mother and bāpuji, or pitā, for father. Informally, the terms mammi and pappā are also used, possibly due to English influence.
- Hindi has the word mātā and pitaji as the formal words for "mother" and "father", though the shorter informal term maa and pita is more common. Due to English borrowings, the words mamma and pappa are also common.
- Konkani language, the word "aai" for "mother" and "baba" "father" are used, given the language's close similarity to Marathi. However due to English borrowings, the words mamma and pappa are much more common today.
- Maithili language has the word Mami and Papa to refer mother and father respectively, which were borrowed from English and are very popular in Mithila federal state of Nepal and Bihar state of India.
- Marathi Aai (“आई”) for mother and Baba (“बाबा”) for father. In some parts of Maharashtra Amma ("अम्मा") for mother and Appa ("अप्पा") or Tatya ("तात्या") for father is also used. However due to English borrowings, the words mummy and pappa are much more common today in urban areas.
- Nepali language has the words "ama" or "ma" to refer to mother and "baba" or "ba" for father.
- Odia uses bapa (ବାପା) for father and bou (ବୋଉ) for mother. However due to English borrowings, the words mamma and pappa are much more common today.
- Sinhalese, the word for mother originally was "abbe" ("abbiyande") and father was "appa " ("appanande"). Use of "amma" for mother and "nana" for father is due to heavy influence of Tamil. In some areas of Sri Lanka, particularly in the Central Province, Sinhalese use the word "nanachhi" for father.
- Urdu the words for mother are maa/mɑ̃ː ماں, madar مادر or walida والدہ 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.
Other Indo-European languages
- Albanian nena/nëna / mama
- (Modern) Greek μάνα, μαμά (mana, mama) and μπαμπάς (babas)
- Hittite 𒀭𒈾𒀸 (annaš, "mother") and 𒀜𒋫𒀸 (attaš, "father")
- Pashto moor مور is the word for Mother. Plaar پلار is the word for Father and baba بابا is used for father as well.
- Persian madar مادر is the formal word for mother, whereas مامان 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.
- Kurdish dayê and yadê or dê is the word for mother.
- 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".
- Burmese, မိခင် (mi khin) and ဖခင် (pha khin) are the words for "mother" and "father" respectively. However, parents are usually referred to by their children as မေမေ (may may) and ဖေဖေ (phay phay) — "Mom" and "Dad."
- Mandarin Chinese, 母親 (pinyin: mǔqīn) and 父親 (fùqīn) are for "mother" and "father" respectively. Note that 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 addition, parents are usually referred to by their children as 媽媽 (pinyin: māma; Wade–Giles: ma¹-ma) and 爸爸 (pinyin: bàba; Wade–Giles: pa⁴-pa) — "Mom" and "Dad". And sometimes in informal language, they use mā and bà for short.
- Taiwanese Hokkien, 老母 (lāu-bú) and 老爸 (lāu-pē) refer to "mother" and "father" respectively. Note that some of the b sounds in modern Taiwanese was pronounced as m in older Chinese languages, hence bú is related to the common "mother" word m. Additionally, parents are also referred as 媽 (má) / 阿母 (a-bú) and 爸 (pâ) / 阿爸 (a-pah), equivalents to "Mom" and "Dad", respectively.
- Tibetan uses amma for mother and nana for father.
- Thai, "mother" is แม่ (mê [mɛ̂ː]) and "father" is พ่อ (phô [pʰɔ̂ː]). มะ๊ (Má [mɑ]) and บะ (ba [ba]) or ฉะ (cha [tʃa]) respectively in Southern Thai. Colloquially, mamà and papà are also used.
- Lao, "mother" is ແມ່ (maê) and "father" is ພໍ່ (phô).
- In Turkish, both anne and ana mean mother, and baba and ata means father. Also, nene can be used for grandma and dede for grandpa.
- Uyghur, an East Asian Turkic language, uses ana or apa for mother, and ata or dada for father.
Other families and language isolates
- Basque: ama for mother and aita for father.
- 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 Voiceless bilabial fricative [ɸ]) which in turn is from the older *p.) Japanese has also borrowed informal mama and papa along with the native terms.
- Korean, 엄마 (eom-ma) and 아빠 (a-bba) are mom and dad in informal language, whereas the formal words are 아버지 (a-beo-ji) and 어머니 (eo-meo-ni) for father and mother. Korean is usually considered a language isolate with no living relatives, but some authorities differ.
- Kutenai, a language isolate of southeastern British Columbia, uses the word Ma.
- Sumerian: 𒀀𒈠 / ama
- Mapudungun: Chachay and papay are respectively "daddy" and "mommy", Chaw and Ñuke being "father" and "mother", respectively. Chachay and papay are also terms of respect or sympathy towards other members of the community.
- Philippines: Nanay and Tatay are for "Mother" and "Father" respectively.
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- mama on the map
- papa on the map
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[A] considerable number of elements crept into Philippine languages...including...nanay...and tatay.
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