papa (or, i officially love linguistics)

The last entry? Yeah, I take it all back.

Apparently, the word ‘papa’ has been found to be present in approximately 700 of the 1000 currently used languages, and is therefore thought to be an artifact of the mother (or father, I suppose) of all languages. Perhaps this would be an interesting name for it? It would certainly be better than proto-proto-proto-proto-proto-proto Indo European, wouldn’t you say?





2 responses to “papa (or, i officially love linguistics)”

  1. Jakobpunkt Avatar

    Another, possibly more credible, explanation that I’ve heard for the frequency of the words ‘papa’ and ‘mama’ is that when small children start to babble, in any language, they start with the easiest syllables for the human mouth to make. CV (consonant-vowel) syllables are considered the simplest, labial consonants (like p, b, m) are very easy to say, and unrounded mid-to-low vowels like a, ae, script-a, and open-o, are the first sounds babies make. So given that papapapapa, mamamamama, bababababa, etc are going to be among the first syllables a babbling baby produces, it’s not unlikely that parents will start to think these sounds are associated with meanings like “mother” and “father”, and from there it’s an easy step for these sounds to become the morphemes for mother and father.

  2. julien Avatar

    I can see how CV combinations are simpler than other morphemes to produce, and that does explain that they are often are the first words that babies use. But I’m not understanding your logic. A baby doesn’t tell its parents what the words for mother and father are, it’s the other way around.

    And even if, many generations back, a baby decided papa and mama should be connected to father and mother concepts in language, that doesn’t explain away the statistics. I think another thing you may have overlooked is that, considering in a child’s brain ‘p’ and ‘m’ are not socialized as being masculine or feminine phonemes (if such a thing can even be said), there would be an equal chance that ‘mama’ would mean father and ‘papa’, mother… thus dividing the 71% of those languages half-half (~35% of papa=father and ~35% of papa=mother).

    Considering this is not the case, we must assume that the link is more than coincidental.

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