Menu
Share
Share this story
Close X
 
Switch to Desktop Site

Now you know

Why, in so many languages, do words for 'mother' start with M? In Mandarin Chinese, the word is "ma"; in Hindi, it's "maa." Vietnamese say "me," and Malaysians "emak." In Swahili, it's "mama." This is not coincidence, linguists say. The words all reflect the first sounds that human babies make. "Ah," "ee," and "oo" are the first forms of speech from a baby, regardless of what language his or her parents speak. These vowel sounds are soon combined with labial (Latin for "lip") consonants B, D, M, and P. Hence: "bah," "dah," "mah," and "pah." Similar words in other languages may have different family connotations, however. In the Republic of Georgia, the word for "father" is "mama." A mother, meanwhile, is "deda."

Source: 'Letter Perfect,' by David Sacks (Broadway Books, 2003).

About these ads

Follow Stories Like This
Get the Monitor stories you care about delivered to your inbox.