Monday, May 13, 2013

Why babies in every country on Earth say 'mama'

Like it or not, cross-cultural use of the word "mama" doesn't spring from some innate appreciation of moms  

Lazy baby mouths + breasts = "Mama" 

Every language has a word for water. In Swahili they call it maji. In Dutch Danish, it's vand. The Japanese say mizu. Even though these words describe the most common and plentiful life-giving substance on Earth, they have nothing in common linguistically. But why should they, evolving as they did on three separate continents among people with incredibly diverse histories and traditions?

But there is a word, and only one, spoken the same way in nearly every language known to humankind. That word, of course, is "mama."

"Mama" is a universal word, describing the woman who gave us the most cherished love in our most vulnerable state. Almost every language boasts a recognizable form of it. While it's true that most languages vary when it comes to the formal word mother, the intimate mama stays the same in each language.

But "mama" doesn't spring from love. It happens because of two things: Lazy little baby mouths, and boobs.

The definitive study on "mama and papa" as universal terms was conducted by Russian linguist Roman Jakobson. He explained that the easiest vocalizations for a human to make are open-mouth vowel sounds. Babies can make vowel sounds (cries) from day one. And they do. Constantly. As they begin to experiment with making other noises, babies will test some of the easier consonant sounds. Usually they start with the sounds made with closed lips, or "labial sounds" such as /m/ /p/ /b/. Babies summon their energy to push out that new consonant sound "MMMM" and then relax into an open mouth vowel, usually "ah" — which is the easiest. When you combine that with a baby's natural repetition in speech, or "babbling," you get " ma-ma", "ba-ba" "pa-pa," and so on.

For the rest of the story: http://theweek.com/article/index/243809/why-babies-in-every-country-on-earth-say-mama

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