Aleteia logoAleteia logo
Aleteia
Tuesday 03 August |
Saint of the Day: St. Martin
home iconLifestyle
line break icon

Why all babies call their mothers by the same sounds

Baby and Mother

Shutterstock

Calah Alexander - published on 10/24/17

Parents decide the meaning of baby talk, not vice versa.

Only my last baby said “mama” first. My oldest daughter said “dada” first; my next daughter said “shoe” first; my oldest son said “ball” first, and my next son said “dada” first as well.

But my sweet little baby Isaac said “mama” when he was barely six months old. It was a much-longed-for treasure that I have stored in my heart.

That’s the story I tell my kids, and the one I’d write down in a baby book if I had one (LOL, I do not). The true story is a little different — but first, you have to understand why all babies everywhere call their moms “mama.”

The Atlantic recently published a fascinating article about how it took a linguist thousands of years to discover what mothers have known forever: that babies make the sounds “mama” and “dada” first because they’re the easiest to make.

Babies “speaking” in this way are just playing. But adults don’t hear them that way. A baby says “mama” and it sounds as if he’s addressing someone — and the person he’s most likely addressing so early on is his mother. The mother takes “mama” as meaning her, and in speaking to her child refers to herself as “mama.” Voilà: a word mama that “means” mother. That would have happened with the first humans — but more to the point, it has happened with baby humans worldwide, whatever language they are speaking. That means that even as the first language was becoming countless others, this “mama mistake” was recreating “mama” as the word for “mom,” whatever was going on with words like mregh.

See, all these other mothers were smarter than I was. It took me five kids to learn what they’ve known forever: when it comes to babies, you’ve got to take what you can get.

Here’s the real story about my kids’ first words: All my kids said “mamamamamamama” first, because that’s the sound that babies make first. As a fair-minded, authentic (read: dumb) person, I waited until they consistently made an intentional sound that clearly had a meaning before I declared it their “first word.” But after baby four not only said dad first, but called me “dada” until he was 3, I chucked fair-mindedness and authenticity straight out the window. The second baby Ike made that “mamama” sound, I heralded his first word like the angel of the Second Coming.

“HE SAID MAMA! THAT’S HIS FIRST WORD! HE LOVES ME BEST! LOL FOREVER! IN YOUR FACE!”

Kinda like that.

You know, the way mothers have been doing forever.

And this is why I do not have a baby book.


Ultrasound Sonogram

Read more:
20 Amazing facts about babies in utero

Tags:
Parenting
Support Aleteia!

If you’re reading this article, it’s thanks to the generosity of people like you, who have made Aleteia possible.

Here are some numbers:

  • 20 million users around the world read Aleteia.org every month
  • Aleteia is published every day in seven languages: English, French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Polish, and Slovenian
  • Each month, readers view more than 50 million pages
  • Nearly 4 million people follow Aleteia on social media
  • Each month, we publish 2,450 articles and around 40 videos
  • We have 60 full time staff and approximately 400 collaborators (writers, translators, photographers, etc.)

As you can imagine, these numbers represent a lot of work. We need you.

Support Aleteia with as little as $1. It only takes a minute. Thank you!

Daily prayer
And today we celebrate...




Top 10
1
Saint Mary of the Angels
Bret Thoman, OFS
All your sins will be forgiven if you go to a Franciscan church o...
2
Ignacio María Doñoro
Francisco Veneto
The military chaplain who pretended to be a criminal to rescue a ...
3
CARLO ACUTIS
Violeta Tejera
Carlo Acutis’ first stained glass window in jeans and sneak...
4
JEDZENIE
Theresa Civantos Barber
The one thing we all should do before this summer ends
5
Philip Kosloski
Most priests can’t absolve these sins
6
ANTENUCCI
Ary Waldir Ramos Diaz
1st Feast of Our Lady of Silence is August 1
7
Zelda Caldwell
World-record winning gymnast Simone Biles leans on her Catholic f...
See More
Newsletter
Get Aleteia delivered to your inbox. Subscribe here.