Language is a Funny Thing

Here’s something people may find amusing about Arabic.

Consider this request: “Mama, help me find the remote control.”

To almost anyone, it sounds like the child is asking the mom for assistance. And? You wouldn’t usually be wrong.

But, in this case, it’s the exact opposite. The mother’s actually talking to her child, using “mama” as an alternative to the kid’s name or any other call for attention.

No kidding.

For a reason I have yet to discover, it’s common for moms to call their kids “mom” or “mama” and a dad to call his kid, “baba”. (Gender of the child doesn’t matter). Even aunts, uncles and grandparents do the same thing—and it’s very much a sign of affection. 

“Hi Amo, how are you? I’ve missed you!” An uncle living in a different time zone would tell a niece or nephew during a phone call.

“Yii, Sitto, why haven’t you eaten anything?” A concerned grandmother would say to her over-stuffed grandchild.

It’s so common that you never really think about it until it randomly dawns on you that you regularly respond to your mom when she calls you “mama”. 

But it does make you wonder…are there other languages out there that do the same thing? And which ones are they?


7 thoughts on “Language is a Funny Thing

  1. Hala, this is too funny! My brother and I have had countless conversations about this and how it makes absolutely no sense! And yet my parents keep doing it and we keep responding… By the way, I laughed so hard at the comment from the grandma to her ‘over-stuffed grandchild’ – so, so true. :D

    • Hahaha, I had a feeling you’d relate since you come from the same background. I actually asked my mom if she knew where it came from and she only had theories. She also said it was a sign of affection, and that it was perhaps a way to reinforce the relationship between (for example) the mom and the child. I could see that—like it’s a kind of proud/loving way to repeat the relationship you have with the kid. Another theory is that parents refer to their kids that way when they’re babies so the kids get used to calling their parents by that title.

      I think it’s cute and loving when my mom calls me “mom” or “mama”, but the origins of the phrase is definitely food for thought! (I even Googled it and, so far, just random theories too!)

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