Worldly words!

What is the first word you said while you are a baby? While some of us first said mama, a few others said dada or tata or something along those lines - interestingly the word for mother in many languages is very easy to say because it is either short or has repeated sounds in it. Take for instance the Portuguese babies coo, Mae; Dutch, Moer, French, Mere while the Germans call her mutter.

Do you notice the pattern? It is incredible how babies, never having met each other (of course) can repeat a similar sound, the letter ‘m’ in their name for mother.

Apparently, a Russian linguist, Roman Jakobson, did some research on this marvel and discovered that the ‘m’ sound is what is created when a baby’s mouth is suckling from its mother’s breast. When the breast it taken out of its mouth, it makes the ‘ah’ sound and boom, the word for mother is created. The babythen starts to associate that sound with food and help which is true because it is usually (note this word) mothers who supply the baby’s immediate needs. Meanwhile the mother is happy thinking the baby is calling her while the baby is simply saying; food. But if both their needs are met, who is complaining?

Does the similarity in the language of babies stop at mama or are there other words that cut across languages, race, boundaries and any other limitations that humans successfully impose on themselves?

Recent research asserts that the word, ‘huh’ is very widely used in almost all the languages. Do you use it? I use it a lot and so this study must be true – well it was done on five continents! Other words that make this distinguished list are: taxi, T.V, coffee, tea/chai, banana, kiwi, O.K and telephone.

Which leads us to the word, ‘Hello’. If a significant percentage of people on the face of the planet own and use phones, - cell and other types of phones - and the first word they utter to initiate a conversation is, you guessed it, ‘hello’ then doesn’t that make it one of the most often used words?

Of course, there are those who argue saying that; if a something is new and the people have not come up with a word for it, its original name will have to be used and that is how so many of these words make their way onto the universal word list. What do you think?

Lois Nakibuuka
is an educator and counsellor