Refining early Basque criteria

Ralf-Stefan Georg Georg at
Sat Dec 18 22:44:38 UTC 1999

>I would suggest rather that these very ancient words have been retained in a
>substantially unchanged form because of the strong emotional significance
>they have in most human societies.

>Let us assume that, for reasons I cannot fathom, children all over the world
>are *independently motivated* (by what, pray tell ???) to employ <mama> for

I don't see any difficulty here. When you do nothing, repeat nothing
specific with your vocal tract or articulatory apparatus but keep your
mouth shut and switch on your vocal cords you have /m/. If, then, you go
one step further and open your mouth for a change, guess what is the most
likely vowel to come out ? Right.

Now, what happens next is that mothers *do* like to be addressed by their
infants as early as possible by something which could be interpreted as
something in the way of a "word". What is more natural, then, to
*conventionalize* the simplest audible syllable any infant is likely to
produce very early in its career as a language-user as precisely that:
"mother" ? To make it a bit more harder to meet this requirement for the
infant, one introduces reduplication as a further requirement, and there
you are. Of course, this doesn't *have* to happen in each and every speech
community of mankind, it is only tremendously likely. Any different
conventionalizations like Georgian /mama/ "father" or language without
bilablials or whatnot should not disturb us here. In this respect, Pat may
even be right in assuming that the first homines loquentes might have had a
conventionalized "mother"-term closely resempling /mama/ or sthlth. *But*,
the fact that it is still so wide-spread today among the world's languages
would *not* cry for the explanation that it is a *retention* from olim's
times. The very reasons outlined above make it clear that it is likely to
be *innovated* time and again in languages. So, again, we have an attractor
here, and the nursery words go out.


Stefan Georg
Heerstrasse 7
D-53111 Bonn

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