[Lingtyp] addressing the daughter as Mummy

Eitan Grossman eitan.grossman at mail.huji.ac.il
Thu Aug 20 05:22:32 UTC 2020

Hi all,

Modern Hebrew also has this phenomenon, e.g., *mami* or *mama* ('mom') and
*abuya* ('my father'). Its sources seem to be both Maghrebi Judeo-Arabic
and Palestinian Arabic, but it also makes sense that it might also come
from Kurdish via Neo-Aramaic. Interestingly, a common term is* aba-le*
(father-DIM), which takes a Yiddish-origin diminutive suffix on an
Aramaic-origin noun, while the very use of the 'father' term for a child is
patterned on Arabic.

In Beduin Arabic of the Negev, these reversed kin terms are extremely
extensive and seem to apply to pretty much any kin relationship. Henkin has
written about this a lot, e.g., Ch 10 of her 2010. Negev Arabic: Dialectal,
Sociolinguistic, and Stylistic Variation. Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz.
It's also worth checking out her work on cursing, which can involve what
looks like 'self-cursing' due to the kinship term reversal.


Eitan Grossman
Associate Professor, Department of Linguistics
Chair, Department of Linguistics
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972 2 588 3809
Fax: +972 2 588 1224

On Thu, Aug 20, 2020 at 7:27 AM Nino Amiridze <nino.amiridze at gmail.com>

> Dear Sergey,
> Georgian (Kartvelian) has the phenomenon. Young people may get addressed
> by their older relatives by the term that refers to the relatives
> themselves. For instance, if a grandmother addresses her grandson (say,
> Giorgi), she may address him by uttering (a) or (b):
> (a) giorgi, modi chemtan!
> Giorgi, come to.me
> " Giorgi, come to me!"
> or
> (b) bebia/bebiko, modi chemtan!
> grandmother/granny, come to me
> Lit.: grandmother, come to me!
> "Giorgi, come to me!"
> This phenomenon is discussed in Boeder 1988 (
> http://www.staff.uni-oldenburg.de/winfried.boeder/download/52_Boeder_1988_Ueber_einige_Anredeformen_imKaukasus.pdf),
> where he mentions similar cases in Lebanese Arabic described in Ayoub 1964
> and Southern Italian dialects by Spitzer 1928. In both cases, the
> phenomenon is known from baby talk, when grown ups try to lower themselves
> to the level of children. As a result, a role substitution happens. Boeder
> brings Willis 1977 as a reference, according to which the role substitution
> is an important play when children and grown ups communicate in English
> baby talk.
> For me, as a native Georgian speaker, the explanation does not exactly
> make sense for Georgian. Rather, the address forms have always been a
> shortened forms of affectionate formulas:
> bebia [genacvalos / shemogevlos], modi chemtan!
> grandmother [will.secrifice.herself.for.you], come to me
> '"X, come to me" (where X is a name of a grandkid)
> I wonder what other native speakers have to say about the role
> substitution in Georgian. And I would be curious to learn whether the
> mentioned languages or others illustrating the phenomenon can have the
> 'role mirroring' due to shortening of blessing formulas.
> References:
> Ayoub, Millicent R. 1964. Bi-polarity in Arabic kinship terms. In Horace
> G. Lunt (ed.). Proceedings of the Ninth International Congress of
> Linguists. The Hague: Mouton, pp. 1100-1106.
> Boeder, Winfried, 1988. Über einige Anredeformen im Kaukasus. Georgika,
> Heft 11, pp. 11-20.
> Spitzer, Leo, 1928. Über Personenvertauschung in der Ammensprache. In L.
> Spitzer, Stilstudien. Hueber, München, 1928, pp. 26-38.
> Wills, Dorothy Davis, 1977. Participant deixis in English baby talk. In:
> C.E. Snow and Ch. A. Ferguson (eds.), Talking to Children. Language Input
> and Acquisition. Papers from a conference sponsored by the Committee on
> Sociolinguistics of the Social Science Research Council (USA). Cambridge,
> Cambridge University Press, pp. 271-295.
> Best regards,
> Nino
> On Sat, Aug 15, 2020 at 9:26 PM Sergey Loesov <sergeloesov at gmail.com>
> wrote:
>> Dear colleagues,
>> In various cultures (those I know of happen to be mostly Islamic) the
>> form of address can be copied by the addressee. Thus, when a daughter
>> addresses her mother as “Mummy”, the mother often reciprocates, saying to
>> the daughter something like “yes, Mummy”, or “what, Mummy…” (Same of course
>> with a son and his father.)
>> In particular, I came across this kind of exchange in my fieldwork with
>> Kurdish (Kurmanji) and some contemporary Aramaic varieties in Upper
>> Mesopotamia and Syria, but this phenomenon is also current in the Soqotri
>> language, an unwritten Semitic language spoken on the Socotra Island in the
>> Indian Ocean, southeast of Yemen.
>> Are we aware of explanations for this kind of usage? Are there
>> cross-language studies of this kind of facts?
>> Thank you very much!
>> Sergey
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> --
> Dr. Nino Amiridze
> E-mail: Nino.Amiridze at gmail.com
> WWW: https://sites.google.com/site/ninoamiridze/
> _______________________________________________
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