[Lingtyp] addressing the daughter as Mummy

Anne Tamm TammA at ceu.edu
Mon Aug 24 17:59:22 UTC 2020

Hungarian has kisanyám my little mother, but not typically in my urban sociolect.
A couple of years ago there was a long discussion of related lexicon items on child language mailing lists.

From: Lingtyp <lingtyp-bounces at listserv.linguistlist.org> on behalf of Michael Daniel <misha.daniel at gmail.com>
Sent: Monday, August 24, 2020 9:54 AM
To: David Gil <gil at shh.mpg.de>
Cc: list, typology <lingtyp at listserv.linguistlist.org>
Subject: Re: [Lingtyp] addressing the daughter as Mummy

Hi everybody.

I reported this as a reaction to the original request in a personal email, but now that there is so much wonderful data and reactions I might ask in the list:

does anyone know of a pattern of address, formally both related and different to the one being discussed, where the apparently 'inverse use' of the term of address is placed inside a possessive construction, literally 'mother-Poss/Gen' addressing a child, 'aunt-Poss/Gen' to a nephew or niece etc. This occurs in (some parts of) Daghestan and I always wondered whether it was an adaptation / reinterpretation of the Near East / Georgian / etc pattern or an independent development.

Michael Daniel

пн, 24 авг. 2020 г. в 07:07, David Gil <gil at shh.mpg.de<mailto:gil at shh.mpg.de>>:

As a footnote to Eitan's comments on Hebrew, I would add that the form mama-le, with the Yiddish-origin diminutive, is used not only by mothers addressing their children, but by extension also as an affectionate address term to persons of any gender, age and parental status (as I myself can attest to, as the occasional fortunate addressee).

On 20/08/2020 08:22, Eitan Grossman wrote:
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<mailto:nino.amiridze at gmail.com>> wrote:
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<http://to.me>
" Giorgi, come to me!"


(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.


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,

On Sat, Aug 15, 2020 at 9:26 PM Sergey Loesov <sergeloesov at gmail.com<mailto: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!


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Dr. Nino Amiridze

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David Gil

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Department of Linguistic and Cultural Evolution
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