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Are Korean and Hebrew languages related?
September 22, 2011 2:04 AM   Subscribe

In Korean, the words for 'mom' and 'dad', respectively, are umma and appa. In Hebrew (maybe other Semitic languages, too), they are ima and abba. Is there a link between Korean (maybe other east Asian languages?) and the Semitic languages?
posted by KingoftheWhales to Society & Culture (19 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
There's no genetic link, no. Those sounds are just really common in referring to mothers and fathers, since they're some of the first sounds babies make, and those are some of the first words babies say. See: "Mama and papa"
Thus, there is no need to ascribe the similarities to common ancestry of !Kung ba, Aramaic abba, Mandarin Chinese bàba, Persian baba, and French papa (all "father") ; or Navajo amá, Mandarin Chinese māma, Swahili mama, Quechua mama, and English "mama" (all "mother").
posted by Gordafarin at 2:09 AM on September 22, 2011 [10 favorites]


Terms for parents, however, do tend to be fairly similar across languages.

One of the common hypotheses is based on the fact that the sounds for these words are produced at the very early stages of baby babbling, and so these get assigned to the close family members. That is, the similarity is a special sort of coincidence that results from the similarity of how all humans acquire language at the earliest stages. Some more information on Wikipedia

The term for words that sounds similar and have a similar meaning in different languages but don't actually have a direct relationship is False Cognate.
posted by anateus at 2:23 AM on September 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


Actually, there's an on-going debate as to what "family" Korean is in.

But typically Hebrew isn't considered a possible relation. What's interesting is that grammatically Korean is closer to Mongolian than it is to Chinese.
posted by bardic at 3:15 AM on September 22, 2011


Having studied both pretty seriously, from my own personal experience there is pretty much nothing other than that coincidence to support the theory that they're related. There's a broad divergence in the vowel and consonant sounds, sentence structure, conjugations, treatment of gender, treatment of plurals, and pretty much everything else.

The only other similarity I can think of is the use of a particle to indicate direct objects in each language ("et" in Hebrew and "eul/reul" in Korean). But sadly, that's it.
posted by holterbarbour at 3:23 AM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


All languages are related. There is actually an African language (I believe) that has a lot of words that sound the same as Korean and also mean the same thing. I do not exactly remember which language though, at the moment.
posted by kopi at 6:24 AM on September 22, 2011


FWIW the words for mother and father in Tamil (South Indian language) are amma and appa too.
posted by peacheater at 6:25 AM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


And in Hungarian it's anya and appa.
posted by Sophie1 at 6:28 AM on September 22, 2011


'Mama' and 'papa' are pretty much uninversal across Europe and Asia
posted by KokuRyu at 6:40 AM on September 22, 2011


We actually don't know that all languages are related. It seems common-sense if you assume we're all descended from the same group of people, but the time depth involved is such that evidence of such a link has been obliterated.

Korean and Semitic may be related in the far-distant past, but that wouldn't explain the existence of similar terms for parents, anyway. At the time depth involved, you would expect that the terms would have mutated apart over time, like the rest of the language. There must be some other reason--such as "m" and "b/p" sounds being some of the first that babies are able to make.

There are a lot of crackpots out there who will use the existence of a few similar words to argue for the existence of a link between x and y, or to argue that Proto-World must have existed. These people have a very poor grasp of historical linguistics and of statistics.

The line between "enough similarities that they must be related" and "coincidence" is a fuzzy one, so there are differing opinions among linguists about some links, e.g. "Is Altaic a valid group?" But this is so far on the wrong side of that line that no one would take it seriously. Plus, an important criteria for evidence of a relation between languages is that they differ in a systematic way--that hypothetically, you can posit a series of changes in their sounds or structure that grew them apart. These coincidentally similar words really just don't have that most of the time.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 6:42 AM on September 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


Agreeing with anateus, the link is probably baby talk. Words like papa, mama, dada, appa, atta show up as names of close relatives and bodily functions in a lot of languages, and frequently words for boob. The specific meanings attached to them, though, seems to be pretty much random. The mismatches can sometime be amusing. In Georgian, deda means mother and mama means father, pretty much the reverse of English mommy and daddy. Caca means "poop" in Spanish, but kakak means "older sister" in Indonesian.

Wiktionary has lists of these: baba (grandma, daddy, baby, poop), mama (mommy, daddy, uncle, nursing, and Latin mamma "boob"), amma (mommy, grandma), tata (daddy, aunt, big sister, boob) ...
posted by nangar at 6:53 AM on September 22, 2011 [5 favorites]


If it's just convenient baby talk being transferred to referring to the people closest to the baby, it seems interesting that the "mm" sounds are always associated with the mother and the "bb" or "pp" sounds are always associated with the father. It makes it seem like there must be a link between the languages for those associations to be so consistent. Is it just that all babies are likely to make the "mm" sound first, and so that's why it is always assigned to the mother?
posted by arcticwoman at 7:12 AM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Via Language Log: Larry Trask's Where do mama/papa words come from?

(copying my own answer to a previous, very similar Askme)
posted by col_pogo at 7:18 AM on September 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


arcticwoman: Been thinking the same thing while watching my 10 month old learn about the world, and I'd guess it's because a baby can make the m sound while nursing. Also, while very, very small, he had a hunger cry with lots of n's and m's in it which seemed to be close to the way his mouth was shaped while nursing, and that pretty naturally shifted me from calling nursing "boob" to "nomnoms", which, now that he's starting on words, he is learning right back from me. It's a fascinating feedback mechanism to me.
posted by tchemgrrl at 7:40 AM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Is it just that all babies are likely to make the "mm" sound first, and so that's why it is always assigned to the mother?

Our kid learned to make the "mamamamama" noise first, and made it into a word - mama, which meant mother, and another word, mamamamama, which meant every other object, emotion and action in the universe. Eventually she learned dadada, which she assigned to me. (Even though my wife always called me by name).
posted by Slap*Happy at 8:21 AM on September 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


Just to sort of add on to the question: The word for pineapple in french is "ananas" and in Luganda (the language spoken by the Baganda people in Uganda) its "ananasi".

Now, come on, there's no baby babbling for a pineapple How are those languages related?
posted by Kololo at 10:05 AM on September 22, 2011


Pineapples are not native to France. They took the word from wherever they first got pineapples from. You wouldn't say English and Japanese are related because we have the same word for sushi.
posted by Nattie at 10:48 AM on September 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


The word for pineapple in french is "ananas" and in Luganda (the language spoken by the Baganda people in Uganda) its "ananasi".

Now, come on, there's no baby babbling for a pineapple How are those languages related?


Loanwords are not the same as cognates. Lots of languages have words for "taxi", "computer", and "lychee" that are the same, because those words are relatively new in the language.

There's also cases of mere coincidence. There's an Australian aboriginal language where the word for dog is dog; it is not a borrowing or a related word, it just happens to sound the same. There's a lot of cases like this.
posted by Gordafarin at 11:06 AM on September 22, 2011


If it's just convenient baby talk being transferred to referring to the people closest to the baby, it seems interesting that the "mm" sounds are always associated with the mother and the "bb" or "pp" sounds are always associated with the father.

Not always. Nangar mentions Georgian, where mama means "father" and not "mother." In K'iche', maam means "grandfather." In a lot of Eastern European languages, baba or something similar means "mother."

Heck, even in English, it's a pretty mixed bag. Papa has a "p" sound; dada / dad / daddy doesn't; and the only baby-talk-ish kinship term we've got with a "b" in it is bubba for "brother."
posted by nebulawindphone at 12:16 PM on September 22, 2011


I wonder if the order in which a baby forms a monosylabic word is dependent on the language being spoken around it - if the "da" sound is pronounced more often or more forcefully in English as opposed to Italian? Or maybe it's as the article linked to above asserts - a reinforcement of convention, the kid just hears "dada" a lot more from the adults trying to get her to say something in an English-speaking household.
posted by Slap*Happy at 2:12 PM on September 22, 2011


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