reversing family relationship in addressing children

bilal_b

New Member
Germany, English
Hi,

does anyone have an explanation for the phenomenon of adults calling their children 'mama' or 'baba' or nephews '3ammo' etc.? Typically this would be tagged on to the end of a sentence (question, command), with 'ya ...' where appropriate.
This might be restricted to Levantine or even Palestine for all I know.

Thanks.
 
  • cherine

    Moderator
    Arabic (Egypt).
    We sometimes use it in Egypt too :)
    I think it maybe has started as "ya Habib mama" -for example- then it evolved to become "ya mama".
    Just a wild guess, but I think it can be plausible.

    And welcome to the forum :)
     

    zooz

    Senior Member
    Arabic & Syrian Arabic
    Yes, it's very common to say them notabely in The Levant. Kind of odd, but nice, IMO. Even using them with 'يا' is not necessary.E.g. بابا روح العب مع اخواتك. Moreover, it's customary in the society that the youngers call the olders 'عمو' for men and 'خالي' for women, and vice versa.

    Cherine's statement is likely; the other words were crossed out to simplify the call.
     

    misa

    New Member
    arabic
    most of the arabs in north africa and in the middle east call their children " baba, بابا" or " mama, ماما". children call older people " 3ammo, 3ammi, عمي" for men and "khalty, خالتي " as a kind of respect.
     

    bilal_b

    New Member
    Germany, English
    Thanks for confirming the reverse call is used throughout the Arabic speaking region. I agree Cherine's explanation is plausible as a first guess (thanks!) but would still be interested to hear about any hard research on this, whether it happens in any other language etc.

    The matter of youngsters calling unrelated adults 'uncle' etc. is not relevant here, I think. It's not a reversal of the kind we started talking about and in any case this practice is pretty much universal, certainly in all the languages I've ever come across. In German there's even a word for someone you address that way: 'Nennonkel' (roughly 'titular uncle').
    Or do you mean that these non-familymembers call the children 'uncle'?

    Any other thoughts strictly on the reversed call? Are there 'rules' for its usage? Thanks for pointing out it works without 'ya ...'.
     

    cherine

    Moderator
    Arabic (Egypt).
    The use of "ya" is only a mark of "calling" someone, but we can also call someone without the "ya" (both in MSA and colloquials).
    As for the reverse, I'll speak of what's used in my country, Egypt. We call a boy "baba" (father) and a girl "mama" (mother). We don't call them "3ammo".

    But what I know about Levantine usage is that the "mother" call her kids (be they girls or boys) "mama" and the "father" calls them "baba". I guess this is where my guess in the second post applies :)
    As for the usage in Egypt, I don't have an explanation for it. Frankly, I don't think this is something that has been subject of a study.
     

    lama

    Senior Member
    arabic
    my mum is psychiatrist and she said that adults call their little children mama,or baba when they are very young unconsiosly just to let them know that that's mum and that's dad so that the child can say it himself when he gets a bit older but after that it just becomes a habit .even my mum always sais :ya mama for me
     

    bilal_b

    New Member
    Germany, English
    Not sure that's necessary. The point is not whether Arabic really is the only language where this is done, but if the reason was something fundamental about the psychology of parents then it should be the same in most languages. But we know that's not the case, given that between us we can't think of another example.

    Anyway, I'm already very happy with the information I got from you about the different usage in Egypt and the Levant, so I think the thread has run its course... :)
     

    cherine

    Moderator
    Arabic (Egypt).
    Sorry to continue with the thread after it has run its course :D but I thought it could be necessary to point out that this thing is not necessarily phsycological, nor is it really a "reversing" of family relationship.
    I consider it more of an evolution of a word to acquire more connotation.
    It's a bit like the word Habibi حبيبي (which literaly means my love (to a male) ) this word evolved to become synonym of "my dear", and is used to female loves ones/friends as well.

    The word "mama" has the connotation of "dear", we sometimes use it between friends. Same things with "baba". I sometimes call my friends and my brothers "ya baba", which is in no way a reversing of anything. It's just this normal evolution of words in colloquials, when words gain new meanings and new usages :)
     

    Lugubert

    Senior Member
    As for the usage in Egypt, I don't have an explanation for it. Frankly, I don't think this is something that has been subject of a study.
    It has, but I can't for my life remember where I read it. It might have been explained as a way of fooling the evil eye, parallel to when in some cultures children are named 'the ugly one', 'stupid' etc., so as to make them unappetizing to demons.
     

    Abu Bishr

    Senior Member
    Afrikaans, South Africa
    I can come up with three reasons for this phenomenon, all of which are speculation of course. The first is a stylistic phenomenon in Arabic called من باب ما سيكون (referring to someone or something by that which he / she will one day become). The second reason is to instil courage in the child by addressing him / her in adult terms. The third is that maybe parents like to see themselves or their spouses in their kids so much so that in certain cultures parents even call their kids by their parental titles. Somewhere I heard that in certain Arab cultures as a rule boys resemble their fathers and girls their their mothers.

    Nevertheless, I think it is a very interesting phenomenon.
     

    suma

    Senior Member
    USA
    English, USA
    Good job Abu Bishr:thumbsup:
    Your explanation is by far the best! and I totally agree with the three main reasons you list.

    And I also suspect that it's not unique to Arabic either. In fact my mother used to call my sister mommy, especially during the early years of her childhood.
     

    Mahaodeh

    Senior Member
    Arabic, PA and IA.
    I just wanted to add that this is also very common in Iraq, it's even common for total strangers to do that; as an example, a young person goes into a shop where an elderly shopkeeper is and the shop keeper would say: na3am 3amoo, shitreed.

    By the way, I don't think it has anything to do with من باب ما سيكون because I would call both my necies and nephews خالتو, my dad calls me and my brother بابا and my mum calls the both of us ماما - everyone calls the child/youngster with what the child/youngster is supposed to call him/her.
     

    rosieg

    Senior Member
    England, English
    Yes in the Levant an older man may call his grandson or granddaughter "granddad". So the titles are gender specific only to the speaker not to the addressee.
    Apparently some Hispanic cultures do this too, at least in terms of calling one's children by one's own title.
    I am interested in any other thoughts on this fascinating habit.
     

    Jasmine_Chila

    Senior Member
    English - Scotland
    In Egypt I've heard people calling anyone 'mama and baba'.

    Examples: A university student shooing an annoying little girl away on the street 'go away ya mama'.

    Elderly landlady to her 20-something male tenant 'baba'.

    Husband telling his wife to be quiet while arguing in public 'shhh ya mama!'

    Is this normal? This isn't for anyone's kids but definitely heard all 3.
     

    rosieg

    Senior Member
    England, English
    That seems to be quite a different phenomenon, Jasmine. It's not a reversal since the title used is the role of neither the speaker or the addressee. And it seems that what you speak of is gender-specific to the addressee, ie, they all call males 'baba', but females 'mama'. Interesting addition though. It links to what Cherine was saying above, also based on experience in Egypt, that these words seem to have evolved away from meaning 'mother' and 'father' and become simply a title for anyone. This is much broader than English speakers or Arabic speakers calling unrelated older ones Aunt or Uncle out of respect.

    Neither situation is the same as the one first raised, where a mother in the Levant may call her son and daughter both Mama and it is specific to her relationship with them, she doesn't use it for others, as has been said above.
     

    gusfand

    Senior Member
    German
    ..'mami/ mamita' or 'papi/ papito'.. In some countries in Latinamerica, I think mostly Dominican Republic, Cuba, Puerto Rico and a few others maybe, these terms are used as nicknames for loved ones...to a young child in Puerto Rico we may say mamita or papito, and to your boyfriend..
     

    Wadi Hanifa

    Senior Member
    Arabic
    I think people do this because they are mimicking what their children call them.

    For example, your daughter calls you "baba" so you start calling her "baba" as a form of affection (the mother would say "mama" even to her son). That's what I noticed from observing a Palestinian acquaintance of mine.

    In my dialect, though, the son is called "baba" or "ubooy" or "yuba" and the daughter "mama" or "ummi" or "yumma." I think the rationale here is that, in our culture, love of parents is the supreme form of love, so you are basically saying that your daughter is equal to your mother in how much you love her. Even in Classical Arabic you express your devotion to someone by saying بأبي أنت وأمي ("I'd sacrifice my mother and father for you").
     

    djara

    Senior Member
    Tunisia Arabic
    A similar, through admittedly different, phenomenon in French. Some men calling their wives "maman" (mother); maybe mimicking their children.
     

    L.2

    Senior Member
    Arabic
    In Egypt I've heard people calling anyone 'mama and baba'.

    Examples: A university student shooing an annoying little girl away on the street 'go away ya mama'.

    Elderly landlady to her 20-something male tenant 'baba'.

    Husband telling his wife to be quiet while arguing in public 'shhh ya mama!'

    Is this normal? This isn't for anyone's kids but definitely heard all 3.
    We do that to in hijazi, anyone is أمي or أبويا. They lost their literal meaning and are used for simply calling anyone. In fights, as your first example, they are said in a mockingly tone along with حبيبي/حبيبتي.
     

    jess1972

    New Member
    English
    hi all
    i really have no idea why they do this. i dont think its anything to do with making the child feel secure or anything.
    im an aussie married into a palestinian family. the mother and father both call the kids/grandkids their title. i.e. mother calls the daughter mamma(mother), the dad calls the daughter babba(father), the grandmother calls the grandchild tatta(grandmother), the grandfather calls the grandchild jido(grandfather). I find it totally weird and when asked they cant explain why they do it. Infact they seemed quite astonished that i asked.
    i dont know of any other culture that does this.
    perhaps it was something started a long time ago, and with most things, some people wont let go of something, even if its weird. would still like to know why they do it, but even when the people doing it cant explain, then who would know
     

    hiba

    Senior Member
    USA
    English- US
    Two male Iraqi friends of mine sometimes refer to me as baba, and we're the same age. Now that I think of it, it's always been when they were explaining something to me that I 'should have known already'.
     

    إسكندراني

    Senior Member
    عربي (مصر)ـ | en (gb)
    In brief there seem to be two phenomena:
    i/ Sarcastic; used in arguments similar to '7abibi' / 'ro7i'
    ii/Affectionate
    reversal where male/female kids are addressed by their parents as mama/baba.
    (in Egypt; other cultures such as the Levant and the Peninsula seem to extend this to anyone and to grandparents with their titles too)
    I make sense of this as follows: your child calls you by a name and you're so happy you call them back by '7abib baba' then 'baba' - I recall this happening to me and my siblings with our father.
    But strangely enough I never heard anyone call my sister 'mama' and only our father would call me and my brother 'baba'..
     

    rajulbat

    Senior Member
    English - United States (Houston)
    In this thread we learned that, at least in Syria, a mother can call her son "ummy" (mom) even though she means "son." My Skype friend told me the same things apply to dads. A dad might say,
    شو يابا بدك مساعده ؟
    Yaba hear meaning father but referring to the son.

    My questions:
    Is this unique to Syria, or common in other Levant (Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon) dialects as well?
    Does this happen in non-Levantine dialects (e.g., Egyptian, Gulf, Maghrebi)?

    Thanks.
     

    barkoosh

    Senior Member
    Arabic - Lebanon
    It's very common in Lebanon. And it's not limited to mothers and fathers. When talking to my sister's son, I say to him: يا خالو (never يا ابن أختي). My mother's sister says to me: كيفك يا خالتو؟ (never يا ابن أختي). My grandmother used to keep saying: يا ستّي كول بعد, that is, have some more [food] (never يا حفيدي or يا ابن بنتي).

    You can see that it's limited to the instances of calling (...يا).
     

    tounsi51

    Senior Member
    French, Tunisian Arabic
    In Golfe countries or Kuwait at least as far as I know, they also call yoba يوبا or yoma يوما especially parents to their children at any ages.
     

    Peacechild

    Member
    Russian
    Not sure that's necessary. The point is not whether Arabic really is the only language where this is done, but if the reason was something fundamental about the psychology of parents then it should be the same in most languages. But we know that's not the case, given that between us we can't think of another example.

    Anyway, I'm already very happy with the information I got from you about the different usage in Egypt and the Levant, so I think the thread has run its course... :)
    Nope, not only Arabic. Turks do that too. But mu guess is that it migrated feom Arabic
     

    dakaplo

    Senior Member
    English - United States
    مرحبا،

    I know that it is common in Levantine Arabic for a father to address his child (son or daughter) as يا بابا or يابا and for a mother to address her child (son or daughter) as يا ماما or ياما. But what about addressing multiple children as a group? I get thousands of Google hits for "تعال يا ماما" and "تعالي يا ماما" but only a couple for "تعالوا يا ماما" so I'm guessing that's not the answer.

    شكرا لكم :)
     

    Zareza

    Senior Member
    Romanian
    the "mother" call her kids (be they girls or boys) "mama" and the "father" calls them "baba"
    In Romanian sometimes the mother calls her son or her daughter: mamă, mami = mother, mummy and the father calls his son or his daughter: tată, tati = father, daddy . I think it is a short form from mummy's son/daughter and daddy's son/daughter
    Some men calling their wives "maman" (mother)
    My mother calls my father tată (father) and my father calls my mother mamă (mother). This because is a short form from: my children's father and my children's mother .
     
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