Sunday, 8 May 2011

Mother's Day

Today is Mother's Day in many countries, including Finland (though not in the UK, France and a few other places). So I wish mothers across the world a very Happy Mother's Day.

However, I would also like to take this opportunity to have another dig at the Finnish language.

The word Mother is remarkably similar in many languages across the world. It often starts with “Mah”, “Me”,  or “Moo” sounds, presumably because this ensures it's the first word babies say – to the delight of their mothers (“Listen, he's saying Mmamamamam! That's me! How cute!”).

Consider for example:

  • English = Mother, Mama, Mum, Mummy, Mom
  • French = Mère, Maman
  • Spanish = Madre, Mamá, Mami
  • Italian = Madre, Mamma
  • Portuguese = Mãe
  • German = Mutter, Mutti
  • Swedish = Mamma, Mor, Morsa
  • Russian = Mat'
  • Polish = Matka, Mama
  • Greek = Màna
  • Icelandic = Móðir
  • Serbian = Majka
  • Persian = Madr, Maman
  • Chinese = Mā
  • Vietnamese = Me
  • Hindi = Ma, Maji
  • Swahili = Mama, Mzazi, Mzaa
  • And so on....

In Finnish however, the word for Mother is... Äiti.


Anyhow, “hyvää äitienpäivää” to Finnish Mothers also!


  1. The original word for Mom was "emo" in Finnish. Today we use emo normally for the animal moms..

  2. I have wondered why grand-mothers are informally known as Mummi or Mummu. Is that because in Finland they are the ones who often look after children while both parents work?

  3. It's because of mormor, which means grandmother in Swedish.

  4. Fun fact: "Äiti" actually has its roots in Germanic. I asked my Finnish teacher at some point if it was a loan word since the "i" doesn't become an "e" when it declines, and she determined that, in fact, it is. Why all the modern languages with Germanic roots seem to have words akin to "mutter/mother/mamma" etc., and Finnish has "Äiti," I haven't a clue!

  5. All the Germanic languages adopted the Latin word after it had passed to proto-Finnish, that's how :)

    Also the semantic shift (that is, a change in the meaning of a word) of the word 'mom' to 'grandmother' is quite usual. So first you have a word that means 'mother' (for example, mama) passes to mean 'grandmother'. It makes sense if you think about it: when a daughter has a son, she might still keep on calling her mom 'mama'. The son would hear this, and associate it with "grandmother", thus calling his grandmother 'mama'. Let this process brew for a millenia, and you have a language that has 'mama' for grandmother. I would like to point out that this isn't the case in Finnish though! Like someone said before, we get it from Swedish.

    More on the topic: