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Current vesion

:As one of the first utterances many babies are able to say, baba (like mama, papa, and dada) has come to be used in many languages as a term for various family members.

father: Arabic, Chinese, Greek, Marathi, Hindi, Bengali, Persian, Swahili, Turkish, Yoruba

grandmother: many Slavic language (such as Bulgarian, Russian and Polish), Yiddish, Japanese

baby: Afrikaans, Sinhala

Current vesion is interesting, but can be doubtable.

That can be just three accasionally similarly latin-written words.


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Disputed senses: "grandmother"; "old woman". Not found in OED (second edition), Chambers,,, Webster's 1913, Merriam-Webster online, all of which give the cake sense only. — Paul G 08:57, 27 January 2007 (UTC)

Very common around here. Instead of differentiating one's grandmothers with "Grandma X" and "Grandma Y", it's common to pick two of "grandma", "nana", and "baba" (and a couple of others). Rarer as a common noun, and often slightly pejorative.
The Canadian Oxford's entry is: "1 (among people of E European descent) grandmother. 2 informal an old woman of E European descent." (Before looking it up, the Eastern Europe restriction wouldn't have occurred to me, but I can see the case for it.)
The very first b.g.c hit is Baba, a novel about an old woman (possibly even a grandmother). A bit later on is The Baba and the Comrade: Gender and Politics in Revolutionary Russia. I don't have time right now to slog though the much vaster numbers where "Baba" is part of a middle Eastern or Indian personal name to find good cites, or through the mountains of Gutenberg hits for "Ali Baba". Here's one at random, though I honestly can't tell if this one's supposed to be a grandmother or a father (a sense we should also have), or something else besides:
  • 1863, Charles Kingsley, The Water-Babies
    He was a brave little chimney-sweep; and when he found himself on the top of a high cliff, instead of sitting down and crying for his baba (though he never had had any baba to cry for), he said, "Ah, this will just suit me!" though he was very tired;
Keffy 19:13, 27 January 2007 (UTC)
It seems to be regional, then. I don't remember hearing it in UK, where we have nana, nanny, grannie, and grandma, amongst others.
Incidentally, it may be worth checking the context of your Kingsley cite further. OED2 online uses the same cite to support use as "an infantile variant of papa, but I haven't checked, and since it is the only cite they have for that usage, they just might be wrong. --Enginear 21:21, 27 January 2007 (UTC)
Any possible derivatiom from Baba Yaga[1]? Wikipedia claims "baba" means "grandmother" in many Slavic languages, as the entry itself notes. RobbieG 18:27, 28 January 2007 (UTC)

Okay. There's now a ton of citations and new senses and citations for the new senses. I'm not completely happy with the new etymology section, but there are so many mutually reinforcing derivations involved from so many different languages, that I can't see any way to impose the usual one-ety-per-subhead structure without producing a hideous monstrosity that is unreadable, uninformative, and almost certainly inaccurate to boot. -- Keffy 02:08, 29 January 2007 (UTC)

RFV passed. Thanks, Keffy. —RuakhTALK 01:12, 24 May 2007 (UTC)

Root Language/Etymology[edit]

The word "baba" seems to have the same meaning in broad range of languages; languages that belong to separate language families. BTW it has a very similar meaning in Indian languages too. One could assume a PIE root, but its presence Japanese & Mandarin seems to make finding the root language even more difficult. Is it possible that the word "baba" is a rare remnant of the language spoken by early hominids (and therefore found itself to such diverse language families) ? Arjun G. Menon 17:55, 7 September 2008 (UTC)

Not likely, because these nursery-type words like mama, baba, atta, kaka, pipi etc. get reinvented from time to time in all languages and are not reliable criterion for establishing genetic relationship among languages or language families. --Ivan Štambuk 18:04, 7 September 2008 (UTC)

baba: portuguese for drool[edit]

could someone add that baba is portuguese for drool? (I'm not sure how it works for these variations, but babá with the ´ in the last A means baby-sitter or nanny)--TiagoTiago 22:08, 30 October 2008 (UTC)

Yes check.svg Done Equinox 17:39, 20 May 2014 (UTC)


Doesn't this word have a different pronunciation among many people from Taiwan compared to mainland China?--达伟 00:17, 17 January 2010 (UTC)

I think most mainland Chinese pronounce it bàba with the "4th tone" for the first 'a' and the glottal stop at the second 'a' while many in Taiwan pronounce it bǎbá (I do) with the "3rd tone" for the first 'a' and the "2nd tone" for the second 'a', without a glottal stop for the second 'a'. M0rphzone (talk) 19:11, 13 April 2012 (UTC)

RFV discussion: March–July 2015[edit]

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Rfv-sense - father. Afrokaans Wiktionary and another online dictionary only have the "baby" sense. SemperBlotto (talk) 19:53, 2 March 2015 (UTC)

What is Afrokaans? ;)

Is that what Afrikaans was called in the '70s? Tharthan (talk) 22:32, 4 March 2015 (UTC)

RFV-failed. - -sche (discuss) 21:08, 16 July 2015 (UTC)