Why do most languages have something like a word that sounds like mama that means mother? Etymology, the study of the history of language and words, tells us part of the story, but biology tells us the other part. And we really can figure out why some things come to stand for other things, like a mmmmm sound for the one who birthed you and feeds your from her breast and for a while in a child’s life is indistinguishable from the child’s self. A pretty good article all about this can be found in the Atlantic.
We naturally make sounds before we can consciously shape the mouth, tongue and lips. Unclasping the lips from nursing and releasing a breath makes something akin to a ma or na sound. The mother reinforces the baby making that sound and the baby emulates her words and the positive experience. And wah lah we have a pretty damn near universal word recreates with every generation. Me beginning with the same sound as ma is not universal but is an Eurasian phenomenon.
This month I said I was working with iconic imagery that is associated with the essential or elemental feminine. Mama is one of the words that truly meets the criteria of iconic. Everyone has a mother. The woman, food, comfort, love, and a state of contentment are components of a preverbal association laid down in our earliest experience. In this way a mother, and as a universal experience, the mother truly stands for a concept in such a way such that it is more than simple representation, and that the icon embodies the concept.
The inverse is also true; we come to include the child’s response of naming Mama as part of this essential and symbolic element of this primordial relationship. Messing with icons breaks all cultural rules. This is also why creepy dolls who say, “Mama” are the subject of horror stories.
I offer this A to Z entry up as a roll out for Mother’s Day posts.