WHY ‘DADA’ INSTEAD OF ‘MAMA’?

Bayo Ajibola

WHY ‘DADA’ INSTEAD OF ‘MAMA’

“I carried him in my womb for nine months, I gave birth to him, I’ve been taking care of him and then his first word was ‘dada’?  It’s so disappointing.”  I’m very sure these were the words or thoughts of many mums hearing their babies utter ‘dada’ as their first word.  The big grin on the faces of the proud dads is adding salt to injury.  It’s not funny; I empathise with those mothers. I was also disappointed when my first child voiced “dada” as her first word, besides the fact that she looked so much like her dad.

Many parents feel babies’ first words are words that must be very important to them (the babies). In other words, if a child says dada first, that means he has a soft spot for the dad.  Similarly, if he says mama first, his mum must be the most important person to him. Well, this isn’t true.

Scientifically, children have different stages of language development and comprehension.  At around four to six months, they start to make sounds. They combine vowels and consonants to make these sounds. This is just babbling. Sounds such as B and D combined with ‘ah’ and ‘oo’ seem very easy to make. That’s when you hear the ‘baba’ and ‘dada’.

Experts have revealed that there are limitations on the sounds babies can make in infancy. Babies can only make sounds which require less effort.  One of such sounds is G.  This is easy compared to the M sound which involves bringing the lips together to produce. This explains the ‘goo-goo’, and ‘gaa-gaa’.  The sound M follows later after the B, G and D sounds, still all these are mere babble.  This sure explains why all over the world mama, dada (among others) are most often babies’ first words.

Furthermore, many different languages around the world have similar words for mother, father, grandmother and grandfather, and these are depicted in patterns of repeated sounds or syllables. For example: pa-pa, ma-ma, na-na, no-no, ta-ta, etc. A research led by JuditGervain of the University of British Columbia in 2008 gives us a vivid understanding into the language development of babies. The study shows that because of the repetitive nature of the aforementioned words, they are easily recognisable by babies and eventually entrenched in the infant brain.

As touching that first ‘dada’, it’s important to state here that your baby is only making a sound and doesn’t equate that word or any of his babble to the dad.  So the word ‘dada’ doesn’t really refer to ‘daddy’. There’s no denying the fact that he may recognise his mum or dad whenever he sees any of them. However, language development and comprehension are different from recognition. Your baby’s babble only starts taking on meaning when he is ten months old or thereabouts.  Therefore, cheer up mum; when dad is over the moon because baby’s first word was ‘dada’, tell him that baby was only babbling.


Bayo Ajibola

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