An Unconventional Introduction to Spanish Linguistics
A blog by Jon Aske, Professor Emeritus, Salem State University
Tuesday, August 14, 2018
Family Relations, Part 1d: Main words for Mother and Father
[This entry comes from the second section of chapter 7, "Words for family relations", of Part II of the book Spanish-English Cognates.]
Nursery words for father and related words
The main nursery words for English father [ˈfɑ.ðəɹ] are dad [ˈdæd], daddy [ˈdæ.ɾi],
/ [ˈpʰɑp], poppa [ˈpʰɒ.pə] / [ˈpʰɑ.pə], and papa Br.
[pə.ˈpʰɑ] / US [ˈpʰɑ.pə]. The word dad and its diminutive daddy
were first recorded around the year 1500. The word papa in English is a late
17th century loanword from French papa.
The word pop for ‘dad’, first attested in the 19th century, is derived
The word dad is
first recorded in English in the 15th century, but it is no doubt much older.
As we said earlier, pet names for parents in many if not most languages are
often derived from the first sounds that an infant makes. The derived word daddy is just a ‘diminutive and
endearing form of dad’ (OED), formed
with the suffix ‑y (see Part I,
The main nursery words for Spanish padre are (traditional) papa [ˈpa.pa] and (modern) papá [pa.ˈpa]. The latter, with final (oxytonic) stress, is a
loanword from French, whereas the former, with penultimate stress, is the
original, patrimonial word. Both descend from Lat. papas, a loanword from Greek πάππας
(pappas), which meant ‘dad’. Actually, in Latin it first meant ‘bishop’. That
is because in Greek, pappas, which
meant ‘dad’, was the name given to patriarchs and bishops and, as such, it was
adopted in Latin in the 3rd century.
Latin had a different word pāpa (variant: pappa)
meant originally ‘an infant’s cry for food’, for it was ‘the word with which
infants call for food’ (LS). That is the source of the Spanish word papa that means ‘mush, pulp, baby food,
soft food’, a homonym of the other word papa.
This word is archaic nowadays, but it is still found in its diminutive version papilla
‘mush, pulp, baby food’ and in expressions such as No entiendo ni papa ‘I don’t understand a thing’.
The word for the bishop of Rome and leader of the Catholic
Church, Pope in English and Papa in Spanish, has this very same Greek
source. From the 5th century on, this name came to be used only for the bishop
of Rome in western Europe, namely, for the pope. In Spanish, the word for
‘pope’ is also papa, which is the traditional, patrimonial word for ‘dad’ as
well. The English word pope [ˈpʰoʊ̯p] is the natural derivation
from Old English papa, from the same
source. The adjective derived from pope
in English and papal [pa.ˈpal])
in Spanish, two learned cognates, and the derived abstract noun is papacy
[ˈpʰeɪ̯.pə.si] (Sp. papado).
The Spanish word papa meaning ‘potato’ is unrelated
and, thus, yet another (a fourth) homonym of the other words papa we just saw. This one comes from
Quechua. This was the original Spanish name of this vegetable, which originated
in South America, and which became popular in Europe in the 18th century. It
was at that time that in Spain it came to be known as patata, not papa like in the Americas. This seems to
have been due to a confusion between this vegetable and a related one known as batata, a type of ‘sweet potato’ that
originated in the Caribbean, not South America. The ‘confusion’ seems to have
been common in Europe, which explains the English name for the vegetable, potato [pə.tʰeɪ̯.to] (late 16th century),
and the Italian name, patata (18th
century) (the word for ‘potato’ in French is pomme de terre, lit. ‘earth apple’, and is thus unrelated).
As we mentioned above, Latin pappa was a Greek loanword. The traditional pet name for ‘father’
in Latin was not papa, but tata (expressive variant: tatta), a name also formed from a primary
children’s syllable. Related to this word was the Latin word atta that also meant father and which
was used as a respectful term of address for an old man. These words were related
to other words for ‘dad’ in Greek, besides πάππα
(páppa), namely τατᾶ
(tatâ) or ἄττα(átta), the latter of which could also
be used as a salutation for an elder. (Two other words for ‘father’ in Ancient
Greek were ἄππα (áppa) and ἀπφά (apphá).) The original source
of these words in Proto-Indo-European has been reconstructed as *átta ‘father’, cf. Old Germanic *attô ‘father, dad; forefather’, Old
Irish aite ‘foster father, teacher,
The Latin word tata
survived into Spanish, presumably derived from the variant tatta, since Lat. ‑tt‑
always changed to ‑t‑ in Old Spanish,
whereas Lat. ‑t‑ always changed to ‑d‑, though the special, reduplicative
nature of this word could have caused to be an exception to the normal sound
change. Sp. tata is still used today in
some dialects of Spanish in the Americas, as well as in the Murcia region of
Spain. (In some dialects of Spanish, the word tata came to be used for ‘nanny’, cf. Sp. niñera, chacha, And./Ven.
nana.) In some indigenous American
languages, such as Aymara, tata seems
to be a patrimonial (not borrowed) word for ‘father’, something which should
not surprise us, given how often the words for father (and mother) are derived
from the same primal syllables. A dialectal variant of Sp. tata is taita, very
common in Old Spanish and still used today in Argentina, Bolivia, Chile,
Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru. According to Corominas, taita is a cross of the word tata
and the Basque word for ‘father’, aita.
In dialects where tata is used, it
can be used sometimes to refer to grandfathers, as well as fathers. In some
places, tata is also used as an title
or honorific of respect.