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I often hear "papa" and "mama" in animes, in situations where they seem to mean father and mother. Is that so? Are these words borrowed from the Spanish words "papá" and "mamá", which mean father and mother? Which kanjis do they use since father for example is also お父さん and I don't think they use the same kanjis, do they?

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  • It's common in India as well, but then its not too far from the native pita/paa and mata/maa. Apr 2, 2017 at 7:48
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    Why would you think they were borrowed from Spanish specifically, rather than the hundreds of other languages that use papa and mama as familiar forms of ‘father’ and ‘mother’? Apr 2, 2017 at 9:59
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    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mama_and_papa describes how these words are "a special case of false cognates" because they are easy sounds for babies to make.
    – zwol
    Apr 2, 2017 at 13:52
  • @JanusBahsJacquet because Spanish is OP's native language, presumably.
    – jarmanso7
    Sep 21, 2023 at 23:55
  • @zwol very interesting article. According to it, just only for the case of Japanese, "mama and papa" are actually a borrow, not a false cognate, though not from Spanish but from American (since post-WW2): "Japanese has also borrowed informal mama and papa along with the native terms, stemming from American influence post-World War II"
    – jarmanso7
    Sep 22, 2023 at 0:04

2 Answers 2

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Pa and Ma are very international.

I see many families in Japan who prefer Papa/Mama to お父さん/お母さん

papa = パパ mama = ママ

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mama = ママ papa = パパ are relatively recent borrowings, always written in kana,(usually katakana) that exist beside the native terms 母 (haha) and 父 (chichi). In old Japanese, the word for mother 母 would have be pronounced in a way that sounded more like "papa" (as a bilabial fricative). There are also the native honorific readings (okaasama, otousama). And WWWJDIC lists multiple other readings of the same kanji, either childish (kaka, and toto) or outdated, as well as the on-yomi (bo and fu).

In anime, ママ パパ, are informal, don't combine with honorifics. Children use them freely. Older Teenagers and adults are less likely, but it depends on the particular family dynamic. In adult company, you would be wise not use "mama" to speak of your own parent (use haha) or someone else's (use okaasan).

It's not clear from which language the words パパ and ママ were borrowed. English, Portuguese, Dutch and several other European languages use mama and papa (or close variants). Any or all may have influenced Japanese.

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