How Do People Say ‘Father’ around the World?

Smiling man, white beard, scarf, blue“What does giving a nod to Father’s Day have to do with language?” you may be wondering. Well, beyond wanting to wish a happy Father’s Day to all the dads who learn with Rosetta Stone—and to those who may do so someday—something struck me as being peculiar when I was researching this holiday and the language affiliated with it.

When I searched online for the phrase “father in different languages,” the resulting lists that popped up revealed a distinct pattern in what we as a global community call our dads. In some circumstances between similar languages or language families, you’ll find essentially the same word for father.

English: father

Dutch: vader

Afrikaans: Aader

Icelandic: faðir

(Tip: you can hear the pronunciations of these words with many online translating tools.)

Something that seemed even more prevalent than the similarities of the above was the fact that languages around the globe use some form of the word papa—even if they have little to no shared language rootsLinguistically speaking, ‪the tendency for childhood terms of endearment to be similar to one another stems from the earliest sounds that children are able to produce. Just as the word mother is often uttered as something like “mama,” children err on the side of “ba,” “baba,” or “papa” for father—the /f/ sound being difficult for babies to pronounce.

Wanting to learn more about what words are used in other languages and why, I reached out to some of our tutors to see what they had to say:

One of our Turkish tutors, Zeynep, says,

There is still a dispute regarding the origins of the Turkish word baba and where this word stems from. It is possible that it derives from a diminutive of abu (“father”) in Arabic. However, some argue that this has an Altaic origin, since Turkish is an Asian language and the word is also related to the word ata, meaning “ancestor.”

Geraldina, one of our Italian tutors, told me,

In Italian, those living north of Rome use the word babbo, and papá is used in Rome and southward. However, be cautious saying “babbo” in Sicily; it is used as a word that actually means “idiot.

Elizabeth, a Spanish Latin America tutor says,

In Peru, Chile and Argentina, padre, which means father, refers to the head of a household. Padre comes from the Latin word pater, which means protector. Padre is also called Papá, which translates to dad in English and means the first persons to see a child being born.

And finally, Martina, one of our German tutors shared,

In German, we use Vati (short for Vater), and Papa or Papi. The word for Father’s Day in German is a literal translation, Vatertag, meaning “Father’s Day.”

Here’s a look at the similarities to the word papa in unrelated languages:

Latin: papa; atta

Swahili: baba

Swedish: pappa

Russian: papa

Persian/Farsi: baabaa

Mandarin Chinese: baba

Malay: bapa

French: papa

Czech: táta

No matter what your little ones and loved ones call you, we want to say “Happy Father’s Day” to you and yours!

Give your dad—or even yourself—the gift of a new language this Father’s Day! Learn more about the Rosetta Stone® language-learning systems and get started today.

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Kelly Doscher

Kelly is the Social Media Contributor, Blogger and Editor for the Rosetta Stone and Livemocha blogs, and is an award-winning mom blogger in her spare time. She holds a B.A. in French Studies from the University of Washington, has a passion for languages, food, and travel.
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