The finer points of being (saying) ma

During T and my visit to China two years ago, we were reminded of the nuances of communication that pervade Mandarin Chinese. The most common case we heard: the differences in the meanings of “ma” and how the tonalities could express a variety of things–horse, mother, scold, or hemp–depending on one’s intonation.

Motherhood has once again upturned my understanding of “ma.” Now that L has reliably identified me as his “mama” and T as his “dada” we are suddenly learning a world of meanings in these two simple words. In the mornings I awaken to a pert, perky “mama.”  Like a parrot L quickly spurts out “Mama. Mama.”

Then when he is hungry maybe about 15 minutes later I hear a distinct “Mum maaaa. Mum maaaa!”

And yet another “mama” when he sees something cool and points and grunts “Uh! Ma ma!!” So excited is my twitchy little one.

But then the mournful “mama” hits, the tones undulating between pitches.  Ma-mah-oh-ah.  Why oh why are you leaving me at daycare? What did I do to deserve this?

Each day I’m surprised with a new iteration of “mama” to the point that it makes T and I burst into laugher. The funniest one to me is the one where he wants me to pick him up and is upset purely for not getting what he wants. What a whiny sound little L makes!

By the same token L has a lovely chatty “daddy daddy” sound that he exclaims as he learns his daddy is coming from home to work.  Out goes the pointed finger and his head pops up: “Dad-dy! Dad-dy-dad-dy!” and then the attention getting “Da da!”  Such a pure tone of a rhyming with “at.”

I wonder what his first word will be after these.  As I’ve mentioned he has a lovely “Buh” sound that he uses to express his enthusiasm over so many things: balls, balloons, toys. So many things to say and so few words to use at this point, but his vocabulary is definitely expanding!