Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Will It Be Mama or Papa, Mommy or Daddy? Experts Explain Babies' First Words

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Will It Be Mama or Papa, Mommy or Daddy? Experts Explain Babies' First Words

Article excerpt

Experts explain mama vs papa and babies' first words


TORONTO - Sarah Mulholland vividly remembers the first time her 13-month-old son called out "Mama."

She was cooking about two months ago when little Conri began clamouring for her attention, clinging to her legs and whining until he suddenly uttered those two simple syllables that send mothers' hearts fluttering.

"My husband was in the room and we both were like, 'Oh my gosh, did he just say Mama?'" recalls Mulholland, adding that Conri seemed to be directing his call specifically at her.

"We both noticed it and were like, 'Whoa!'"

But the apparent milestone evaporated as quickly as it appeared.

Conri has never said "Mama" again, even when babbling, sighs the 38-year-old Toronto resident. He now seems headed in a completely different direction.

"My husband walks in the door and he's like, 'Dadadadada!'," she says.

It's far from clear whether Conri understands what he's saying, but that hasn't stopped Mulholland's husband from revelling in the attention as Mother's Day approaches.

"I think he's really enjoying the fact that (Conri) is probably going to say 'Dada' first. He's like, 'Oh, my time has come!'"

There's little debate that mama and dada are often among baby's first utterances -- which usually start around the seven or eight-month mark.

But they can't really be called words until there's intent, and that doesn't typically happen until after 12 months of age, says developmental psychologist Janet Werker of the University of British Columbia, who heads the school's Infant Studies Centre.

UBC researcher Jenn Campbell cites a study conducted with kids in the United States and China that found their earliest words to be utterances for daddy, followed closely by mommy. The children were between eight and 16 months of age and came from English, Cantonese or Mandarin households.

Campbell's own research found that babies as young as six months can understand labels for their mother and father --even though they might not utter those sounds for another month or two, or say them with intent for another six months or more. …

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