Babel is a magazine that brings you cutting-edge linguistic research in an accessible format. Their February edition features a piece titled ‘The acquisition of kinship’, in which Michelle Pascoe reflects on the meaning of being called a mother.
Michelle is a professor at the University of Cape Town, South Africa. She specialises in language acquisition and the issues that small children can have when they learn to speak. Michelle confirms that the way kin terms function is special, and that the science of language has not recognised this before. She writes:
Maanmieli further contends that … kin terms are powerful and deeply entrenched for biological reasons. For example, family pets are often named, usually because we love and value them – they are special examples of their kind. We would not consider calling the family dog by the generic term ‘dog’ when his name is Norman. But the mother of the family, despite being loved and valued (hopefully in equal or greater measure) is more likely to be called by the generic ‘mom’/‘mother’ than her specific given name. Why do we do this? And why is there so little metalinguistic awareness about doing this?
Michelle’s piece is available from Babel. If you love languages, be sure to subscribe!