The sound "M" in many languages has been the central element in the formation of the word indicating "mother". But also other concepts, that are related to that of mother, can be carried by the same sound.


We refer to a number of words that comprise that idea of "belonging" that is one of the major characteristics of the relation between mother and child. In the attached figure we have tried to give a schematic view of this phenomenon in some European languages and Hebrew.


There we see the letter "M" as a kind of vertical column around which words have been structured . The words are both from Greek, Latin and Germanic tongues as well as Hebrew.


One can see a striking similarity between the various languages. It is often said that the "M" in words for mother are a registration of the sound babies make when drinking "mother's milk" .


Besides the fact that such a sound in reality is as good as absent, people who intended and tried to coin a sound or sequence of sounds for "mother", were not babies. To us today this "M" for mother has become so natural that we have difficulty in analysing its why. Men make natural sounds in approaching women they love tenderly. And amongst those sounds there is a sure place for an "m"-like one. But also that may be just fantasy. So for now we accept the factual "M"-situation without further explanation.


Important is in our opinion, that the same M of "mother", with that strong sense of belonging, is fundamental as well in the formation of other words with that concept, in the same group of languages. These are :


Mankind / World
Coming from, Provenance
People / Tribe
Tribesman / Friend.


We will have a look at each of these categories separately.





Thus we encounter in this figure Latin "aMicus", constructed by:


"am" = "tribe" +
" ic" for the adjective function +
"us" for Latin-style "substantive" in male singular


The letter "c" in Latin, before the suffix "us" probably is a part of the adjective function and we have considered it as such. In Germanic languages a common way of indicating the adjective function is in fact by suffixes as "-ich" in German, "ig" in Scandinavian and Dutch and "y" in English. In English this final "y" is pronounced nearly as Scandinavian "ig" but the "g" has consequently been left out of its spelling.


Apparently the word "tribesman" expresses a "belonging" and "friendship" is a natural, normal consequence of this belonging. Latin "amicus" and female "amica" , have led to Italian "amico, amica", French "ami, amie" and Spanish "amigo, amiga".


A Hebrew word for tribesman is "amit". It has the elements "am" for "tribe" and "it" for the adjective function, but does not have a further suffix to create a substantive. That is because shaping a substantive in Hebrew, like in Germanic languages, does not or no more require such a suffix, as it is considered sufficiently recognizable from the context.


We find the same root as in Hebrew also in Latin, where sisters of fathers and forbears are called "amita". As such the word says "sister of father", whereas by adding the words "magna, maior, maxima" further grades of descent are indicated : sister of grandfather, - of great- grandfather, - of a forbear .


One notes that for male relatives from older generations, the specific male root "*av", identical to Hebrew, is used in avunculus (uncle) also with additions as "magnus" and "maior".





In the similarities E 0028 (Hebrew H 0151) and E 0057 (Hebrew H 0152) , these two Latin words are mentioned and is tried to see their relation to Hebrew. The word " amicus " in the first place makes think of a person that is liked or loved . " Amita " instead refers to a person that is related , a relative . Presuming that they are of the same root, we may try to choose the basic message of that root . We think that this most probably lies in the briefest root or word , unless of course there is evidence to the contrary.
Thus we believe the origin is also found in the Hebrew word " am " If that is so, the basic message is that of being together, with the extensions of living together and of belonging together .
The next step is that, if things go as they should, people that live and or belong together, are friends, like each other and often love each other. In fact, also in some Indo-European languages we find the root " am " shaping various words with the mentioned version . It may have an emphasized pronunciation, seen in Hebrew in the use of the guttural Ayin in front, or in Germanic ( Heim, heem, home ) in the use of an initial H, shaped also in the same place in the mouth as the Ayin is.


It may be useful to constate that the original meaning of Latin " amare " was not simply " to love ", but considerably wider . It also covered " to like, be attached to; to sustain (G.d , authority ); be thankful , obliged ; stay near ".





Meanwhile it is important to note that Greek and Latin, though also sharing with modern languages the version "MAMMA", with Hebrew had in common words with the "M" in central position : "AMMA". This phenomenon is even stronger in the words for "father" as seen in our page "Fathers and Sons". In those for "mother" Hebrew uses partly other vocals than "A", as is seen in "EM" and IMA".


Probably the word "MAMMA" has been shaped after "AMMA". In the various words from Indo-European tongues we mostly see an initial "M". Typical is the formation of Greek "METER" and Latin "MATER", that has been followed also by Germanic languages.


The probable origin lies in this formation : "ma" for the mother-concept + "tr" for the concept of "looking after, caring for". This is also found in Greek and Latin words for "father", both "PATER".


By the way, Greek "mtr", does not have the vowel "A" just as we saw in Hebrew "em".





The prefix "M-" is found in both Hebrew, where it means "coming from" and Greek and Germanic, saying "together with". Both are near the concept of "belonging". In Hebrew the idea "together with" is also expressed with the "M", but with a vowel in front : "IM".



PREFIX מ " = " M "


We hope to be right in saying that the prefix, so common in Hebrew, at first sight seems also a very logical one. If we see that the same letter carries the two words "מ י , mi, who " and "מה , ma, what ", the nouns say something like " he who teaches " or " that which is eaten ". Yet remains the fact that the chosen vowel after the M-sound not always corresponds to that of " ma ". A kitchen, once the place where the slaughtering was done, is a " mitbagh " with an I , instead of a *matbagh ". And the example "melamed, he who teaches " has " me".


This E is a dull one, called " schwa " and it is specifically found in the shaping of nouns for/from intensive verbs, but the reason or rules of the choice are not too clear to us. It may though be just the usual weakening of another vowel, precisely like I or A.





The combination "M – N" is extremely important in European languages in expressing basic concepts regarding Man.
We find :


The male individual MaN (E etc,) hoMiNe (Latin), MaND (Nordic)
Human being MaN (E.) , MeNsch (G.), hoMiNis
Human mind MiND (E)., MeNT- (Latin)
Human spirit MANes (Latin)
Human hand MaNus (Latin), MuNd (Old-Iceandic)
The people MaN (G), MeN (D, MD)
Together coMMuNis (Latin)
Community coMMunitas (Latin)
Mankind MaN, huMaNitas (Latin)
World MuNdus (Latin)





There are many other concepts that have found expression in roots that comprise these two consonants together, M and N. Many of those are based on those we have just mentioned. Some scholars say there is a basic Indo-European root "*MEN" meaning "to think". Thus Man would have defined himself as "The Thinker".


This supposition is reinforced by the existence of the Latin word "MENS" = "MIND". We believe that a word as "to be" has been formed along this line: "thinking > being", as Descartes has remarked.


At first sight there would seem to be even more probability in this thesis, as we look at the Germanic words for "human being" that have "MeNSK", be it spelled in various ways, such as German "Mensch", Nordic "menneske" etcetera. But at this point there is a snag :


Those words ending on "sk" or "sch", are originally adjectives. That means that they should have been based on a substantive without "sk" or "sch". Such a substantive would again be like the one that has remained in various languages, where it has mainly, but far from exclusively , specialized into the meaning of "male human individual", "MaN". This previously also was "Ma NN(e)". The plural in Old-English was "MeNN". And it would easily be akin to , but not so easily be based on Latin "mens, mentis", which has a dental consonant and has become "mind" in English.


Another problem is that we have a Germanic verb with precisely the root "m (e) n", but not meaning exactly "to think" This is the predecessor of English " to mean", i.e. Middle-English "mene", identical to Dutch and Middle-Dutch that mean , yes, exactly, "to mean, intend".


Concluding, it seems more probable that the adding of the explosive dental "T" to this root "M . N" has been used to express a characteristic activity of the basic subject of that root. That basic subject is Man who lives together with others. His most distinguishing and characteristic activity is his thinking. This whole picture is complicated by the fact that in Western Germanic a soft dental "D" is added to "man", expressing the concept of belonging to a community.





The Nordic word " mand " is found in Danish , but perhaps it did not exist in Old Danish, that anyhow had " man " . The Danes still call a Norwegian a " normand. "The interesting aspect is that "mand" has a final D like we otherwise find in Latin "mundus ". But we see the use of similar sounds also in other words for "man".


The meaning of "mand" and its Nordic sisters was both " human male " and " human being ". We see then in Old Norse " mar " as well as " mannr" , from which the final R is a common suffix for a noun, that later has disappeared again from Norwegian . In Iceland and the Faroer the word is "maur". Possibly in these cases the N disappeared in frond of the d-like sound . Old Swedish had "maer" as well as "man" .


Similarity E 0560 (Hebrew 0141) has reference to this .


We have inserted the basic root "*M . N" in this group expressing "belonging", but we cannot be fully certain that this is right either. Some reasons exist. For that we have taken a look at Middle-Dutch. As is known, Dutch, and with that even more its forebear Middle-Dutch, has undergone less changes in basic roots than the other Germanic languages.


We see the following words with "MaN" :


Words with MaN" man, manne 1. Human being
2. Male human being
3. derived meanings
mande (adj) common , collective –
mande (subst)community


In Modern Dutch the word "mande" is little used. But the classic concept of collectiveness and therefore "belonging" reinforces the supposition we have made.


Another point lies in the words with MeeN :


Words with "MeeN"gemeen common, collective


In these terms "ge" is a prefix that reinforces meanings.


And to this can be added the basic concept found in Latin "coMMuNis", that has given birth to a large number of words that all move in the sphere of community and belonging.





Dutch GEMEEN and German GEMEIN are certainly cognates of Latin " communis " , of which the second part is identical to the word " munis " , that says " ready to give or reciprocate help or service ". People that are "communes " help each other .


Dutch " gemeen" and German " gemein " have later developed a further meaning, "bad, vile , vicious ", that is comparable but not identical to English " mean ".


This last word had a predecessor in Old English " gemne = common ". Among their cognates we find Gothic "gamains = common" and "gamainei = community". German and Dutch scholars see these words as cognates of the Latin group of " communis ", but do not see Latin as their origin . They have a point in their favour in the Middle Dutch word "meen " and " mein " that carry the same basic meaning as " gemeen, gemein". And the same goes for " gemeente = community ", that has in Middle Dutch its sister " meente, miente ". But also Old English "gemne" was preceded by words without the confirming prefix "ge-" : "mne" as well as "mnelic ", both meaning " common " , and other derivates . "Mne" already meant as well " false, mean, wicked".





Created: Tuesday 6 November 2007 at 22.30.54 Updated: 16/09/2013 at 10.04.59