Ever Inspirational Fathers in Various Languages

Father and Son (Painting by Corbert Gauthier, one of the best realist painters in the contemporary world)

Fathers are ever inspirational for their children. The following discussion focuses on the wonderful manner how fathers in different languages have descended from common roots and how they have shared common phonemic components. I am really grateful to Pra Jay, the master of linguistics in the Sri Lankan blogosphere for inspiring me to discuss the etymologies of ever inspiring fathers. Thank you Pra Jay!

Let me have your attention to a few salient points regarding the word තාත්තා (tāttā). The etymology of tāttā is related to the Dravidian Family, which is a very smaller family of languages than the Indo-European family. The relevant Proto-Dravidian root, which is shared by many Dravidian languages such as Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam etc. is tāt- (තාත්-). Now, let us see how the Proto-Dravidian root tāt- is used to derive the words in several Dravidian languages:

1. Tamil tāt- (තාත්-) > tāttā (තාත්තා) > tâtā (තාතා) > tantai (~තන්තෛ)

2. Telugu – tāt- (තාත්-) > tâta (තාත) >  taṃḍri (~තංඩ්‍රි)

3. Malayalam – tāt- (තාත්-) > tātan (තාතන්) > taṃḍa (~තංඩ)

Remember that Sinhala is not a Dravidian language but an Indo-European language. The Indo-European family consists of many sub-families such as Indo-Aryan (Sanskrit, Pāli, Sinhala, Hindi, Bengali, Gujarati etc.), Germanic (English, German, Dutch etc.), Hellenic (Greek), Italic (Latin, Romanceincluding Spanish, Portuguese) etc

Let me show you how the relevant words for father are derived in some of the Indo-European languages that we have mentioned above. 

The relevant Proto-Indo-European root, which is shared by Indo-Aryan, Germanic and Italic subfamilies is pətēr-. It changes its form slightly as it enters each subfamily viz. Indo-Aryan: pi- (පි-), Germanic: fadḗr- (~~ෆදිර්-) and Italic: pater- (~පාතර්-).

Indo-Aryan – pətēr > pi- (පි-)

1. Sanskrit – pi- (පි-) > pitṛ (පිතෘ)/pitar (පිතර්) – tā is stressed and r is shortened

2. Pāli- pi- (පි-) > pitar/pitā (පිතර්/පිතා) – tā is stressed and r is shortened

3. Sinhala – pi- (පි-) > piyā (පියා)

4. Hindi – pi- (පි-) > pitā (පිතා)

5. Bengali – pi- (පි-) > pita (~පිත) – ta is stressed more than ta (ත) but less than tā (තා)

6. Gujarati – pi- (පි-) > pita (~පිත) – ta is stressed more than ta (ත) but less than tā (තා)

Germanic – pətēr > fadḗr-

1. English – fadḗr- > father (~ෆාද) – fa is very stressed and r is almost silent (RP)

2. German – fadḗr- > Vater (~ෆාටර්) – Va is stressed and r is shortened 

3. Dutch – fadḗr- > vader (~ෆාදර්) – va is stressed and r is lengthened

Italic – pətēr > pater- (~පාතර්-)

1. Latin – pater- > pater (~පාතර්) – pa and te are stressed and r is lengthened 

2. Spanish – pater- > padre (~පද්‍රි) – dre is stressed and pa is shortened 

3. Portuguese – pater- > pai (~පායි) – pa is stressed more than pa (ප) but less than pā (පා) 

Some linguists believe that the Indo-European root pətēr changed to pā- (පා-) in addition to pi- (පි-) as it found its place in the Indo-Aryan languages particularly Sanskrit

The origin of the words Dada, Papa, Dad and Pa are considered universal as they are the earliest bi-syllable and mono-syllable words that a child starts to voice in the development of speech (apart from ma and mama). One or more of those words can be found in Latin, French, Greek as well for the same meanings. 

We should also remember that different languages belonging to different families can share some words as they are used in common communities; for an instance the word tāta (තාත), which belongs to the Dravidian family is also used in the Middle Indo-Ayran language Pāli (Pāli-English Dictionary by Rhys Davids) and in the Old Indo-Aryan language Vedic Sanskrit (Sanskrit-English Dictionary by Sir Monier Monier-Williams) for the same meaning.

I hope this discussion will resolve some of the obscurities regarding the etymology of certain words related to father. If that is the case, I shall be pleased.

Bandula Kudalagama,



8 thoughts on “Ever Inspirational Fathers in Various Languages

    1. My dear worthy companion the Rt. Hon. Sarasa,

      Thank you, and thank you so much (as suggested by Sanna, the beloved appacci of so-called Apé Siṃhala Pantiya) for your respectfully kind comment. Let me suggest that we drop these academic and professional qualifications in the blogosphere, which is just an informal symposium. Just call me by my ordinary name Bandula Kudalagama or just Kudalagama for I happened be just another Kudalagama amongst many Udalagamas, Idalagamas, Pallegamas, Kelegamas, Nawagattegamas et al (by the way, Simon had a son who was working in Neurology those days, and his highly talented daughter Maya is here in the UK). I do not want my name to be categorised into the most disgraceful cult of narcissists who publish their paper qualifications to charm and intimidate the readership. Our qualifications should be reflected in our performances, which are our writings in the context of blogosphere. Of course my dear Sarasa, you are an equally qualified person as well who has never ever stamped your informal writings with formal appendages! My high appraisal and respect for that virtue!

      Alright, let me come to your question. My ancestors resting in the heaven, if such a place exists, would be cursing me for neglecting the word appacci as a Kandyan! I hope I will be exonerated due to this late discussion initiated by the Rt. Hon. Sarasa.

      The Sinhala word appacchi (let me standardised it and write it as appacci henceforth) is recognised to be related etymologically to the Tamil word appaa (let me standardised it and write it as appā henceforth). Tamil is a language belonging to the Dravidian family.

      One of the best research works done in the modern era on the Tamil loanwords in the Sinhala language was titled “Siṃhala Bhaṣāvé Demaḷa Vacana Akārādiya” authored by Sarojini Devi and Coperahewa (I refer to Sandagomi who is the son of Sandadas – Chandradasa of Hela Havula). I do not have the book at my disposal here right now, although I was fortunate to be there on the day of its issue some fifteen years back. Perhaps, Pra Jay may have the book in his library. I suggest my dear Sarasa to buy that small book when he goes to Sarasavi next time. It is a worthy reading for Sinhalese.

      It is all reasonable to accept appacci to be of Tamil i.e. Dravidian in origin. Then, we will have to ask ourselves whether there is a Proto-Dravidian root that is related to appā, which in turn would be related to appacci. The Proto-Dravidian root that corresponds with appā both in semantic and phonetic aspects is ápa- with the meaning of father. Let me show you how it entered the language subfamilies of the Dravidian family.

      Proto-South Dravidian: ápa- > āpa-
      1. Tamil: āpa- > appan, appu (father, affectionate appellation of little children), appacci (father), appāttai (elder sister), appi (mistress of house, elder sister), appappa, & appappā (exclamation of pity or surprise), appā (exclamation of surprise, grief, or pain), appāṭā (exclamation of surprise or relief).

      [I hope my friend the Rt. Hon. Sarasa understands the etymology of “අප්පා! පුදුම සෙනඟක් නො වැ ඊයේ අප්පච්චි දකින්න නූගේගොඩ හිටියේ!]

      2. Malayalam: āpa- > appan (father), appu (affectionate appellation of boys), appā, appappā & appaṭā (interjection of pain or surprise).

      3. Kannada: āpa- > appa (father, added to the proper names of men for respect, affectionate appellation of little children), apa (father), appu (affectionate appellation of boys), apa, appā & appappâ (interjection denoting surprise, pain, or grief), appāḍa (interjection of pain or surprise).

      Proto-Telugu: ápa- > appa- > appa (father, mother, elder sister, added to the proper names of men for respect).

      There is another Proto-Dravidian root that corresponds in phonetic aspects but certainly not semantically with appā viz. ápa-, which has a strikingly different meaning of sweet food/cake! (A good candidate as the progenitor of āppa – hoppers, the food that changed a government!). Let me show you how deceiving it could be as it entered the language subfamilies of the Dravidian family.

      Proto-South Dravidian: ápa- > āpa-
      1. Tamil: āpa- > appam, āppam (a type of cake, bread), appacci (sweetmeat)
      2. Malayalam: āpa- > appam, āppam (a type of cake, bread)
      3. Kannada: āpa- > appa, appacci (a type of cake)

      Proto-Telugu: ápa- > appa- > appamu, appaci, appacci (sweet food/cake)

      Brahul: ápa- > appā (children’s food)

      However, some linguists believe that the Tamil word appā with the meaning of father was derived into Tamil from the Semitic languages, which include languages such as Arabic, Hebrew etc. It has been suggested that the Semitic words aba and abba with the meaning of father in many Semitic languages had entered Tamil, and later transformed into appā (Remember that there is no sound similar to p in Arabic!).

      The Semitic languages are a subfamily of the Afroasiatic family. When we consider the ancient trading routes from China and India (the East) that passed through the Middle-East en route to the Europe (the West) such as the Silk Road, we cannot just dismiss the above theory entertained by some scholars.

      So, my dear friend the Rt. Hon. Sarasa, those are some thoughts in response to your query. The beauty of linguistics is that we do not have definite answers for many questions, yet we try to arrive at reasonable conclusions based on standard methodologies. During that endeavour of fact finding, we learn many other things as well. This is a good aspect of the Problem Based Learning. I request my learned friends Sarasa and Pra Jay to educate me on any alternative explanations, if they happen to come across any in the due course. I learn everyday from everybody and it is a fascinating intellectual exercise.

      Robert Knox who spent almost twenty years in Ceylon in the seventeenth century could hear fathers being called “pianannah”, “oppa” and “oppatchi” by the Kandyan Sinhalese, thus he mentioned those words in his magnificent work: “An Historical Relation of the Island Ceylon in the East Indies”, which was first published in 1681 (Knox had mentioned a list of Sinhala words used at that time).

      We all know that the word appacci has been long used predominantly in the Kandyan territories. What do you think the reason my friends? Perhaps, the immense influence of Indian (Southern) culture and traditions during the Kandyan era could be a cause. There are many traditions in the Kandyan subculture influenced by the South Indian culture.

      Bandula Kudalagama,


  1. Dear Dr. K,
    As I mentioned my interest is piqued by Roman affectionate term for father “Tata” and Spanish word for Dad “Tata”.
    Doesn’t that mean Indo-European “Aryan” languages too had Tatta for father?

    P.S. I tried to send my article to that email address but it failed. I forwarded it to Hon. Sarasa hoping he can send it to you.


    1. Dear Pra Jay,

      I am extremely saddened that you had to endure troublesome pain to send me the article. I apologise for it. But it is a correct email address and I wonder what went wrong. I request the assistance of the Rt. Hon. Sarasa to send you my direct email so that you can communicate with me at ease.

      Your question is very valid and I agree with you with no reservations. Thus, I have already mentioned in my article proper (not the comment) the following:

      “We should also remember that different languages belonging to different families can share some words as they are used in common communities; for an instance the word tāta (තාත), which belongs to the Dravidian family is also used in the Middle Indo-Ayran language Pāli (Pāli-English Dictionary by Rhys Davids) and in the Old Indo-Aryan language Vedic Sanskrit (Sanskrit-English Dictionary by Sir Monier Monier-Williams) for the same meaning.”

      There are many words in various languages without a native root. Most of them have been loaned from other languages. The root tat- with the meaning of father is found in Dravidian Languages. But we can find the root tata- in the Mongolian language (meaning: to pull, chop or grind), which belongs to the Mongolic family, in the Turkic Family (meaning: to become angry, irascible) and in the Eskimo–Aleut family (meaning: frightened, terrified).

      Of course, there is a Proto-Austric (the Austric family) root tá- and a Proto-Sandawe (the Khoe-Sandawe family) root tata- with the meaning of father.

      However, I could not locate a Proto-Indo-European root related to tata with the meaning of father in an etymological root compendium. Since tata and related words do exist in the Indo-European languages, they may probably represent loanwords (Spanish is a Romance language belonging to the Italic subfamily of the Indo-European family). That is very possible as many affectionate terms have been loaned. I have learnt recently that the younger generations in Sri Lanka use dādi and dādā for grandparents! I wonder what Piyadasa Sirisena would have written about them, if he had happened to be alive! (Perhaps they are better terms than Janakian nonsense of appicci!)

      Bandula Kudalagama,


      1. Waiting for the esteemed Sarasano to give me your email address.

        I got the Roman term Tata from the glossary to one of Colleen McCullough novels. Her glossaries run to 100 odd pages sometimes. Did you know that she did research and practical tests on the draping of the Toga? Including a test to see if a man could urinate while wearing a Toga !


      2. Dear Pra Jay,

        That’s interesting! I read that McCullough had written extensively on Ancient Rome for which she was awarded a D.Litt.! I have not read her original work. The Toga was a lovely dress. Wasn’t it?

        Let me solve out your riddle now. Here is the missing piece of the jigsaw puzzle, which I could locate in three etymological root compendia. Let’s recognise tē̆t- and tā̆t- (suggested by Trautmann & Vasmer) as the ‘corresponding’ Proto-Indo-European roots of the Dravidian root tāt- (please check your email for evidence; I have sent you some images of the relevant pages from the compendia). The Proto-Indo-European roots tē̆t- and tā̆t- (meaning: father) had entered its languages/subfamilies in the following way.

        Old Indian: tatá- and tāta- (father, a term of affection addressed to a senior or junior)

        Old Greek: tatā̂ (daddy), tétta (a friendly or respectful address of youths to their elders )

        Latin: tata (father) —–> Romance related to this

        NB: many linguists believe that tata entered Spanish through its Latin American version.

        Bandula Kudalagama,


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