All languages come from a proto-language, meaning that they're related to one group of similar languages and that's it. It's very rare that languages from different families will have words in common. However, for the word mama, it holds true that some variation of it can be understood in almost any country in the world (by official language, all but six). This is not a coincidence; it's actually explained by one of the most grounded linguistic theories that exist. Biologically speaking, the first sounds babies can make are so-called "labial sounds", going from a soft consonant to a vowel as the mouth opens. This first sound is only naturally paired with the most important object in any baby's life- their source of food. Natural repetition in speech causes the second syllable found in mama. The same thing was happening with the word papa/tata/dada, but we gravitated towards m's for mothers because that's the sound that's easiest for babies to make while feeding on their mothers' breasts. Dads were left with the rest. Happy mother's day!
Adam Aleksic is a sophomore studying linguistics and government at Harvard University. He also has disturbing interests in politics, vexillology, geography, board games, conlanging, and law.