16

I am interested if the phonetic similarity between the English "baby" and the Chinese "宝贝" (baobei) is purely coincidental.

  • Yet another false cognate. – Константин Ван Sep 30 '18 at 22:45
  • Pleco indicates loanwords. That's not as obvious when you're looking at a suspected loanword like 宝贝 and it says nothing... – Ben Jackson Oct 1 '18 at 4:23
15

Interesting, but this is a coincidence.


Baby comes from a reduplicated Proto-Germanic root *bō-, which is cognate to English boy, appended with a diminutive suffix -y.

寶貝 comes from the meaning rare/precious seashells; this usage is attested at least since the Han dynasty. As a term of endearment, this started appearing as early as in the novel Dream of the Red Chamber, written in the 18th century.

  • So, is using 寶貝 for the similar meaning of baby comes in ~18th century? Or using it in this way in introduced after the word baby? – tsh Oct 14 '18 at 9:27
  • @tsh I would say the usages are quite dissimilar. English “baby” is either the actual name for a baby, or a term of endearment for a lover; it is not a term of endearment for an actual baby or child (maybe it used to be?). Chinese 寶貝 is a term of endearment for a parent’s child, and can be used regardless of the child’s age - it is more similar to English e.g. in the phrase “you’ll always be my little boy/girl”. – droooze Oct 14 '18 at 9:36
8

They are not etymologically related as other posters have noted, but it might not be a pure coincidence.

Many people have noted that words like "mama" and "papa" are similar across language families and suggested this is because they imitate the types of babbling sounds infants make. See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mama_and_papa

It seems plausible that "baby" could also fall within this category (i.e., repeated simple syllables.)

1

宝贝 means "treasure" in Chinese. When use 宝贝 for babies it means babies are the treasure of families.

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