Following a chat discussion, I want to know if we have any written record or general indication of how Latin was spoken by young children.

Most languages that I know have several distinct characteristics associated with baby talk: French children will often "faire dodo" instead of "dormir" (sleep), Latin American children often heavily use the diminutive ("¡Hay un conejito aquicito!"). Usually, sentence structure is simplified.

Are there any works that preserve what this speech might have been like? I'm mostly interested in classical times, but later evidence would certainly be welcome as well.

1 Answer 1


We know very little, and only about lexicon, thanks to grammarians and erudite writers (Varro). Also inscriptions.

Here is a list built from the Thesaurus linguae latinae and an old German article about baby talk in latin, Die Sprache der römischen Kinderstube by Wilhelm Heraeus (1904) (pp. 167-190 of the scanned pdf). Thanks @brianpck for looking up some of them.

  • bua = potio
  • pappa = cibum
  • pappare = esse
  • papa, appa = pater, papilla
  • mamma, mama, amma = mater
  • tata, atta = pater
  • momma = mater, avia
  • pupus = parvulus
  • pupa = parvula, mammilla, doll
  • abbo = basio
  • ninna = cuna
  • totto! = noli facere!
  • siare = miare
  • cacare, cunire = stercus facere
  • inbulbitare (dub.) = puerili stercore inquinare
  • poteaculum = potty
  • lallare = lullaby
  • [nutrices] infantibus, ut dormiant, saepe dicere solent: "lalla lalla lalla, aut dormi aut lacta" (scholia ad Persius, 3.16)
  • pipiare = vagire

You should not trust the translations too much, because info is really scarce and often contradictory (partly because of the huge time and space span).

  • 1
    Welcome, and thanks for the interesting answer! Commented Aug 31, 2016 at 22:24
  • 3
    +1 Great answer. I skimmed through the article you posted and it has quite a few more...perhaps you can include? abbo = basio, ninna = cuna, totto = noli facere, siare = miare, cacare = ...well, we all know...
    – brianpck
    Commented Sep 1, 2016 at 19:43
  • 1
    @brianpck done! also I skimmed through it too and added some words more... now it should be more or less complete
    – user786
    Commented Sep 2, 2016 at 9:09
  • 2
    Awesome, thanks! As a quick aside, some of the words you included (like inbulbitare) are classified as "words used by caretakers for children"--still relevant, but slightly different
    – brianpck
    Commented Sep 2, 2016 at 10:26

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.