Guitar, mother, pyjamas and coffee: the universal words that need no translation

Dear friends of STUDIOTRE, did you know that there are certain words in the world that don’t need to be translated to be understood? They’re called universal words and their meaning is understood regardless of latitude, language and culture.

The reasons why these words don’t change (or vary very slightly) from one language to another have not yet been explained by academics, but it’s interesting nevertheless to try and investigate their origin.


During the colonisation of India, the English started to wear pajama, or wide trousers which the Indians wore tied around the waist; they then also imported the term for this item of clothing into their language.
The word pajama can also be found in Basque (pijama) and Irish (pitseámaí), as well as in Arabic (bijama), in Hungarian (pizsama) and in Spanish and Portuguese (pijama) with slight variations.


Most languages have inherited the word kahve from Turkish (which, in turn, comes from the Arabic qahwa), which has been transformed by changing the “v” to an “f” (for example, in Italian: caffè) or the “a” to an “o” (for example, in English: coffee). This is why all you need to know to ask for a coffee anywhere in the world are these three words (and their sound): kofi, kahve, kava.


From Korean (eomma) to Czech (mami), from French (maman) to Slovak (mamicka), the word mother is practically the same in every language. According to the linguist Roman Jakobson, this happens because, during the language development phases, some of the first sounds which children naturally experience include “ah” and “mmm” because they’re easiest to reproduce. The combination of these two sounds could therefore create the word mamma.


To trace the origin behind guitar, we have to travel back through the centuries and go back to the time when the term tar in Persian and Sanskrit meant the forefather of this musical instrument, through to the age when the word tar was inherited by the Greeks with kithara, by the Arabs with gitara and then by the Spanish with guitarra, until it spread into many other languages all around the world (for example: gitara in Polish, gitaar in Dutch, guitare in French and so on).


If you know of any other universal words, please share them with us on our Facebook page:


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