The most and least common first words across the world

One of the most memorable milestones in your child’s life is when they say their first word. Parents can even spend months repeating their name to their little ones in the hope it will be the first word they say. 

Little is known about the effect of language, culture and location on babies’ vocabularies - can these factors influence what your baby's first word will be?

At Babysense, we investigated babies’ first words across the world, to reveal the most and least popular first words in each country. We also looked into the most common words spoken by babies as they grow up, to see if their vocabulary changes.

The most popular first words in each country

The ‘mommy’ vs ‘daddy’ divide

It’s clear to see who the favourite parent is all over the world. The most common first word is officially ‘mommy’! 

Babies in 12 out of 33 countries learn mom’s name first. However, in most cases, dad is not too far behind. In 10 out of those 12 mommy-loving countries, ‘daddy’ is the next most common word.

It’s a different story for the other two - In Mexico, ‘water’ is the second most common word said by babies, and in Slovakia, it’s ‘grandmother’. In both countries ‘daddy’ ranks in third place.

On the other hand, some seem to prefer dad over mom, as in seven countries the most popular first word is ‘daddy’. In all of these seven countries, the next most popular word said by babies is ‘mommy’. 

It’s unlikely that the preference for ‘daddy’ is impacted by geography, as those countries span across Europe, Asia and North America.

Some countries have a different most popular first word

In four countries the most popular first words were neither ‘mommy’ nor ‘daddy’, but something else altogether!

Possibly the most surprising, in Australia the most common word said by the youngest babies is ‘jam’! In Israel, babies are more likely to say ‘car’ than any other word. 

In Greece, the most common first word is a different family member - the Cypriot word for ‘grandma’ is most popular among babies, followed by ‘mommy’ and ‘daddy’. 

The most unique first words in each country

The most unique baby-words in each country are far less easy to predict. Most are short words in their original language, easy for babies to replicate.

Connecting and preposition words like ‘of’, ‘if’ and ‘but’ were the weirdest first words in 13 countries. 

Some babies’ first words come from the animal kingdom - in Spain, the most uncommon first word is ‘panther’ while in Canada it’s ‘goose’!

The most obscure first word for Australian babies is ‘country’ - which is even more unusual than ‘jam’ as their most popular first word!

The gender difference in baby-talk

To find out if your baby’s gender has an influence on how likely they are to start forming words, we looked at the word production scores for babies in each country. Scores correspond to the number of words a child is able to say, as reported by their parents.

In the United States, it’s more common for baby girls to pick up words than for boys.  Around 60% more American girls than boys scored over 100 for word production!

The same pattern can be seen in Great Britain, Mexico, Australia and China, where girls beat out the boys in word production.

In Canada, however, baby boys scored higher than girls in word production.

The most popular words as babies grow up

Baby-talk milestones don’t end when your little one says their first word. As they grow up into toddlers, babies are constantly learning the names of different objects and people. Below are the most common words spoken by babies from 8-26 months old.

Although countless babies utter ‘daddy’ as their first word, as they grow up it seems ‘mommy’ becomes more popular.

In 16 countries, the most common word spoken by babies aged 8-26 months is ‘mommy’. 

In Canada, Spain and Croatia, the most common first word was ‘daddy’ yet as babies grow up into toddlers, ‘mommy’ takes the lead.

‘Daddy’ is still the winner for little ones in Turkey, China, South Korea and France.

Neither ‘mommy’ nor ‘daddy’ was the most popular first word in Australia or Greece. However, for babies aged 8-26 months ‘mommy’ is the winner in both countries.

Methodology:

We looked into a complete list of all words spoken by babies in each country from the Stanford Wordbank. 

To find the most common first words, we looked at words spoken in the youngest recorded age range for each country, which ranged between 8-25 months. After eliminating sounds, we investigated the top ten most common words in each country and the top three least common.

To find the most common words in babies’ vocabularies we took an average of the popularity of each word, in each age group, up to 26 months, for every country.

To discover the gender difference in word production we looked at the number of boys and girls up to 16 months, who scored over 100 in word ‘production’.

We then used Google Translate, Chinese Word Parser, and Word Reference to translate each word into English.   

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