Reading the article "Where do mama/papa words come from?" by Larry Trask, linked in this answer (itself based on Roman Jakobson's 1959 article ‘Why “mama” and “papa”?’) we see that a condition for such lexical "universals" is their permanent re-recreation based on physiologically universal phonetic reactions.

We might try to identify such reactions and see what lexical forms they produce, by which I don't mean short exclamations, but nouns and verbs.

We shouldn't expect that all sounds produced by all humans in certain circumstances lead to words, as many of them may remain outside language, like the aaa sound one could expect from an unfortunate falling person. But if such sounds lead to the creation of words, we might expect the words to be as universal as mama/papa.

Have such words been identified? - If not truly universal, at least on extraordinarily large areas?

I am intrigued for example that the verb "to tickle", which, like mama/papa, relates to the practical area of the most primary linguistic (but also social and physical) interactions between adults and babies, has a rather similar base in IE languages (kt/gd) as in the Turkic languages (gd/qt/kt/gj) - more in this question and the answer thereunder. Similar structure seems present in Mongolian, and (if we believe Google Translate) even Arabic and Hebrew (Latinized here: לְדַגדֵג >> lְdַgdֵg). And even (to add insult to injury) in Georgian it's t’ik’t’ik’i - which looks like tickle (itself a metathesis of kittle).

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    Related, but different question: linguistics.stackexchange.com/q/20421/9781 Jan 17 at 12:35
  • ideophones for the same concept likely have some correlation cross-linguistically. I'd also expect cries of pain, laughter, and surprise to have some similarities although like you say, the extent to which these are linguistic rather than paralinguistic may vary
    – Tristan
    Jan 17 at 14:16


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