Mastering similar words and tones

It is plain to see – and utterly adorable to me – that little E’s favourite consonants are “B” and “M”.

So we’re piling on the words, even if they sound the same, even if he ends up saying them a little wrong but I trust that (1) he can tell the difference in tone when I say it and (2) he’s trying to emulate a different tone even if he’s not very successful. All of which makes him smarter – at the language, at least.


  • 爸爸 (baa1) – father “baba”
  • 玻玻 (bo1) – ball > basically his first word
  • 包包 (baau1) – bread
  • boo-玻 – originally, he was differentiating footballs from spherical balls, but then came to mean “oval” and the digit zero or letter “O” > his first compound word
  • 寶寶 (bou2) – treasure, or an affectionate term for a child > I taught him this so he could refer to himself since his own name is a ways off


  • 媽媽 (maa1,2,5) – mother “mama”
  • 嫲嫲 (maa4) – grandmother, that is, father’s mother
  • 馬馬 (maa5) – horse > which E adorably follows with the exclamation, “neigh!”
  • 貓貓 (maau1) – cat
  • 襪襪 (mat6) – socks

For Cantonese pronunciation: Wiktionary (e.g., the page for 包)