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An amah or ayah ( , Portuguese: ama, German: Amme, Medieval Latin: amma; or ayah Hindi: āyā, Portuguese: aia, Latin: avia, Tagalog: yaya) is a girl or woman employed by a family to clean, look after children, etc. It is a domestic servant role that combines functions of maid and nanny.

This word is common in East Asia and Indiamarker (although ayah is a more common variant in India). Since the mid-1990s, it has become more politically correct to call such a person a "helper" rather than a maid or ayah. In Taiwanmarker and Northern China, ayah may even refer to any old lady in general.

During the T'ang dynasty in China, the word "Amah" was used as an informal and poetic title for the Taoist goddess, the Queen Mother of the West.

"Ayah" in English literature

Like many other terms other languages, "amah" and "ayah" have been adopted as loanwords into the English language:

She never remembered seeing familiarly anything but the dark faces of her Ayah and the other native servants, and as they always obeyed her and gave her her own way in everything, because the Mem Sahib [her mother] would be angry if she was disturbed by her crying, by the time she was six years old she was as tyrannical and selfish a little pig as ever lived.
*The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett

When Tony and his sister arrived they wanted to go straight to the pond, but their ayah said they must take a sharp walk first, and as she said this she glanced at the time-board to see when the Gardensmarker closed that night.
*The Little White Bird, by J.M. Barrie, author of Peter Pan


  • Suzanne E Cahill: Transcendence & Divine Passion. The Queen Mother of the West in Medieval China, Stanford University Press, Stanford, 1993, ISBN 0-8047-2584-5

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