What Are Diminutives and Why We Like Them – Free Ebook

The world is a vast and often unmanageable place – so no wonder if we sometimes display a powerful attraction to the idea of miniaturisation. We seem to love dollhouses, teddies, train sets, bonzai trees, model airplanes and tiny cups and saucers sitting on the sides of miniaturized kitchens. These please us by symbolising a taming and humanising of the gigantic dimensions of much of life. By far the easiest and fastest way to miniaturise the world is not by making models of it, but through the use of what linguists call: DIMINUTIVES A diminutive is a word that has been modified to suggest the smaller version of itself – usually through a tweak to its ending. Interestingly, the moment we’re tempted to use a diminutive is often the moment we start to love someone or something. The more we feel drawn, the more we want to possess them, to tame their otherness and intimidating scale, and therefore to shrink them down to something more manageable, something that might slip into our pocket. When a couple, let’s call them Emma and Brad get together, they might swiftly add some diminutives to their burgeoning relationship. His vagabond footloose sides can be tamed by a little y, so that he becomes Brad-y. And Emma might shrink by being called Emm-ie. It’s particularly interesting to find that not all languages use diminutives to the same extent. The champion is Spanish, especially as spoken in Latin America. Latin Americans are constantly trying to shrink everything. In Mexico “ahora” (in a minute) becomes “ahorita”, in just a little second. “Un poco”, a little, gets changed in “un poquitín”, just a smidgeon. A coffee, “un café”, is constantly changed into “un cafelín” or “un cafelito.” That doesn’t make your coffee any smaller, but it brings you into a more intimate relationship to it. Italian is another language very keen on diminutives, usually with the addition of an “ino” or “ina”. An old man: in Italian un vecchio becomes un vecchietto A little boy ragazzo → ragazzino A woman (donna → donnetta) A small car (macchina → macchinetta) German, often seen as a formal, harsh language, also has a flair for diminutives. The suffixes “-chen”, “-lein” can be added to many words. A sausage, “ein Wurst”, can be turned into “ein Würstchen”, which isn’t necessarily a smaller sausage but one that is particularly irresistible. Likewise “ein Hündchen” isn’t necessarily a smaller dog than “ein Hund” but it’s probably one you have a soft spot for. The major language notable for its lack of diminutives is English: at best, we can add a “-y” or a ‘let’, very poor moves compared the great richness of diminutives in other languages. We might wonder why this is. Perhaps English, the global language, the language of conquest and Empire, resists the accommodation with the modest, the everyday and the tender which other languages pave the way for. We may lack diminutives because it is that little bit harder to be tender in English – or, more importantly, as an English person. Diminutives do the valuable job of rehabilitating sweetness. They remind us that we have come from childhood and that when we love, we want to shrink the world back down to a more manageable and loveable scale. We know that we are the objects of someone’s affection when they start to shrink us down – and we shouldn’t hesitate to shrink down the bits of the world we have begun to care for. This has been a message from what the germans might term The School of Life-lein (german) or the Italians The School of Life-etta. Thank you for watching, liking and subscribing. If you want more why not visit us in person and attend a class, or tae a look at our shop at the link on the screen now.

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