Czech diminutive

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This original article deals with Czech diminutives, words that nominally indicate smallness and that are derived from nouns, adjectives and other parts of speech. The actual semantics often differs from smallness.

Czech diminutives can appear in multiple degrees of diminution.

Examples[edit | edit source]

Example diminutive derivations:

  • Common nouns: anděl --> andílek, andělíček (2nd degree); kočka --> kočička; myš --> myška, myšička
  • First names: Adéla --> Adélka --> Adélinka (2nd degree), Petr --> Petřík --> Petříček (2nd degree)
  • Adjectives: malý --> maličký, malinký, maloučký, malounký, malilinký (2nd degree), malilinkatý (3rd degree)
  • Adjectives: krátký --> kraťoučký, kraťounký, kratičký, kratinký --> kraťoulinký (2nd degree)
  • Verbs: hajat --> hajinkat, papat --> papkat --> papinkat
  • Adverbs: lehce --> lehounce, a derivation parallel to the adjectival lehký --> lehoučký, lehounký --> lehoulinký (2nd degree)
  • Adverbs: trochu --> trošku --> trošičku (2nd degree) --> trošilinku (3rd degree)

Affixes[edit | edit source]

Affixes (suffixes, infixes, etc.) employed in the creation of Czech diminutives are open to different analyses. Tentative analyses follow:

  • andílek = anděl + -ek
  • andělíček = anděl + -íček or as if andělík + -ek, making -íček a compound suffix
  • kostelík = kostel + -ík
  • kostelíček = kostel + -íček or kostelík + -ek, making -íček a compound suffix
  • babka = bába + -ka or báb- + -k- + -a
  • babička = bába + -ička or báb- + -ičk- + -a
  • kočička = kočka + -ička or kočk- + -ičk- + -a or koč- + -ič- + -ka or koč- + -ičk- + -ka (merger of double k)
  • maličký = malý + -ičký or mal- + -ičk- + -ý
  • malinký = malý + -inký or mal- + -ink- + -ý
  • hajinkat = haj- + -ink- + -at
  • maličko = maličký + -o or mal- + -ičk- + -o

Semantics[edit | edit source]

The semantics of Czech diminutive nouns can include smallness, childish context (not really semantics), and affection.

The semantics of Czech adjectival diminutives is often the addition of very to the semantics of the base adjective. Thus, maličký means very small, and chudičký means very poor. One can ask what diminution has in common with the apparent augmentation by very; one can observe that the very is usually applied in the downward direction (e.g. small --> smaller, toward zero rather than away from zero), or in the direction of absence (e.g. absence of riches, poverty, toward zero rather than away from zero). Thus, adjectives to which diminution applies can often be interpreted as referring to some kind of smallness or absence, e.g. small, narrow, or young; however, pěkničký and celičký do not seem to fit the bill. What both smallness and absence have in common is that, when augmented, they tend toward zero (a fixed end of the range of values), whereas in the other direction, the range is open ended. This may seem not exactly right when we think of temperature (studeňoučký, very cold) and its going under zero degrees of Celsius, but things fit again when we switch to Kelvin and absolute zero. This analysis breaks down for teploučký (very warm or nicely warm).

Creative ending reinterpretation[edit | edit source]

One can creatively reinterpret words that are not diminutives as diminutives, by reinterpreting their suffix as a diminutive one: válka as if from *vála; pálka as if from *pála; motorka as if from *motora. This kind of quasi-augmentative formation is sometimes found in children during earlier phases of language acquisition.

Augmentatives[edit | edit source]

A related phenomenon are Czech augmentatives, nominally semantic opposites of diminutives:

Wiktionary categories[edit | edit source]

Example diminutives can be seen in the English Wiktionary:

They can be seen in the Czech Wiktionary as well:

Wiktionary rhyme pages[edit | edit source]

Since Czech diminutives are characteristically created by certain suffixes, they are well covered by rhyme pages. A relevant rhyme page is not necessarily strictly constrained to diminutives but rather is dominated by them or has some significant portion of them.

Rhyme pages for diminutive nouns:

Rhyme pages for adjectival diminutives:

Case: děva[edit | edit source]

The Czech word děva and its derivatives illustrate how morphological diminutives lose their diminutive semantics and gain dedicated non-diminutive ones. The derivation structure is as follows:

  • děva ((literary) girl)
    • děvka = děva + -ka (promiscuous girl or paid whore; originally a different meaning)
    • dívka = děva + -ka (girl/female child but also young woman)
    • děvečka = děvka + -ka or děva + -ečka (maid, housemaid)
    • děvenka (genuine diminutive, albeit semantically from dívka)

The original děva seems rarely used in spoken Czech and is literary, whereas the derivations are no longer genuinely semantic diminutives, merely morphological ones. This is rather often the case: the morphological diminutive acquires a non-diminutive meaning of its own, and there is no longer a readily available genuinely diminutive meaning.

Case: Pepa Nos[edit | edit source]

The use of diminutive to indicate affection toward or love of is exemplified by lyrics of song Šípková Marjánka by a Czech song-writer Pepa Nos. His use is clearly not to indicate physical or other smallness. The example lyrics fragment is as follows: "A vy máte hmyz ve vlasech, všechno byste mi tady zahmyzila: všechny moje spisíčky, všechny moje přihrádečky, všechny moje šuplíčky, můj psací strojíček, moji otáčecí židličku, můj kobereček ...".

Diminutive vs. hypocoristic[edit | edit source]

Diminutives can possibly be contradistinguished from hypocoristics. Thus, starting from Petr, one may rank Petřík as a diminutive while ranking Péťa as not a diminutive but a hypocoristic/pet name. For another example, from Anežka one forms Aška, a hypocoristic/pet name but possibly not diminutive. To find how linguistic literature looks at this possible contrast requires more research.

Further reading[edit | edit source]

In Czech:

In English: