For my last blog entry I just want to reflect aloud on something I have noticed many times in contact with other languages, and which little Maxim has reminded me of as we continue our 'dialogue' in Russian at our own happy level.

 

 Russian has a wealth of ways of expressing diminutives or 'softeners', so that when he hurts his finger, he's likely to respond to it being called palchik rather than the dictionary equivalent palyets.  Similarly, his toy car is a mashinka rather than a mashina, and the birds he sees out of the window are ptichki rather than ptitsi.  I've learned that I can add this kind of diminutive ending to almost any noun, especially when talking to a child.

A German waiter will ask you if you want another Bierchen rather than a Bier, probably to soften the idea of another one, or (as the Germans say to verharmlosigen, to make it sound harmless).  Similar conventions exist in Portuguese (e.g. cafesinho), Spanish and many other languages.  English, on the other hand, has just a few examples of this phenomenon - doggie, birdie, for instance, and a Scottish barman may ask you if you'd like another wee dram, but there is nothing consistent or patterned  for a foreign learner to latch on to as there is in so many of these other languages.  So I will end the year with Maxim, happily offering him a bananchik when he's hungry or another stakanchik of juice when he is thirsty, and will ponder on this apparent gap in our own langage, which is widely believed to be so rich.

Happy New Year to you all and thanks to everyone who has contributed this month.

 Rod

 

Comments

 Hi Rod

 Don't we use 'ette' or 'lette'(borrowed from French) to do this? Just a wee thoughtlette from a very jet lagged brainette.

 Um? Doesn't sound very natural does it?

 Happy New Year.

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Dear Rod,

An Austrian waiter or waitress wouldn´t appreciate it, if you ordered another Bierchen instead of a Bier. But you could easily have a Schnapserl (a "small" schnaps), or two. And what about a Glaserl Wein (a "small" glass of wine) then?

 

Happy New Year

Andreas

 

 

 

 

Hi Nik, 

'Cigarette' or 'maisonette', I guess are pretty standard in the language and indicate a kind of diminutive, but the sort of '-ettes' you are talking about are really pretty precious and middle classish rather than anything standard, aren't they?  Just try offering a fellow spectator at Anfield or the Field of Dreams a thoughtette and see what response you get!!

 But nice to hear from you and Happy New Year!

 Rod

Thanks Rod for sharing your thought. I have never thought of that gap. The reason could be rooted in the nature of the English language which is said not be highly inflectional.

In English we also use reddish (a little red), tenish (around ten o'clock) which seems diminutive.

 

Dear sel6000,

 Thanks for this.  I think this -ish is approximative rather than diminutive in nature, but it's very useful in informal conversational exchanges.  It enables people to create new words and to add shades of meaning, usually to an adjective or an adverb.

 Very best

Rod

Hi Rod

How about down under, where you can have your sarnie, by the barbie, wearing sunnies and swatting the mozzies; perhaps helping yourself to another tinnie from the esky??

But perhaps it isn't as freely used as in Russian. I've never heard of a teachie writing on the whitie in magic markie.

Nick

high school teacher, Japan

Rod,  probably you've noticed that Maxim is often called Maximchik by people who want to show their affection. I am called Ulianochka Sergeevna by Erkin, our common friend, which sounds really strange in Russian, but I love it as it shows his special attitude to me.

Thank you for this insight. It was really interesting because it is what gives learning a touch of light-heartedness.

Best,

Uliana 

 

When it comes to "ette" my first thought  is ladette and that conjures up a totally different picture!

Maybe it's points like this that make teaching english so challenging.

Dear Rod,

Could it be that the English language has quite a different but equally effective way of bridging this gap, namely the fact that we have two words for, well, small (petit, klein..).

So you can say a small girl or a little girl or a small piece of cake or a little piece of cake and there is a definite difference, which has to do with the speaker's attitude. I would recommend every reader of this blog to look up the difference in a good dictionary. I have the Longman DCE open at p. 1559 in front of me right now because although I am a British NS of over fifty years' standing, I had never consciously analysed the difference before I was asked about it recently in a beginners' (!) class. And now of course I keep coming across it.

Basically I would say that every language has a way to express most things, there isn't really a gap in anything important, there's always a way round, even if only intonation or something intangible like that.

Looking forward to a new year of stimulating exchanges on this site!

Diana

Hi Diana,

 Thanks for this.  Yes, I agree.  It's not a semantic gap - we do have our ways of expressing diminutives or of softening but they are applied rather differently.  I just see it as a small cultural nuance which is reflected in the conveniences that a language offers.  Perhaps we simply don't feel the need to 'soften' as many things as some other cultures do, hence the absence of an equivalent to Bierchen, bananchik or cafesinho. As John Holt once observed, however, we do successfully confuse our kids by referring to the 'little horsey' when it's a long way off and then warning them not to go near the 'big horse' when it's close!

 Thanks again and best wishes

Rod

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