[Lingtyp] query: verbal diminutives

Bill Palmer bill.palmer at newcastle.edu.au
Sun Dec 16 21:06:10 UTC 2018

Hi Eva

I’ve been doing some work recently on verbal number/pluractionality, particularly in some previously uninvestigated Papuan languages and in North American languages, and I’ve been struck by the fact that in some languages the pluractional morphology seems to give a diminutive reading instead of the verbal number meaning. This intersection between verbal number and diminutives is something that has not been investigated, to my knowledge, so I’m very pleased to hear of your project. I suggest thinking explicitly about verbal number, and I think it would be worth considering that the proposed aspectual functions you mention are actual verbal number, not aspect. It seems to me that some of the examples you give may be verbal number, not diminutive. The Hebrew example seems to conform to that. The four Slavic examples, Croatian, Czech, Slovene and Russian, might also be – I’d be interested in knowing what the underived verbs mean in those cases, and ditto with the Huave example. Maybe you and I could have a chat about this at some point. I’d be interested in hearing more about what you’re doing.


From: Lingtyp <lingtyp-bounces at listserv.linguistlist.org> On Behalf Of Lier, Eva van
Sent: Friday, 14 December 2018 11:34 PM
To: lingtyp at listserv.linguistlist.org
Subject: [Lingtyp] query: verbal diminutives

Dear colleagues,

We are looking for examples and literature on verbal diminutives in and across languages.

Currently, we have some information on verbal diminutives in various languages. Some examples include: German hüsteln (‘to cough lightly’), Italian dormicchiare (‘to doze’), Croatian grickati (‘to nibble’), Czech třepotat (‘to flutter’), Slovene igričkati (‘to play around’), Russian xaxan’kat (‘to giggle’), Finnish luk-ais-e (‘skim through (a text)’ < luk- ‘read’), San’ani Arabic tSaynai (‘to pretend not to hear’ < Saanaj ‘to not hear’), Hebrew kifcec (‘to jump around < kafac ‘to jump’), Passamaquoddy ə̆pə-ss-ìn (sit-dim-animate.intransitive.2 < ‘sit down, little one!’), Huave jujyuij (‘to shake gently’), and Lardil laala (‘to jab lightly’ < latha ‘to spear’).

These examples show that the morphological patterns that we subsume under “verbal diminutives” fulfill a number of semantic functions, such as iterative/frequentative/durative, low intensity, distributivity, and attenuation. These functions may extend (pragmatically) to playfulness, tentativeness, pretense/irrealis/fictiveness, trivialization, aimlessness, affection/intimacy, and contempt/pejorativeness. In some cases (see Passamaquoddy above), verbal diminutive marking implies that an event participant is a child or an otherwise small entity.

Also, verbal diminutives can be expressed by various morphological means, including affixation, reduplication, and non-concatenative morphology. In some cases, the verbal diminutive markers are related to nominal diminutives; in other cases, they seem to have different origins, such as spatial markers. The productivity of verbal diminutive formation apparently differs between languages.

We would be grateful for any references and/or examples of verbal diminutives in the language(s) of your expertise, including their semantics/pragmatics, formation, (diachronic) origin, productivity and usage frequency.

We will post a summary.

Many thanks in advance!

Eva van Lier, Jenny Audring, Sterre Leufkens

Eva van Lier, PhD
Department of Linguistics
University of Amsterdam


P.C.Hoofthuis, kamer 6.45
Spuistraat 134, 1012 VB Amsterdam

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