[Lingtyp] query: verbal diminutives

Randy J. LaPolla randy.lapolla at gmail.com
Mon Dec 17 01:14:27 UTC 2018

Hi Bill,
I think you are on to something there. The Mandarin examples we saw earlier are often said not as a straightforward reduplication, as in the examples given, but with the two tokens of the verb separated by ‘one’, and it has always seemed to me that this is not simple reduplication, but a cognate verb-noun pair, like sing a song, where the second element simply delimits the range or scope of the action. Cf. Michael Halliday’s analysis of this sort of construction in English, where he considers the argument, which he calls Range or Scope, a different kind of argument from a Goal, something that is actually affected by the action. The verb and the Range aren’t always cognate (e.g. play tennis), but the function is the same, delimited the scope of the playing in this case. This is true in Chinese as well, with expressions like shuì (yī) jiào (睡(一)觉) ‘sleep (one) sleep’.

This is not true of The Southern Min variety of Sinitic, though, where it seems to really be verbal reduplication, as we do not find ‘one’ inserted between the two tokens of the verb, e.g. 
kiânn kiânn leh (行行咧) [walk walk DIM] ‘just walking/taking a walk’ (where the final particle also helps mark the utterance as ‘just a bit’).

Randy J. LaPolla, PhD FAHA (羅仁地)
Professor of Linguistics, with courtesy appointment in Chinese, School of Humanities 
Nanyang Technological University
HSS-03-45, 14 Nanyang Drive | Singapore 637332
http://randylapolla.net/ <http://randylapolla.net/>
Most recent books:
The Sino-Tibetan Languages, 2nd Edition (2017)
https://www.routledge.com/The-Sino-Tibetan-Languages-2nd-Edition/LaPolla-Thurgood/p/book/9781138783324 <https://www.routledge.com/The-Sino-Tibetan-Languages-2nd-Edition/LaPolla-Thurgood/p/book/9781138783324>
Sino-Tibetan Linguistics (2018)
https://www.routledge.com/Sino-Tibetan-Linguistics/LaPolla/p/book/9780415577397 <https://www.routledge.com/Sino-Tibetan-Linguistics/LaPolla/p/book/9780415577397>
> On 17 Dec 2018, at 5:06 AM, Bill Palmer <Bill.Palmer at newcastle.edu.au> wrote:
> 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.
> best
> Bill
> From: Lingtyp <lingtyp-bounces at listserv.linguistlist.org <mailto: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 <mailto: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’), Sloveneigričkati (‘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
> www.uva.nl/profiel/e.h.vanlier <http://www.uva.nl/profiel/e.h.vanlier>
> P.C.Hoofthuis, kamer 6.45
> Spuistraat 134, 1012 VB Amsterdam
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