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-DIM (diminutive)
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The main function of attaching the diminutive suffix -DIM is to indicate something small. It is very productively attached to count nouns. There are three allomorphs: -tsje, -ke and -je, with is a complementary distribution between them, dependent on the final segment of the base. Certain phonological adjustments may be needed in order to obtain a correct output form. A final schwa, for example, is deleted before the correct allomorph is selected. Hence, we have skoaltsjesmall school, from the noun skoalleschool. In addition to denoting something small, many derivations may have an affective (pejorative or meliorative) connotation. Moreover, in a small group of bird names the diminutive has the function of indicating the female bird. The diminutive suffix spread to other lexical categories as well, although not productively. The most important ones are mass nouns, verbs and adjectives. In these categories, diminuation primarily functions as a means to transpose the base to a count noun. Personal names may also have a diminutive form. The overall pattern applies to this category, too, but on the other hand it has its own characteristics, formally and funcionally.

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[+] Overview

The diminutive suffix, abbreviated as -DIM, derives nouns with neuter gender, i.e. they are accompanied by the definite article it. This is also the case if the base noun has common gender. For example, we speak of de beamthe.C tree.Cthe tree, but with the diminutive suffix it turns into it beamkethe.N tree-DIMthe small tree.

The suffix is attached primarily to nouns. In the treatment below, an overview of derivations with a noun as base will be given first. Separate sections are devoted to the three allomorphs and their distribution, and to various phonological adjustments needed in order to create a correct output. The semantic and pragmatic aspects of the formations call for separate attention, as do formations that have become lexicalized. Moreover, we will dwell briefly on the peripheral dialects of Hindeloopen and the islands of Terschelling and Schiermonnikoog, which developed their own diminutive systems.

Like more very productive suffixes, -DIM can be attached to other base categories as well. Separate sections are devoted to verbs, adjectives, adverbs, numerals, pronouns and personal names. This topic on the diminutive closes with a short discussion of the morphological potentials of -DIM, and a characterization of the most important literature.

[+] Noun as base

The natural habitat of the diminutive is in the context of nouns, where it is very productive, indeed. In principle, it then denotes a small variant of the base noun. Thus a noaske is a small noasnose. The suffix is primarily attached to count nouns, and the result is also a count noun. As a consequence of this restriction, a noun like for example KristendomChristianity cannot be followed by a diminutive suffix: *Kristendomkesmall Christianity.

There are, however, a few exceptions. Inherently countable measure nouns,, often resist diminuation. Examples like *wykje (from wikeweek), *kearke (from keartime, turn), or *mingeltsje (from mingellitre) are notably bad. Only measure nouns that invoke an affective connotation can be diminuated, like ûnske (from ûnsounce) or kertierke (from kertierquarter of an hour).

On the other hand, diminuation in the realm of mass nouns is not fully excluded, although the process is not productive. The semantic function is individuation; the diminutive form creates a unit of the material denoted by the base word, in other words, it forces the mass noun to transpose to a count noun. Examples are gerskegrass-stalk (from gersgrass), sûkelaatsjepiece of chocolate (from sûkeladechocolate) and arkjetool (from arkequipment). On could argue that such formations are parasitic on standard diminutive formation, which operates on count nouns as a base. As will be shown in the section on non-nominal bases, diminutives with non-nominal bases show a similar behaviour. In all of such cases, diminutive formation is not productive. For example, from molkemilk one cannot form *molkje. (Another means of creating of count nouns from mass nouns is to change gender; more information can be found in this table in the topic on Gender).

[+] Allomorphs

The diminutive suffix manifests itself in three different shapes: as -tsje, -ke or -je, depending on the final segment of the base form to which suffix is attached. Synchronically these variants are not phonologically derivable from each other. To refer to the diminutive in general, the shorthand -DIM is used.

The suffix -tsje, pronounced as [tsjə], follows the dentals /d/, /l/, /n/ and /t/. Examples are:

Table 1
Base Derivation
hoedhat huodsjesmall hat
balball baltsjesmall ball
nhand hantsjesmall hand
trat rotsjesmall rat
Note that in the orthography one sees <sje> after stems ending in d or t. Superficially, this might lead to an option for a further variant -sje. However, this is not desirable in the light of a description that is as general as possible. It can be argued on phonological grounds that the initial [t] of the suffix -tsje merged with the final phonetic [t] of stems ending in /t/ or /d/ (the latter becoming [t] by final devoicing). Hence, this could be a case of degemination).

The suffix -je[jə] follows base forms ending in the velar segments /x/, /ɣ/, /k/ and /ŋ/. Examples are:


Table 2
Base Derivation
eunucheunuch eunuchjesmall eunuch
laach/la:ɣ/layer laachjethin layer
dakroof dakjesmall roof
ring/rIŋ/ring rinkjesmall ring

After /ŋ/ we see insertion of /k/ (see also diminutive formation in Frisian Phonology). Examples are wang[vaŋ]cheek > wankje[vaŋkjə]small cheek and ding[dɪŋ]thing > dinkje[dɪŋkjə]small thing. This k-insertion can also be noticed with the suffix -lik.

The suffix -ke[kə] is to be found in the rest of the cases, i.e. after (semi-)vowels, labials or labiodentals, and after the dentals /s/, /z/ and /r/. Here are some examples:


Table 3
Base Derivation
kafee/kafe:/café kafeekesmall café
triuw/trjo:w/push triuwkesubtle push
aai/a:j/egg aikesmall egg
kraab[kra:b]crab krabkesmall crab
aapmonkey aapkesmall monkey
beamtree beamkesmall tree
siraf/siraf/giraffe sirafkesmall giraffe
skúf/sky:v/bolt skúfkesmall bolt
jas/jɔs/coat jaskejacket
faas/fa:z/vase faaskesmall vase
toertower tuorkesmall tower
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x Dutch influence

The suffixes -je and -tsje can also be found in Dutch, although the latter without the sibilant, hence as -tje. However, -ke is exclusively Frisian. Now, apparently under the influence of Dutch, quite a number of Frisian speakers start to replace -ke by the suffix -tsje in those cases where the Dutch cognate word has -tje. Hence, we see this replacement especially after vocalic stems and after /r/. Examples are bijtsje instead of bijke (from bijbee) and fingertsje instead of fingerke (from fingerfinger). After the other stems, Dutch does not have -tje, and here Frisian original -ke stands its ground better, although formations like bedriuwtsjesmall company (from bedriuwcompany), with a stem ending in a vocalic element, have nevertheless been attested. All in all, the process can probably best be interpreted as an internal Frisian change, which, however, is supported by Dutch. This is confirmed by a questionnaire (Van der Veen (1984, question 2)), where the nonsense words splaa and splea received almost twice as many responses with -tsje than with -ke.

In a few lexicalized cases, a variant with the "Dutch" suffix -tsje has, so to say, already won the battle. Examples are nijtsjepiece of news and sjoutsjetemporary job, which seem to be translated directly from Dutch nieuwtje and sjouwtje. It must be noted, however, that these words have partly opaque meanings. Moreover, they are special in as far their bases are not nominal but adjectival (nijnew) and verbal (sjouweto drag), respectively.

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x Historical note

The allomorph -ke was more widespread in the past than it is today. In the Middle Frisian period (1550-1800), it could also be found after the dentals /t/, /d/, /n/ and /l/. The suffix sometimes survived in these contexts in poetry, to create an atmosphere of tenderness. According to Versloot (2004), an ending -elke was used after /t/ and /k/, possibly to be analysed as the diminutive allomorph -ke plus a linking element -el-.

The ending -ke occurred in Old Frisian already. Examples are madekemaggot, honekecock or tjaderkeredshank. Apparently, there was no deletion of a final vowel of the stem in those days. A major difference with the current system was its transparency: the gender of the diminutive was the same as the gender of the stem. Several Old Frisian diminutives became fossilized; the ending, sometimes palatalized to -ts, became part of the stem, and the word did not act as a diminutive any longer. In this way, the Old Frisian examples mentioned above have been evolved in present-day language to maits, hoantsruff (Calidrix pugnax) and tjirk, respectively. Note also the semantic specialization in hoants. Another example is modern Frisian pylkarrow, which likewise has common gender (cf. Dutch pijl, German Pfeile). The old diminutive ending being part of the stem, these words can diminuated anew, for example as tjirkjesmall redshank.

Even more remnants of old diminutives can be found in East and North Frisian dialects (on this subject: Hofmann (1961)). These branches of Frisian did not develop a new productive diminutive system, however.

[+] Phonological adjustments

We saw above that an additional phonological operation may be necessary in diminutive formation in order to obtain the right output, such as degemination after stems ending in [t] and the insertion of /k/ between /ŋ/ and je-. These are, however, not the only adjustments.

First and foremost it appears that the final schwa of many Frisian nouns is deleted. Take the noun pannepan. If the final schwa remained, one would predict a diminutive *panneke. The correct form, however, is pantsje. This is obtained by truncating the schwa (panne > pan), and then, stem-final /n/ selects the diminutive ending -tsje. Other illustrations are seage[sɪ.əɣə]saw > seachje[sɪ.əxjə]small saw and skjirre[skjɪrə]scissors > skjirke[skjɪrkə]small scissors. For a phonological account of this operation, see the topic about schwa-deletion.

Another final segment that may be deleted is /t/, mainly in the west of the language area, and only after obstruents, i.e. after /f/, /s/ , /p/ or /x/. As with final schwa, the selection of the diminutive allomorph is performed after the deletion. For example, from skoftwhile we then get the diminutive skoftkelittle while, pronounced as [skofkə], where /f/ selects the ending -ke. Diminutive forms like kistke[kIskə] (from kistebox) and reseptke[rəsɛpkə] (from reseptrecipe) go a similar way. Stems ending in -cht/-xt/, like ljochtlight or nachtnight end in pronunciations like [ljɔxjə]small light or [naxjə]short night. After deletion of stem-final /t/, the remaining /x/ regularly selects the allomorph -je. Note that in in the realm of t-deletion the form of the stem remains intact in the orthography.

Diminutive formation after these clusters remains regular in the east. There we have skoftwhile > skoftsjelittle while or ljochtsje, as expected. Only after -st, which selects -tsje, a further simplification occurs, with the result that between the vowels of the stem and the diminutive only the consonant cluster [sj] is heard. An example is woarst[(v)ṷast]sausage > woarstje[(v)ṷasjə]small sausage. For a phonological account of these simplifications, see the topic on complex segments as single units.

Voiced obstruents become voiceless before the diminutive suffix. This is most evident with respect to stem-final /ɣ/, as the suffix -je can never cause the putative alternative of regressive assimilation. An example is baarch/ba:rɣ/pig (cf. bargen[barɣən]pigs) > barchje[barxjə]piglet. Therefore, it must be the diminutive suffix itself that triggers this final devoicing. See for this issue also the phonological domain of Final Devoicing, where the suffixes -lik and -(e)nis are mentioned that bring about devoicing as well.

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x Minimal pairs

The infinitive suffix -je does not normally bring about devoicing of the preceding fricative. A consequence is that minimal pairs ending in [-xjə] or [ɣjə] may arise, for example eachjesmall eye versus eagjeto gaze, or barchjepiglet versus bargjemake a mess. More examples of such minimal pairs can be found in examples of minimal pairs of diminutives and verbs.

Finally, it should be mentioned that after diminuation also the stem vowel can be altered by the well known phenomena of breaking and shortening. In fact, diminutive formation is the most fruitful context for these irregular alternations. Examples of breaking are beam[bɪ.əm]tree > beamke[bjɛmkə]small tree and toer[tu.ər]tower > tuorke[tṷorkə]small tower. Shortening can be exemplified by aai[a:i ̯]egg > aike[ai ̯kə]egg or hân[hɔ:n]hand > hantsje[hɔntsjə]small hand. For a phonological treatment of these irregular alternations, and a wealth of data as well, see breaking and vowel shortening, respectively.

[+] Semantics and use

In the unmarked case, diminutives refer to a small entity. A blomke (from blomflower) is simply a small flower. As stated above, diminutives derive from count nouns. Diminutives themselves are also count nouns.

Something that is small often evokes feelings of endearment, or disdain. In addition, then derivations in -DIM can have an affective connotation, meliorative or pejorative. The example below shows two uses of the diminutive form autokesmall car (base: autocar). Sentence (1a) has been said to a child and the derivation autokesmall car is just neutral there. In (1b), on the other hand, autokesmall car clearly has a pejorative connotation; the car does not necessarily need to be small.

Example 1

a. Boartsje mar moai mei dyn autoke, Marijke
play but beautiful with your car.DIM, Marijke
Just play nice with your toy car, Marijke
b. No, dêr komt Piet wer oan, yn dat stomme autoke fan him
now, there comes Piet again on, in that stupid car.DIM of him
Well, there's Piet again, in that stupid car of his

Derivations in -DIM are relatively frequently used while addressing children. Here are two examples:

Example 2

a. Doch dyn kleantsjes mar oan
do your clothes.DIM PTCL on
Just put your clothes on
b. Do moatst no op bedsje, hear
you must now on bed.DIM, well
Well, you have to go to bed now
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x Child language

In the language spoken by and to children, one can observe a few special forms. In finkje (from fingerfinger) and hynke (from hynderhorse) we see truncation of a final unstressed syllable. The same applies to ytsjes (from itenfood) and drinkjes (from drinkendrink), which moreover are transpositions from mass nouns. The diminutive form kijkescow.PL-DIM-PL is special since it derived from a plural, although this plural kijcows is irregular in relation to the singular kocow (as is also noted in the section on irregular plural formation).

In Frisian the affective use of the suffix -DIM is more frequent than in Dutch. Take for instance the noun fytsbicycle. In Dutch the diminutive form fietsje only means small bike, but in Frisian, the diminutive form fytske can have an affective meaning too. The example (a) below shows the ordinary use where the diminutive fytske refers to a small bike. In (b) the speaker does not say that he rides a small cycle. Here, the diminutive has been used merely to underscore that the speaker is content to use the bicycle, more than if he had used the base form op 'e fytsby bike (c).

Example 3

a. It lytse famke pakte har fytske en naaide út
the little girl grabbed her bike and sneaked off
The little girl took her bike and sneaked off
b. Ik gean altyd op it fytske nei it wurk
I go always on the bicycle.DIM to the work
I always go to work by bike
c. Ik gean altyd op 'e fyts nei it wurk
I go always on the bicycle.DIM to the work
I always go to work by bike

Although it might be true that diminutives with an affective connotation are more frequent in Frisian than in Dutch, this statement does not apply to nouns indicating an amount of time or weight. In Dutch, these units can have diminutives with a special affective connotation. For example dagday can be diminuated in dagje uita day out. As noted in the section on noun as base above, diminutive formation with such nouns is rare in Frisian; in such cases rather the base form of the noun is used: in dei fuorta day out.

Another minor difference with Dutch is the fact that plural diminutives of family names can only refer to the childeren of a couple. Thus the HoekstrakesHoekstra-DIM-PL are the children of Hoekstra and his wife. In Dutch, such a plural diminutive can also refer to the couple itself or the whole family. For this purpose, Frisian only uses the plural, without the diminutive form, hence de Hoekstra'sHoekstra-PLHoekstra and his wife.

A very special but unproductive function of the suffix is to indicate a female variant of a bird. It occurs, for example, in ljipkefemale lapwing, the female realization of the ljiplapwing. (For the synonym sijkefemale lapwing, see the section pronoun as base below). Other female bird names that are formed by adding a diminutive suffix are eintsjefemale duck, guoskefemale goose (derived, with breaking, from goesgoose) and dokefemale dove. An example of a female mammal is hûntsjebitch (from hûndog).

Note that in the world of the homo sapiens other suffixes are used to derive a female variant from a noun. These are -e, -esse, -inne and -ske.

[+] Lexicalized diminutives

Apart from an affective connotation, diminutive formations may sometimes have an extra meaning which is not compositional and therefore must be lexicalized. Here are some examples:

  • ingeltsje, which can be the small variant of an ingelangel, but also has the specific meaning ladybug;
  • tomke, which can be the small variant of a tommethumb, but also has the specific meaning robin;
  • karke, which can be the small variant of a karrechariot, but also has the specific meaning wheelchair;
  • húske, which can be the small variant of a hûshouse, but also has the specific meaning toilet.
There are even nouns which are diminutives in a formal sense only, i.e. they have the characteristics of a diminutive, but there no longer is a synchronic base word which they can be related to. Examples are:


Table 4
Formal diminutive Non-existent base
sechjesay, tale *sech
mearkefairytale *mear
ferlechjeexcuse *ferlech
toukeone year old sheep *tou
dúmkekind of biscuit *dúm
baitsjejacket *bait
krookjecrocus *krook

Semantically, the words above are monomorphematic, but they are formally complex. Not only do they show an ending that can be identified as a diminutive suffix, but they also have neuter gender and a plural in -s. The latter is telling, since monomorphemic words ending in -ke normally take the plural suffix -en, for example harkerake ~ harkenrakes.

The kinship terms pakegrandfather, omkeuncle and muoikeaunt go one step further. For one thing, these words also do not have an existing base (*pa), or the bases are not transparant anymore (ommeuncle; muoiewoman (mostly perjorative)) and basically have become obsolete. Moreover, these words have common gender: de pakethe.C grandfather, etc. The reason for this is the circumstance that they function as personal names; if personal names are pressed to take a definite article, it is always common de. The girl's name Sytske, for example, takes the common article in an expression like de Sytske fan myn dreamenthe Sytske of my dreams. An indication that these words are hardly felt to be diminutives any longer is the fact that pakegrandfather may take an extra diminutive suffix, particularly in the expression in âld paakjean old man. In a certain sense, we have an instance of stacking here. On the other hand, these three kinship terms select the plural suffix -s, which might be an indication that they can still be considered diminutives to a certain extent, although the word pakegrandfather also has the plural variant pakengrandfathers, probably under influence of his wife beppe, who has an original plural ending in -en (although the pairing may also work in the other direction, with a duo pakes en beppesgrandfathers and grandmothers as a result).

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x Faamgirl, a noun with two diminutive forms

The noun faamgirl is exceptional in that it has two different diminutive forms. The first one is the regular (although with shortening) famkegirl. The second diminutive form is fankegirl, which has a pejorative connotation. The following example illustrates the difference:

Example 4

a. Dat famke mei graach pianospylje
that girl.DIM may with.pleasure piano-play-INF
That girl likes to play the piano
b. Dat fanke is altyd oan it krimmenearjen, ik wurd der net goed fan
that girl.DIM is always on the nagging, I become there not good of
That girl is always complaining, it's making me sick

[+] The diminutive in peripheral dialects

Apart from a few minor differences mentioned in the section on phonological adjustments above, Frisian diminutive formation has no further signs of dialectical variation. However, this does not apply to the peripheral dialects of the island of Terschelling, of the small western town of Hindeloopen and of the island of Schiermonnikoog. They all deviate from the common Frisian system, and increasingly so in the order just given.

The island of Terschelling has two Frisian dialects, a western and an eastern one, separated by a zone speaking Meslâns, a mixed Frisian-Dutch dialect. The eastern diminutive system resembles that of the mainland pretty much. It has the same array of allomorphs, also with the same distribution. A small difference is the fact that the ending after the front vowel /e:/ is -tsje, and not -ke. Furthermore, the schwa of the diminutive suffix palatalizes to /i/ in the plural if preceded by /j/. An example is bakje[bakjə]small bin > bakjys[bakjis]. The same phenomenon can be observed in the western dialect.

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x A comparable transition on the mainland

In the light of the circumstance that the dialects on the island of Terschelling seem to have deloped in relative isolation, it is a striking fact that the north-western dialects on the mainland also show a change of schwa to /i/. However, it has gone farther there in the sense that the preceding /j/ has been deleted (or has merged somehow into the high front vowel /i/). Moreover, the distribution is much wider in these dialects. As to the diminutives, for example, also the singular is affected: standard Frisian spultsjesmall farm is pronounced as [spöltsi]. But also the sequence -je as it occurs in the paradigm of the weak verbs of class II underwent a change. It caused the verb wenjeto live to be pronounced as [vɛni] in these dialects. More information on the north-western transition, which was probably signalled for the first time by Sipma (1913:41), can be found in Visser (1992).

In addition, western Terschelling shows more deviations. The suffix -tsje has been simplified to -tse (for a similar change in the paradigm of verbs of the weak class II, see assibilation). After back vowels, the ending after the velar nasal /ŋ/ is not -kje but -ke. The ending after /r/ is not -ke but -eke, for example in /pɔ:rəkə/small pear. Finally, a phonetic detail to be noted is the fact that the underlying combination /xj/ is merged and palatalized to [ç]. It should also be noticed that a considerable number of stem alternations can be observed, as a result of historical processes, especially shortening.

The Hindeloopen dialect shows a number of allomorphs, which, however, have in common that they do not end in a schwa but in the sequence /ən/. The final /n/ is dropped in the plural before the plural suffix -s. This results, for example, for singular -tjen in a plural ending -tjes. Final /n/ also deletes if the diminutive is the first part of a compound, for example in hudjemeksterhat-DIM-make-SUFFhatter (female), which contains the diminutive hudjensmall hat, irregularly formed from hoedhat.

The various surface forms are the following:

  • -tjen after a vowel and after /r/, /l/ and /n/.
  • -jen after the dentals /t/d/ and /s/z/, after the velars /x/ and /k/, and the labials /f/v/ and /p/b/.
  • -kjen after the velar nasal /ŋ/.
  • -pjen after /m/.

In addition to these, there are a number of irregular diminutives, mostly resulting from historical changes like shortening.

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x Possible influence from Dutch

It is striking that the Hindeloopen system of diminutive forms resembles the Dutch one more than the Frisian system. This does not necessarily have to be a coincidence. In particular in the 17th and 18th centuries, the small town had intensive contacts with the Hollandic cities on the other side of the former Zuiderzee, especially with Amsterdam. Most skippers sailed for Amsterdam shipowners, and the women of Hindeloopen went shopping in Amsterdam in the autumn, at the end of the sailing season.

The property that the Hindeloopen diminutive forms end in /n/ (-tjen, etc.) is probably a Frisian feature that once existed in a wider area. See also De Vries (1927) and Brouwer (1969:197).

The most peculiar of the peripheral dialects is that of Schiermonnikoog, since it does not show productive diminutive formation at all. Small objects are referred to periphrastically by way of the adjective lytjsmall. Thus the islanders call their home ground Lytje Polesmall-INFL territoryislet. Diminutive suffixes do exist, but only in a few lexicalized formations, for example in mutjenaunt or petjencap. Notwithstanding its form, the latter is a cap of normal proportions. To refer to a small specimen, the adjective is used, as in in lytj petjena.INDF small.SG.N.INDF cap.SG.Na small cap. As is the case in mainland Frisian, the diminutive suffixes make the noun neutral. An exception is mutjen, which is a kinship term, and acts as a personal name; its mainland cognate muoikeaunt likewise lacks neuter gender, as we have seen in the section on lexicalized diminutives above.

[+] Non-nominal bases

Nearly all derivations ending in -DIM have a count noun as base, but the suffix is so productive that other categories may sometimes function as a base as well. Among them are non-count nouns, as has been seen in the section Noun as base above. Other lexical categories that may play such a role are verbs, adjectives, adverbs, numerals, and, depending on one's analysis, personal pronouns. None of the relevant patterns is productive; this applies particularly to adverbs, numerals and pronouns, with which the diminutive formations are quite rare. The main function of the suffixation is to realize a transposition to the category 'noun', although it is true for all derivations that the diminutive aspect is still present in one or the other way. That is to say, the objects referred to by the derivation usually have a restricted size, and/or have pejorative or meliorative connotations. Also in common with the productive diminutive formations from count nouns is the fact dat the derived nouns all show neuter gender. Likewise, formal properties, like the distribution of the various allomorphs, are the same, as is the suffix -s to mark the plural form.

As was also the case in the diminuation of mass nouns, the semantic function of diminutive formation from non-canonical categories is one of individuation, in keeping with the count noun character of the resulting diminutive.

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x Diminutives with a non-nominal output

The diminutive suffix is also used in other parts of word formation, hence without deriving nouns. A suffix -k forms iterative verbs. It is possibly related to the older diminutive suffix -k, which was mentioned in the historical note above. It may take adjectival, verbal and nominal) bases. In the latter case, an allomorph -tsj also exists.

We also find diminutive forms in the field of adjectives and adverbs. Here, -DIM is obligatorily followed by /s/, resulting in the suffix -DIMs. The attachment to an adjective results in another adjective, and the same transparency applies to adverbs. A striking feature is the fact that the allomorph -ke is lacking in this pattern. More information can be found in the topic on -DIMs forming adverbs from adverbs, and particularly in the topic -DIMs forming adjectives from adjectives.

[+] Verb as base

Diminutives may be derived on the basis of a verb, but this is unproductive. Some examples are shown below:


Table 5
Base form Derivation
kliemeto knead kliemkeslow person; sorehead
fertelleto tell ferteltsjestory
priuweto taste priuwkesample, taste
knipperjeto take a nap knipperkenap
betankjeto thank betankjeword of thanks

In general, derivation results in a count noun that may refer to one of the various roles that are involved in process of V-ing. It can therefore result in different noun types. In the table above, kliemke is an agent noun, ferteltsje and priuwke are examples of the category of a patient noun, and the categorie of action nouns is represented by knipperke and betankje.

[+] Adjective as base

Adjectives may also be input for diminutive formation. The result is a noun that refers to an object, often a person, that carries the property of the adjective. In this way, the plurale tantum Readsjesred-DIM-PL are the football players of the village of De Westereen, who wear a shirt that is predominantly red. The derivations referring to persons often have an affective connotation, which can be negative or belittling:


Table 6
Base form Derivation
sleaunegligent sleaukenegligent person
kreashandsome kreaskefashion plate
bretaalcheeky bretaaltsjecheeky person
swartblack swartsjenegro

The derivations can also indicate things, then often without an affective connotation. These derivations are lexicalised in having a specific meaning:


Table 7
Base form Derivation
nijnew nijtsjebit of news
healhalf healtsjehalf a loaf
inkeldsingle inkeldsjeone-way ticket
koelcool koeltsje(gentle) breeze
brúnbrown brúntsjesoft breeze; brown horse; brunette; piece of unexpected luck
[+] Adverb as base

Only two adverbs can be input for suffixation with -DIM. These are útout, away > útsjetrip and foaritenbefore dinner > foaritentsjestarter.

[+] Numeral as base

A few derivations are based on cardinals. They indicate a unity of the amount that is given by the base numeral. A twaketwo-DIM is a set of two eggs of the lap-wing. Banknotes are a favorite category: fyfkefive Euro note or tsientsjeten Euro note.

[+] Pronoun as base

We must assume that the diminutive suffix is attached to pronouns in two cases, both in the realm of lapwings. The male lapwing hijke could have been derived from the personal pronoun hyhe and his female counterpart sijke from the personal pronoun syshe.

However, although this development is not excluded beforehand, it is possibly more appropriate to assume that the forms hijke and sijke derive from the nouns hij and sij, which likewise refer to the male and female lapwing (see also the entries in Veen (1984-2011). These nouns can then be seen as conversions from the respective pronouns. If this analysis holds water, then an alleged pronominal base for diminutive formation could be discarded.

[hide extra information]
x Another possible pronominal base

Tamminga (1993) points at a third diminutive form that could be related to a pronoun. It is the jokje[jɔkjə], another word for the female lapwing, occurring in the northwest. Tamminga suggests that it is derived from the historical word for the third person female nominative pronoun, which survived in a reduced form as hju[jə] in a small area in the northeast, and as hja in the written language (see also female and plural pronouns). A problem for this idea is the strange ending *-kje after a vowel. Tamminga assumes that a regular -ke is reanalysed as *jok, thereby dropping the final schwa, a segment which is often subject to variation. After *jok the diminutive suffix -je is attached, resulting in jokje. Although there may be some sense in this derivation, it cannot have any synchronic status, as the relevant pronominal base form has now become obsolete in the area where the word jokje is still in use.

[+] Personal name as base

Diminutive suffixes extensively show up in the system of Frisian first names. The system of diminuation in first names closely resembles the one of ordinary nouns. We have the same allomorphs -ke, -tsje and -je, and their distribution is by and large the same. Originally, the suffixes may possibly have had a diminutive function in as far as they had a connotation of endearment. However, their main function now is to derive a female name from a male name. Here are some examples:


Table 8
Base form (male name) Derivation (female name)
Jelle Jeltsje
Jan Jantsje
Bouke Boukje
Klaas Klaske
Geart Geartsje

Next to deriving a female name from a male name, the diminutive suffix can also be found in the same sex category. For example, the man's name Poppe can become Popke, which is still a name for a man, and the woman's name Sybrich can become Sybrichje, which is also a name for women.

Although diminuation of names closely resembles that of nouns, there are also some differences, which can probably be ascribed to the circumstance that names have a peripheral status within the language system, and to the fact that the endings do not have a standard diminutive function. A deviating feature that stands out is the possibility of stacking, which we did not find up till now (with the exception of the word paakje, which had an non-existing base anyway; see the section lexicalized diminutives above). An example is the man's name Poppe, which can turn to the man's name Popke. This can feminize to Popkje. This name contains a stacking of two suffixes, -k and -je. A comparable example is Feie > Feike > Feikje. The pattern of such triples is always that the base is male and the second derivation is the woman's name. The first derivation can vary. It can be a man's name, as in the examples above. However, a woman's name is also possible, as in Rinse (male) > Rinske (female) > Rinskje (female), or Sape (male) > Saapke (female) > Saapkje (female).

Another deviation from ordinary nominal diminutive formation is the formal context. The suffix -ke may also operate after /t/, /d/, /l/ and /n/. Examples are Atke, Ruerdke, Jelke and Nynke. This is a remnant of an older situation, as has been pointed in the historical note above. Moreover, the suffix -tsje occasionally attached to non-canonical segments, notably /k/, but also /r/ and vowels, as shown by attestations like Sjouktsje, Piertsje or Jaatsje. Possibly, for the latter environments some influence from Dutch is imaginable; note that the registration of names always occurred in a Dutch setting.

A further difference is the fact that a final schwa is often (see the phonological domain of Final Devoicing), but not always deleted. This led to names like Pabeke (from Pabe or Tineke (from Tine). This may have evolved to a new suffix -eke, for example in Gearteke, which is related to the man's name Geart.

Not only the type of base can differ from nominal diminutive formation, we also find some additional suffixes, next to this -eke. Most of them are old, and have survived in the conservative world of naming. Worth mentioning are -se (Ealse, Bjinse), -te (Jelte, Joute), -ele (Oebele, Sibbele) and -tse(n) (Atse, Sweitse; Doutsen, tsen). After the second world war, a booming popularity of names ending in -y is attested. The habit of naming one's children after the names of one's parents remained, but at the same time the old Frisian names became old-fashioned. The compromise was to take the existing stem, and attach to it the suffix -y. The pattern was used both for boys and girls. So, Jakob or Jabik became Jappy, and Willemke (female) turned to Willy. The suffix could also be applied to form a woman's name (e.g. Sippy) from a man's name (Sibbele).

[+] Morphological potentials

As diminutive formation creates count nouns, the output can be pluralized. The diminutive suffix takes the plural suffix -s, for example knyn-tsje-srabbit-DIM-PLsmall rabbits, ai-ke-segg-DIM-PLsmall eggs, etc. This feature can be a distinguishing mark in identifying the existence of the suffix, as has been argued in the section on lexicalized diminutives above.

Diminutives themselves cannot act as the basis for suffixation, except for a few lexicalized formations: mearke-eftichfairy-like or famkes-eftichgirlish. The same applies to compounds: knynrabbit > *knyntsjehokhutch for small rabbits. Instead, the base noun will be used, as in kninehokrabbit hutch. Again, lexicalized diminutives are an exception. An example is: húsketoilet > húskepapiertoilet paper.

However, the diminutive suffix is available as a linking element in compounds with a noun as first component. In such cases, that member is not necessarily something small. Some examples are boekjefryskbook-DIM-Frisianwritten Frisian, rychjewentrow-DIM-houseterraced house or fuotsjefrijefoot-DIM-petplay footsie.

[hide extra information]
x Literature

A good overview of many aspects of Frisian diminutive formation is Hoekstra (1998:81-86, 94, 103). For a short introduction, see also(Folkertsma 1949) and Tamminga (1982). Hoekstra (1984) also contains important general information, but its main virtue is its calling attention to the use of the various non-nominal bases.

Hoekema (1965) is important for its overview of vowel alternations in the stem that are concomitant with the attachment of the diminutive suffix. (Tsjepkema 1969) takes a semantic perspective in that it mentions important areas where diminuation is frequent.

This topic does not take a historical point of view. However, it is worth mentioning that De Vries (1927) provides a lot of data from older sources. In this respect, also Hofmann (1961) is worth mentioning.

The early generative literature shows attempts to derive the various allomorphs from one underlying form. This is -kje in Riemersma (1979:96-97). De Haan (1990:109) assumes two underlying suffixes, -ke and -tje.

Visser (1989) offers two alternative phonological analyses, an abstract and a concrete one, for the final devoicing of the final obstruent and the insertion of /k/ after /ŋ/. In a reaction, Van der Meer (1990) prefers an historical explanation by assuming that an earlier suffix -tje left its marks of regressive assimilation, thereby stressing the morphological conditioning of the processes.

On the simplification of the clusters -st + tsje, see Visser (1993). The deletion of stem final /t/ after obstruents has been an item in a dialect survey in Van der Veen (1984, question 3), resulting in a wealth of data. The deletion of /t/ in the final cluster /-xt/ is observed already in Tamminga (1963:221).

For the influence of Dutch, see (Tamminga 1985)Tamminga (1985:125) and Breuker (1982) and, with a broader perspective, Breuker (1984). For the view that the change in its essence is internal, see De Haan (1990:108-110) and De Haan (1995). An investigation of child language, performed by Ytsma (1995:65-75), confirms De Haan's position. Child language, although from a different angle, is also the subject of Boelens (1987), who presents acquisition data from children grown up in Dutch-speaking families.

The affective connotation of many diminutive formations is briefly touched on by Tamminga (1985:126). A short treatment of the resistance of Frisian measure nouns to diminuation with a concomintant affective connotation can be found in Hoekstra (2000).

The data concerning the dialect of Schiermonnikoog are drawn from Fokkema (1969:22-23) and Visser and Dyk (2002:xxxii). The grammar of the Hindeloopen dialect, De Boer (1950), is notably poor on information about diminutive formation, but more data will be found in Blom and Dyk (to appear). An overview of the diminutive of the eastern dialect of Terschelling can be found in Roggen (1976:91), and to a certain extent also in Knop (1954:157-165), although the latter is far more extensive (and possibly also more reliable) about the western dialect of the island.

Derivations with bases other than count nouns are the subject of Hoekstra (1984), who claims that their semantics is derivable from the transposition itself and from the Frisian morphological system in general. He is attacked by Van der Meer (1988), who sticks to the view that the suffix in these cases adds a diminutive element, too.

The seminal paper of diminuation in the realm of first names is Visser (2002). General introductions to Frisian personal names are Brouwer (1963) and Ebeling (2001). An indispensable source for Frisian personal names still is Winkler (1898). A more recent source, and particularly devoted to first names, is De Haan (2002). The suffix -y, and its phonological ramifications in particular, is the subject of an in-depth study by Visser (2016).

References:
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