Diminutives Controversy, Part 3

My posts on Latvian diminutives have stirred up a tempest in a teapot.

Latvians use a lot of diminutives, not just for family members and friends. Not just for humans but also for animals and inanimate objects. A few people have objected to such usage. They feel diminutives should be used only for loved human beings. These objections are nothing new. Years ago I read a verse by a Latvian writer who made fun of the indiscriminate use of diminutives. Other blog readers felt that employing diminutives in such a manner shows warmth, kindness, and compassion.

To some extent, I agree with both points of view. Diminutives applied willy-nilly can come across as saccharine. Even pukey. But the objectors seem to have overlooked the fact that diminutives aren’t used just to express affection but also to indicate size.

“Vista” is the word for a hen. The diminutive is “vistiņa.” One lady said she objects to eating a “vistiņa.” To her, it felt like she’d be eating someone’s pet. Farmers are far more practical. They can be fond of their chickens, even give them names, but eventually,  cook them up in a stew. For all the woman knows, the “vistiņa.” could be a bantam hen or other small breed of chicken.

The lady with objections has a dog. I don’t know if she speaks to him in Latvian, as many Latvian pet owners, including me, do. If she speaks Latvian to him does she call him, “sunītis” or “suņuks,” “šunelis,” or other diminutives for the word “suns”?

Doesn’t this sweet little critter deserve a pet (!) name?

My late great kitty (!) went by the name of Mincis, a Latvian word meaning, kitty cat, so she had a term of endearment for her proper name. Yes, I know the name has a masculine suffix but the suffix is used for both male and female cats (and people and other critters) Male cats would be called “runcis,” or “runcītis” or “runčuks.” Heaven forbid that someone might call a pet “mīluls,” (loved one) “mīlulītis” or “mīļumiņš.” Those terms of endearment should be reserved for humans. Maybe. Maybe not. I’m not one to judge.

My Minčuks

Not just domestic animals, but wild animals too get diminutive, e.g. “stirna” a.k.a. “stirniņa.”

A dear deer.

Diminutives are used for the names of body parts. Mostly in regards to children, but also adults, who can be fond of their own body parts. It’s okay. “Acs,” eye, becomes, “Actiņa” or “Ačele.” Hair = “mati” (pl) diminutive, “matiņi,” Hand, “Roka” = “rociņa” = “roķele,” and so on. This also goes for people you’re fond of no matter their age. As Rodolfo sang in “La Boheme” to a young woman he’s just met and is falling in love with, “Che gelida manina.” “What a cold little hand.” “Cik auksta rociņa.” Lovers are a whole other story.

Inanimate objects aren’t left out of the affection/size equation. The same lady who objected to “vistiņa” also had issues with things such as spoons, “karote” (s) “Karotīte” and books “Grāmata” (s) = “Grāmatiņa,” Some of us are more fond of our spoons and books than others. Of course, spoons and books come in various sizes. I don’t recall my parents, who learned the

language while living in Latvia, using diminutives when speaking of spoons, books, or other household objects. Their use of the diminutive suffixes for these things was indicative of the item’s size. That’s how I’ve always spoken of most inanimate objects. But as always, there are exceptions to the rule and people’s personal preferences.

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3 thoughts on “Diminutives Controversy, Part 3”

  1. About diminutives in Latvian language: When I was born my mother gave me the name “Ieviņa” which is a diminutive of “Ieva” because my grandmother’s name was Ieva. Even when I was Christened, the minister asked my mother – are you sure you want to give this baby the name Ieviņa? She replied – When she grows up she will be called by her last name – Mrs. — as was the custom in Europe. So I grew up with that name, came to USA and now that I am 82 years old, I am still called Ieviņa! In US I am not embarrassed about my name, they think it is an interesting name and call me “Aivīna”. But returning to Latvia, it is embarrassing being introduced as Ieviņa at my age.

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    1. Thank you for your comment. I can see why your mom made that decision. Your oma was big Ieva and you were little Ievina. No doubt a cute baby, too. For me, it was the other way around, embarrassed in the US, not embarrassed in Latvia. Visu labu Jums!

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