Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Fun with Diminutives

Grammar is not always fun is it?

The Croatian vocative case is a prime example.  My sister-in-law, who teaches Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian in the States has informed me that the vocative case is dying out. You can still apply the vocative to the name Sara and call out SARO!  But, when I call for my wife, I am not allowed to change the last vowel. Instead, I have to say PetrA!  The only explanation is that the vocative case is dying a slow death.

Moment of silence please.

Diminutives are a different story. In my experience, diminutives are one of the highlights of learning Croatian.

The suffix "ica" is added to many female Croatian nouns and BAM!, you have a smaller, more feminine, perhaps more fragile, cuter form of that object. defines diminutives as: "pertaining to or productive of a form denoting smallness, familiarity, affection or triviality". Drop to droplet is an example of a diminutive in the English language.

Let's look at some Croatian examples:

Ruke---->Rukice (hands---->small hands):  Here's a classic diminutive. Kid hands are generally rukice. Adult hands are ruke.

Pekarna ---->Pekarnica (bakery ---->smaller bakery): You'll see bakeries of all shapes and sizes with either one of these labels. The sign says nothing about the product you'll find inside. This is an abuse of the diminutive in my opinion.

Žena ----> Ženica (wife/woman ---->smaller, cuter or more fragile? wife/woman): The other day I was asked if I had a ženica at home. I paused for a few moments to think about the implications my answer would have on how my opinion of my wife would be perceived. I finally answered yes, because I think the point was just to find out if I was married. After asking a native speaker, they agreed and affirmed that his question wasn't meant to question the size or fragility of my wife. It was merely a gentler (and older) way of asking if I had a wife at home. So, it seems our definition of diminutives must develop a bit. Sometimes, using the diminutive says less about the object and more about the question or the statement.

Molba ---->Molbica (a favor ----> a smaller, cuter favor): In my experience, this can be used to ask a bigger favor in a smaller way. I've been asked to pick up a friend from the train station as a molba. I've been asked to drive to another part of Croatia as a molbica. Again, the diminutive says less about the noun in question than it does about how the person is trying to communicate.

Grozno---->Groznica (adj., awful---->noun, a small awful): You would never guess, though it makes a lot of sense.  A small awful is a cold sore. According to Wikipedia there are other Eastern European languages that allow for an adjective to take the diminutive. They did not mention Croatian though. And that's strange, because I can think of at least one more:

Trudna---->Trudnica (adj.,pregnant----> noun, a pregnant woman).  Other definitions include "an expectant mother" or "a child-bearing woman".

If that doesn't contradict the whole idea of a diminutive then I don't know what does.

One last function some diminutives have is to designate certain locations; a mesnica is where you buy mesa (meat), a stanica is where you wait for the bus. And, Orahovica is where I live.

Once you figure that one out, you may understand why I'm such a grammar nut. 


Daniel N. said...

You are a bit wrong. -ica is also a "feminine noun creation suffix".

It does not create just deminutives.

for instance, from a masc. noun:

slon -> slonica
profesor -> profesorica
učitelj -> učiteljica
lav -> lavica

but if attached to a feminine noun, the result is usually a deminutive:

riba -> ribica
kocka -> kockica
kuća -> kućica

etc. This is NOT completely regular.

Jeremy said...

Daniel, thanks for weighing in and adding further clarification.