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Diminutives in Luganda

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by Medadi Erisa Ssentanda

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A diminutive (DIM) is a formation of a word used to convey a slight degree of the root meaning, smallness of the object or quality named, encapsulation, intimacy, or endearment (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diminutive, Accessed Tuesday, 23rd Nov, 2010). Luganda (Bantu E15) like many other Bantu languages uses noun class prefixes and adjectives to mark diminution with a meaning: smallness (minuteness), endearment or affection, derogatoriness (positive or negative evaluation), intimacy, colloquialism and encapsulation. When a diminutive is applied to a noun, it is not only realized on the noun only but also clearly marked on various words that agree with nouns or with noun phrases following agreement prefixes that relate to the noun being modified.

It is interesting that all nouns and all proper names in Luganda can be diminuted by adding an affix that gives a meaning intended by the speaker. Diminutives in Luganda are widely formed by assigning any noun or proper name to classes 12/13 (12Aka/13Otu) for singular and plural respectively. Class 14Obu is also diminutive, but has more inherent nouns than 12 and 13. Classes 12/13 have very few nouns that inherently belong to them, and these inherently assigned nouns do not have a semantic feature of diminution. Examples of inherently assigned nouns to class 12Aka: akajanja (no plural), akateebe (deep water), akatandaalo ‘raised table-like structure for drying utencils’, akakongovvule óuncle’, akakunizo ‘puzzle’, akalulu ‘vote’, akamooli ‘ventilator’, .... Class 13otu has only one inherent noun, otulo sleep (no plural). Class 14OBU (plural) has many inherently assigned nouns to it, for instance: obulo millet, obubaka message, obuugi porridge, obukeedo raw material for making a basket and so on. Noun class prefixes denoting diminution

Examples are given in the table below:

Noun class Root Diminution Gloss 12AKA Singular -sajja man Akasajja Small/tiny man -wala girl Akawala Small/tiny girl Caayi tea [from Swahilli, chai] Kacaayi Tea (endeared) -ti tree Akati Stick/tiny/small tree -ana child Akaana Small/beautiful child

13OTU Uncountable nouns -zzi water Otuzzi Small amount of water / precious water -nnyu salt Otunnyu Little salt/precious salt 14OBU Plural -lenzi boy Obulenzi Small boys, derogatory -papula paper Obupapula Small/tiny papers

Example sentences 1. A-ka-sajja ka-li ka- n- tam- a IV 12KA mn 12KA AGR DEM (distal) 12KA 1PSG OBJ loathe FV I loathe the other man

2. Leet-a wano o – tu – nnyu twa-ange Bring FV here IV 13TU DIM salt of mine POSS 1PSG Bring my precious/endeared salt here.

3. Ta- lin-a mu-limu, a-kol-a bulimo-limo bw-a-sanz-e NEG 3SG have FV 3MU job 3SG work FV job (REP) 14BU 3SG find PERF S/he does not have a job, s/he does any small/little job s/he finds. The other additional element of meaning that is often associated with diminutive forms in Luganda is the emotive element involving expression of affection, endearment or sympathy towards the referent. For instance, in sentence (1) above, the speaker treasures the little salt referred to. Possibly it is the only salt left, and he/she cannot stand to waste it.

Like Booij (2005:14) puts it, diminutives are not only used to denote small size but also for giving a positive negative evaluation. For instance in sentence (3) the jobs referred to are disapproved, they are not proper. I thought he/she does any kind of job he/she finds; he/she does not discriminate, and the jobs are short lived, but not disapproved In Luganda, diminution can also be formed by adding affixes to proper names: when this is done, the noun becomes derogatory and negatively evaluates the referent. This addition of a diminutive prefix onto a proper name can also mean little or endearment. However, the meaning here can also be colloquial. For instance: 4. Ka-mukasa (Mukasa is a Luganda proper name) 12Ka DIM

5. Ka-john kaako kazze, Little John or small/endeared John has come. 12Ka DIM (John is an English proper name)

In this case the meaning of the diminutive varies from the context to context, see example ii above. The John in question can be endeared to the speaker or that the John talked of is negatively evaluated (derogatory). In his paper, A short survey of Diminutives in Slovak and English Alena Kačmárová mentions something interesting about diminutives: A means by which a language can be considered ‘cute’ is the usage of diminutive forms of nouns, verbs, adjectives, or adverbs. In Luganda this phenomenon is true, diminution can at times be untranslatable. It is not uncommon in Ugandan English to hear Luganda speakers appending Luganda diminutives to English words in an attempt to express their intended meaning. This probably comes because the intended shade of meaning has no match to the English equivalents. What is interesting is that, the diminutives are sometimes appended to the English diminutives, see example iii and iv below. The same case happens with augmentation. 6. Your kadress is so beautiful. Your dress is so beautiful.

7. Give me a kasmall piece. Give me a small peace. In example (6) the speaker endears the dress. The dress is not necessarily small but it is endeared or taken to be precious to the speaker. This kind of language is so common among the youth. In example (7) notice that ka (class12 prefix) denotes smallness, and the English adjective small also means small; but because of the untranslatable nature of some meanings, some speakers feel unsatisfied with using only the English adjective. Adjectives denoting diminution 8. -tono small N-jagal-a a-ma-zzi ma-tono 1PSG want FV IV 6MA water 6MA small I want little water.

O-lu- goye lwe lu-tono te-lu-mu-tuuk-a IV 11LU cloth POSS 11LU 3PSG 11LU small not 11LU 3PSG fit FV His/her cloth is small, it does not fit him/her.

9. –tini tiny M- p- a ka-tini [the verb root is oku-w-a, /w/ changes to /p/] 1PSG give FV 12KA tiny

This adjective, -tini is very common in young children’s language. They use it to refer to smallness and also to tininess of something. Adults do not usually use this adjective. Cultural usage of diminutives In Kiganda culture, when someone gives birth, people begin to ask of the sex of the baby one gave birth to. The question posed in this situation is diminutive denoting littlness, endearment and affection: 10. Namubiru yazadde kaana ki? What is the sex of the baby that Namubiru gave birth to?

Also, when one is congratulating a mother they say: 11. A-ka- ana ka- kulik-e! IV 12KA DIM child 12KA DIM AGR congratulate MOOD Congratulations upon being delivered of a baby

12. Ka-baby ka- kulik-e! 12KA DIM baby 12KA DIM AGR congratulate MOOD Congratulations upon being delivered of a baby


Booij, G.(2005) The Grammar of Words: An Introduction (2nd edn). Oxford University Press: UK


Kačmárová, Alena A short survey of Diminutives in Slovak and English