by Medadi Erisa Ssentanda
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DIMINUTIVES IN LUGANDA
A diminutive (DIM) form refers to a slight degree of something, smallness of an object or quality, but it can also express intimacy or endearment. Luganda (Bantu E15) like many other Bantu languages uses noun class prefixes and adjectives to mark diminutives. When a noun appears in its diminutive form agreement is required. This means that various words that modify the noun must carry agreement prefixes.
It is interesting that all nouns and all proper names in Luganda can appear in a diminutive form by adding an affix. Diminutives in Luganda are widely formed by assigning any noun or proper name to classes 12/13 (12 = aka/ 13= otu) for singular and plural respectively. Class 14 (obu) is also diminutive, but class 14 contains more inherent nouns than 12 and 13. Classes 12/13 have very few nouns that inherently belong to these classes, and these inherently assigned nouns are not semantic diminutives. Examples of inherently assigned nouns to class 12 are: 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:
|| -sajja man
| -wala girl
|caayi tea (from Swwhilli, chai)
| -ti tree
|13OTU Uncountable nouns
|| -zzi water
||small amount of water/precious water
| -nnyu salt
||little salt/precious salt
|| -lenzi boy
||small boys, derogatory
| -papula paper
||small/tiny papers/beautiful papers
Akasajja kali kantama
“I loathe the other man”
Leeta wano otunnyu twange
“Bring here my (endeared/precious) salt”
Talina mulimu, akola bulimulimu bwasanze
“S/he has no proper job, s/he does any job s/he finds”
| ||work/job14DIM|| |
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:
“Small Mukasa/ Endeared Mukasa.”
kajohn kaako kazze
“Little/small John has come”
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.
Your kadress is so beautiful
“Your dress (endeared) is so beautiful”
Give me a kasmall piece
“Give me a small piece ”
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
Njagala amazzi matono
“I want little water”
Olugoye lwe lutono telumutuuka
“His/her cloth is small, it does not fit him/her”
“Give me a tiny piece”
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:
Namubiru yazadde kaana ki?
“Which sex of the child did Namubilu give birth to?”
Also, when one is congratulating a mother they say:
“Congratulations upon being delivered of a baby!”
“Congratulations upon your birth”
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