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Use of Diminutives in Colombian Children’s Narratives. Linda Votruba New York University. Acknowledgements. Dr. Gigliana Melzi Dr. Camila Fernández Members of the Child Language Research Team, especially Joy Kennedy. . Why are Diminutives Important?.

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  • Dr. Gigliana Melzi
  • Dr. Camila Fernández
  • Members of the Child Language Research Team, especially Joy Kennedy.
why are diminutives important
Why are Diminutives Important?
  • Diminutives are morphemes attached to simplex word forms.

English: dog  dogg-y

Spanish: perro perr-ito

  • Diminutives denote smallness, but they connote a range of pragmatic meanings (e.g., emotions and politeness).
  • They are widely used among different languages, including Romance language and Slavic language.
current research on diminutives
Current Research on Diminutives
  • Past research has focused on the expressive functions of diminutives, in addition to the prevalence of diminutives among different languages.
  • Current research has documented new roles for diminutives, including:

a) facilitating child language acquisition,

b) promoting intimacy, attachment, and personal involvement,

c) regularizing stress and increasing word-ending invariance in languages such as Russian and Spanish.

research on spanish diminutives
Research on Spanish Diminutives
  • Research on Spanish diminutives is limited.
  • Most studies have been conducted within linguistics and have investigated the semantic and structural characteristics of diminutives.
  • Empirical studies have investigated mother-child dyads and the use of diminutives.
  • Nonetheless, few studies have investigated the usage of diminutives among Spanish-speaking children and narratives.
study objectives
Study Objectives

Two specific research questions guided the present


  • To what extent do Colombian school-aged children use diminutives in their elicited narratives?
  • Are there any differences in the use of diminutives between boys and girls?
  • All first graders participating in a larger project (Fernández, 2007) were selected as the main sample for the present study.
  • The sample included 58 (28 girls and 30 boys), normally developing, Spanish-speaking Colombian children (Mage = 7.18, SD = 0.60).
  • Children belonged to families from low to medium socio-economic status.
  • Children were visited by a Colombian researcher in their homes and were asked to narrate the wordless book Frog, Where Are You? (Mayer, 1969).
  • All diminutized words (e.g., froggie) and their corresponding simplex forms (e.g., frog) were coded for:

Did the target word appear only in diminutized form throughout the conversation, or both as a diminutized and simplex form word?


Was the target word a noun (e.g., ranita), an adjective (e.g., azulita), or an adverb (e.g., rapidito)?

descriptive overview
Descriptive Overview
  • A total of 2860 words were coded. These included frozen and flexible diminutives as well as their simplex forms.
  • Colombian children used a total of 580 diminutives (31% frozen diminutives and 69% flexible diminutives).
  • This constituted 2% of all words used and 7% of all words that could be diminutized.
  • On average children used 10 diminutives per narrative (SD = 12.99).
  • Nevertheless, there were many individual variations.
figure 1 use of diminutives
Figure 1: Use of Diminutives
  • Of the total diminutives that children used in their narratives, the majority were nouns.
  • Children diminutized animals (e.g., perrito, doggy; ranita; froggy) more than humans or other inanimate objects.
gender differences in diminutive use
Gender Differences in Diminutive Use
  • Analyses indicated that girls used more diminutives than boys, t(56) = 2.74, p < .01 (see Figure 2).
  • Furthermore, girls used more flexible diminutives, t(56) = 2.27, p = .03. However, no gender differences were found in the use of frozen diminutives.
  • However, girls also talked more than boys, t(56) = 2.33, p < .05. After controlling for the total diminutizable words used, the gender differences were not large enough to reach significance.
  • Two subcategories of nouns approached significance (see Figure 3):
    • Girls tended to diminutize nouns referring to human character, t (56) = 1.94, p = .06, whereas boys tended to diminutize nouns referring to inanimate objects, t(56) = 1.70, p = .09.
discussion and conclusion
Discussion and Conclusion
  • Results from the present study corroborate those from previous research showing that Spanish-speaking children diminutized about 10% of nouns, adjectives and adverbs.
  • The present study also corroborated past gender differences in the total use of diminutives, but further showed that these differences are a result of total diminutizable words produced.
  • Findings show that girls and boys tended to diminutize different types of nouns. The use of diminutives with human characters is more similar to the patterns observed in adult use of diminutives (e.g., mothers).