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Lesson Transcript

Michael: What are diminutives and how are they formed in Hungarian?
Krisztina: And are they commonly used?
Michael: At HungarianPod101.com, we hear these questions often. In the following situation, Karola Kocsis points out a cute kitten to her daughter, Kitti Kocsis. She says,
"Look at the kitten!"
Kocsis Karola: Nézd a cicuskát!
Kocsis Karola: Nézd a cicuskát!
Kocsis Kitti: Milyen cuki!
Michael: Once more with the English translation.
Kocsis Karola: Nézd a cicuskát!
Michael: "Look at the kitten!"
Kocsis Kitti: Milyen cuki!
Michael: "How cute!"

Lesson focus

Michael: In this lesson, you will be learning about diminutives in Hungarian and when and where they are used. To begin with, let me explain what a diminutive is. You know how, in English, we add "-let" to the word "pig" to make the word "piglet?" Well, that is a diminutive. Diminutives are words that are formed by joining a root word with a suffix or a prefix. Generally, diminutives denote a smaller version of something, or else they might indicate affection or, occasionally, be derogatory.
In Hungarian, many diminutives with a noun root are formed with the suffixes
Krisztina: -ke
Michael: and
Krisztina: -ka
Michael: For instance, in the dialogue for this lesson, Karola exclaims, "What a cute kitten!" The word for "kitten" in Hungarian is
Krisztina: cica,
Michael: but Karola used the word
Krisztina: cicuska
Michael: because she wanted to express just how cute she thought the kitten was. She used the diminutive ending in order to do this. Often, when we think of cats we also think of mice, which can also be cute. The word for "mouse" in Hungarian is
Krisztina: egér
Michael: and if you want to express how cute you think it is, you can add the diminutive suffix to make the word:
Krisztina: egérke.
Michael: These two diminutive endings are also often used with people's names, and express endearment. For instance, the name
Krisztina: Zsófia
Michael: can be made into the diminutive
Krisztina: Zsófika
Michael: and the name
Krisztina: Mihály
Michael: can be made into the diminutive
Krisztina: Misike
Michael: These are not the only suffixes that can be used with names though. Sometimes, the suffixes
Krisztina: -i
Michael: and
Krisztina: -csi
Michael: can also be used with names. For instance, the diminutive of the name
Krisztina: Zsófia
Michael: can also be
Krisztina: Zsófi
Michael: and the diminutive of a name like
Krisztina: János
Michael: can be
Krisztina: Jancsi.
Michael: These are, essentially, nicknames. It's important to note that sometimes people go by a certain nickname and they might not like it if you use the wrong one. It's probably a good idea to get to know someone well enough to know their preferred nickname before you start using one with them. It might seem overly familiar otherwise.
Some nouns don't take the diminutive endings we have discussed thus far. One of these new diminutive endings is:
Krisztina: -cska,
Michael: and it is used when a back-vowel word ends in a vowel. A back-vowel word is one that contains vowels that are formed further back in the mouth, such as
Krisztina: u
Michael: and
Krisztina: a
Michael: Here's an example of a word that takes this diminutive suffix:
Krisztina: falu
Michael: It means "village" and, with the diminutive ending, it means "hamlet" or "small village." This is what the diminutive sounds like:
Krisztina: falucska.
Michael: Another example of a base word that can use this suffix is
Krisztina: Anna
Michael: The diminutive of this name is
Krisztina: Annácska
Michael: Did you notice how the pronunciation of the final vowel in the name changed from
Krisztina: a
Michael: to
Krisztina: á?
Michael: This is the general rule when using this suffix.
A related diminutive suffix is
Krisztina: -cske,
Michael: and this one is used after front-vowel words that end in a vowel. As you will have guessed, front-vowel words are ones that contain vowels which we say with the front of our mouths. These are vowels like
Krisztina: ő
Michael: and
Krisztina: e
Michael: Listen to how the diminutive ending is used in this word:
Krisztina: szellőcske
Michael: This means "a tiny breeze" and the base of this diminutive is the Hungarian word for "breeze," which is
Krisztina: szellő.
Michael: In this next example, listen for how the final vowel changes again. The base word is
Krisztina: mese
Michael: meaning "fable" or "tale" and the diminutive, which means "a small fable," is
Krisztina: mesécske.
Michael: Did you hear how the final vowel changed from
Krisztina: e
Michael: to
Krisztina: é?
Michael: This is a rule you can follow when using this particular diminutive suffix.
One can also use these diminutive suffixes with words that end in consonants, but then we have to add something to the beginning of the suffixes. Let's look at the suffix
Krisztina: -cska.
Michael: This suffix can be added to some back-vowel words ending in a consonant, like
Krisztina: hullám,
Michael: which means "wave." But, when this happens, the suffix becomes
Krisztina: -ocska
Michael: Now, let's listen to the diminutive:
Krisztina: hullámocska.
Michael: Not too difficult, right?
There are some other back-vowel words that end in consonants to which the suffix
Krisztina: -acska
Michael: must be added. An example of this would be the Hungarian word for "bunny," which is
Krisztina: nyulacska.
Michael: The base word here is
Krisztina: nyúl,
Michael: which means "rabbit."
Let's now look at rounded front-vowel words which end in a consonant. A rounded front vowel is one like:
Krisztina: ö
Michael: The suffix that we often use for these is
Krisztina: -öcske,
Michael: and it can be used to form a word like
Krisztina: köröcske,
Michael: which means "circlet" or "small circle." The base of this diminutive is
Krisztina: kör,
Michael: which means "circle."
And now, let's have a look at the last of these types of diminutive suffixes. It sounds like this
Krisztina: -ecske
Michael: and it is usually added to unrounded front-vowel words ending in a consonant, although it can be added to some rounded front-vowel words that end in a consonant as well. Here's an example of the former:
Krisztina: cseppecske
Michael: The base word in this diminutive is
Krisztina: csepp
Michael: It means "drop" and the diminutive means "droplet."
You might have noticed that the English translations of several of these diminutives ended in "-let," such as "wavelet" and "hamlet." This is the English equivalent of the Hungarian suffixes we are discussing. Another equivalent would be the suffix "-ette" as in "statuette."
Knowing when to use which suffixes may take a little while, but at least there are a limited number of them! You've now learned the most common ones so you should get the hang of diminutives in Hungarian pretty quickly.
Michael: In this lesson, you learned that diminutives are words that are formed when a root word and a suffix are combined. The new word usually denotes something that is a smaller version of that which is referred to by the root word, or it can indicate affection and endearment. The diminutive suffixes that you learned about in this lesson were:
Krisztina: -ke
Michael: and
Krisztina: -ka
Michael: as well as
Krisztina: -cska
Michael: and
Krisztina: -cske.
Michael: You also learned that some nicknames are formed with the suffixes
Krisztina: -i
Michael: and
Krisztina: -csi.
Michael: One can also form diminutives out of some adjectives with these suffixes. This practice is usually for the benefit of children. For instance, if you want to soften a word like "lazy" or
Krisztina: lusta
Michael: in Hungarian, you could say that a person is
Krisztina: lustácska
Michael: instead. This would mean that the person you are talking about is just a little bit lazy.
And, while on the subject of changing the intensity of the meaning of words, it's interesting to note that Hungarian doesn't contain augmentatives. Augmentatives are the opposite of diminutives in that they express greater intensity, sometimes in size but also with regard to other semantic connotations. They are also formed with affixes such as suffixes or prefixes. In some languages, over-augmentation is used, where the word is intensified to a degree of absurdity or grotesqueness. In these contexts, it is generally done in order to convey something comical or else to be insulting or negative. Many languages use augmentatives and the lack of them in Hungarian is indicative of how unique and interesting this language is.
Cultural Insight/Expansion
Michael: An important point to take note of is that the affectionate nicknames that are given to people in Hungary are usually only used by their parents or grandparents. For instance, the diminutive
Krisztina: Zsófika
Michael: is an affectionate nickname that only a parent or grandparent might use. A friend would probably use the more neutral nickname
Krisztina: Zsófi
Michael: For this reason, it's probably best, as I mentioned earlier, not to try using nicknames until you know someone really well. You could end up making things awkward otherwise.


Michael: Do you have any more questions? We're here to answer them!
Krisztina: Viszontlátásra!
Michael: See you soon!