Sunday, January 6, 2008

Italian suffixes

Here's an interesting and fun topic regarding the Italian language, by which it differs quite a lot from English. These are the suffixes which go to alter words (usually nouns).

They are divided into diminutivi and vezzeggiativi (to denote smallness or affection, respectively) and accrescitivi and spregiativi (to denote largeness and dislike, respectively). Because of human nature's tendency to feel affection for small people or things, the diminutivi are often used as vezzeggiativi.

Here's a basic list:

diminutivi/vezzeggiativi: -ino, -etto, -ello, -uccio. Examples: casetta (little house), bicchierino (small glass). These can even be combined: casettina (really little house). They can be applied to people: Mariuccio (little and/or dear Mario). The diminutivi can sometimes have a mildly negative connotation: donnetta (small woman, in the sense of petty). They can also denote youth: dottorino is not a short doctor, but a recent medical graduate.

accrescitivi: -one, -acchione (ironic). Examples: librone (big book), donnone (big woman-feminine nouns tend to become masculine with this suffix).

spregiativi: -accio, -astro. Examples: giornataccia (bad hair day), tempaccio (foul weather), medicastro (quack), poetastro (poetaster). However, when applied to an adjective, -astro more closely corresponds to the English -ish: rossastro (reddish).

Although these would seem to be simple, they are not easy for non-native speakers. And not all words ending in the above are actually suffixes. For example, a signorina is not a small signora, and an aquilone (kite) is not a big aquila (eagle). In these cases, however, you can still see the connection with the suffix meaning, whereas in other instances there is no relation. Mattone (brick) is not a big crazy person (matto).

Now that you have a handle on these, you can amuse yourself by noticing how many Italian surnames have these suffixes. Rossini: small red-haired people? Gentiloni: gentle giants? Tedeschini: tiny Germans? Manacci: a family with ugly hands? Grassini: short, fat folks? Calvetti: short, bald folks?

The list above is not exhaustive. Here is a more complete treatment (in Italian).