Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Barxaw: Diminutives and Augmentatives

Barxaw has both diminutives and augmentatives. They are formed with the particles tíi (diminutive) and ŋò (augmentative). They have certain syntactical quirks.

1. They can replace counters.
2. Unlike adjectives, they are not used as predicates.
3. When replacing counters, they're also doubled just before the noun.

The social role of diminutives is to reduce potential tension, by - as it were - diminishing the importance of the things talked about. Of course, they also serve to mark diminutive sizes. A certain amount of lexicalized information is necessary.

Tíi sùy genuinely denotes a 'small meal', whereas ŋò sùy denotes that the meal is of some importance.
Tíi də̀m signifies any matter about which there's no reason to be overly concerned, ŋò də̀m signifies a physically major conflagration. Tíi quyén signifies a specific breed of small dogs, quyén signifies horses. Ŋò quyén usually signifies breeding-quality horses, but is attested in some dialects to signify a nearly monstrous mythical being. 
Any serious dictionary of Barxaw would include separate entries for all such separate meanings. For most nouns, however, assuming big or important for ŋò, and small or harmless for tíi should work out fairly well. 

Sociolinguistically, diminutives are used in similar ways in all classes - with women also using them slightly more often than men in all classes - but they are avoided in communication over class boundaries, except when lexicalized - although even then, synonyms are preferred if possible. Augmentatives have no such restriction, and are often used even in communication between state officials.

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