Right now, little house, little beans, Diosito … We will tell you why we Mexicans use so many diminutives and why it is important to preserve them.
Mexicans are known worldwide for our kindness when we speak, which may seem a vice derived from colonial subjugation. However, not all expressions in Mexican Spanish are derived from shyness in front of the interlocutor. This is the case of diminutives, which could be an inheritance from Nahuatl.
According to the article Possible influence of Nahuatl on the use and abuse of the diminutive in Mexican Spanish by the great specialist in Mesoamerican cultures, José Ignacio Dávila Garibi, the use of the diminutive in Mexican Spanish could be similar to the linguistic forms of diminutive in Nahuatl. It is common to hear words like “beans”, “little house”, “wives”, etc., almost in an abusive way, even when they do not correspond to the physical reality of the reference object.
The use of the diminutive is such that it is applied to adverbs, generating words like “adiosito”, “favorcito” or “apenitas”. Even words of great respect such as Dios (“Diosito”) or madre (“madrecita”) are taken to the diminutive without implying a lack of respect or diminution. On the contrary, they are forms that reflect greater veneration, affection, and familiarity.
According to Dávila Garibi, this excessive use of the diminutive – unparalleled in other countries – stems from the cultural exchange during the early years of New Spain. About it he mentions:
“The use of the diminutive in Mexico is something like daily bread. Why? Undoubtedly – I believe – due to the influence of Nahuatl in which the diminutive is used so profusely and that the Spanish conquerors necessarily had to speak it to communicate with the Indians. “
The use of diminutives in Nahuatl
Nahuatl is a language where the use of the diminutive is of vital importance with different forms and meanings. Generally, a suffix was added to the words that changed the meaning, while the voice returned a diminutive. For example, for mázatl, whose meaning is deer, the following options could be generated:
- A newborn deer, or at least young, is called a mazaconetl (fawn).
- While a dwarf deer would be a mazatepito .
- If any of them are mentioned respectfully or lovingly: mazatzin .
- If it is a mummy animal: mazápil.
The application of diminutives is so common in this pre-Hispanic language that it is applied to place names. For example Mazapilco (place of the deer).
Although in current Spanish we use diminutives in the context of familiarity, in Nahuatl this is not the case, since there are words that are always used with this form. An example of this are the words etzintli, beans, mimizton, kitten, tepitzin, tantito, etc.
Due to the influence that the Nahua peoples naturally had on the conquerors, it is logical that forms of expression that transcended the language were maintained. It should be noted that most evangelizers and educators had to become bilingual in order to undertake their work, as did those who adapted to their new reality. How not be forced to transfer certain feelings?
So you know, the diminutives in Mexico have a special value not only because they come from Nahuatl, but because of the affection, love, or respect they express.