Cultural Meanings of ‘Small’: Similar yet Different Semantic Networks of Diminutives in Thai and South Korean

Author Information

Kultida Khammee,
University of Phayao, Thailand

Seongha Rhee,
Mahidol University, Thailand
Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, South Korea

DOI: 10.47298/cala2022.6-1
The GLOCAL Proceedings:  The GLOCAL Conference in Asia 2022


Lexemes denoting ‘small’ typically undergo a range of semantic or functional extension, either as free-standing lexical forms, or weakly-grammaticalized derivational morphemes, or even fully grammatical forms (such as classifiers). There is a body of literature analyzing diminutives in individual languages and across languages. However, comparative analyses between typologically and genealogically distinct languages have been largely underrepresented.
This research analyzes an isolating, Kra-Dai language (Thai) and an agglutinating, Transeurasian language (South Korean). A comparative analysis reveals that the smallness concept in Thai forms an elaborate conceptual network in five major domains, i.e., YOUNG and LOWER DEGREE, SMALL SIZE, LOW DENSITY, and LOW CONFIGURATIONAL COMPLEXITY; whereas the South Korean network involves WEAK and INFERIOR, NON-HUMAN, MEMBER, and PARTIAL. Semantic extension directionalities in Thai and South Korean diminutive lexemes exhibit certain similarities and also a number of differences in the motivating inference patterns, e.g., ‘small therefore cute’ in Thai and ‘small therefore contemptible’ in South Korean. in particular. Thai diminutives lean toward the more neutral or positive meanings, whereas South Korean diminutives lean toward the largely negative and pejorative meanings including animal and animal body-part naming.

Drawing upon corpus data, this paper examines the conceptual extension patterns behind the evaluative morphopragmatics of diminutives from crosslinguistic and grammaticalization perspectives.

Keywords: Diminutive, Thai, South Korean, semantic extension, conceptual network, linguistic anthropology


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