When in doubt, attach “-je”, “-ke”

English doesn’t have a whole lot of diminutives in use, at least not recognizable ones, except when it comes to nick names (Suzie/Suzanne, Tommy/Tom, Rosie/Rose, etc) and cutesie terms and baby-talk (undies, hottie, horsie, itsy-bitsy, etc).  It’s not entirely true, since a lot of adapted words do actually come from the diminutive form through other languages, and adopted into English as is.

In Dutch, however, diminutives are everyday, and everywhere.  Dutch in the Netherlands attach some form of “-je” to the back of almost every conceivable noun to signal endearment and diminishing status.  A dog, hond, becomes hondje, a house, huis, becomes huisje, an hour, uur, becomes uurtje, and foreigners’ favourite, a beer, bier, true to its name, becomes bierje.  Many expressions only come in the diminutive form: een kopje thee, a cup of tea; toetje, dessert; snoepje, candy; and meisje, girl. Some also attach the “-je” endings to first names, so you end up with little Marco, Hans, Sanne and Lise.

It really adds a child-like quality to the spoken language.

The Flemish Dutch, Vlaams Nederlands, use “-ke” instead as a diminutive and term of endearment.

It seems “-ke” was also widely used, as a term attached to last names in some parts of eastern Germany. I don’t think the two are related.

The suffix -ke/ka—as in Rilke, Kafka, Krupke, Mielke, Renke, Schoepke — hints at Slavic roots. Such names, often considered “German” today, stem from the eastern parts of Germany and former German territory spreading eastward from Berlin (itself a Slavic name) into today’s Poland and Russia, and northward into Pomerania (Pommern, and another dog breed: Pomeranian). The Slavic -ke suffix is similar to the Germanic -sen or -son, indicating patrilinear descent—from the father, son of. (Other languages used prefixes, as in the Fitz-, Mac-, or O’ found in Gaelic regions.) But in the case of the Slavic -ke, the father’s name is usually not his Christian or given name (Peter-son, Johann-sen) but an occupation, characteristic, or location associated with the father (krup = “hulking, uncouth” + ke = “son of” = Krupke = “son of the hulking one”).

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  • Ken Westmoreland

    In Afrikaans, the diminutive is usually ‘-tjie’, but confusingly, it’s pronounced ‘-kie’, so ‘bietjie’ is pronounced ‘bikkie’. Other diminutives tend to be ‘-ie’, so ‘dorp’ is village, ‘dorpie’ is a small village,, while ‘meisje’ becomes ‘meisie’.

  • alex rivero nava

    actually, the more common form is biertje, not bierje

    in Flemish they use indeed -ke for indefinite or male forms.
    female names adad “je” though.