Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The "-illo" suffix

In Costa Rica, especially in the rural areas, people use the -illo diminutive suffix quite often. Since it's used liberally, the derogatory connotation does not apply--at least not in all cases and not to the same extent.

One common use, which is not unique to Costa Rica, is the use of 'chiquilla' to mean a young woman--often in a suggestive (but not inappropriate) way. Think of the word 'chick' in English with a more positive connotation.

A potential problem that arises when you use the -illo suffix is that many Spanish words change their meaning drastically when affixing -illo or -illa. For example, manzanilla isn't a little apple, but rather chamomile.

One time when I was moving tables around for a community event in a rural area, a man warned me that the tables were "pesadillas", which means that they're 'nightmares'. What he meant to say was that they are heavy, which for most Spanish speakers would be: "[las mesas] son pesadas". While I understood what he said in this context, the liberal use of the -illo suffix has the potential for creating confusing situations.

Here's a list of words to look out for, all of which have a different meaning from their suffix-less counterparts. (Keep in mind that not all of these pairs of words share the same morphological roots; for example, pandilla and panda do not share etymological origins.)

comilla (quotation mark) ≠ coma (comma)
pandilla (gang) ≠ panda (panda)
guerrilla (guerrilla) ≠ guerra (war)
sombrilla (umbrella) ≠ sombra (shade)
bombilla (light bulb, drinking straw in parts of South America) ≠ bomba (bomb)
pesadilla (nightmare) ≠ pesada (heavy)

There are countless others. These are just a few off the top of my head.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I know this post is rather old but I feel compelled to comment anyway. I have lived in rural Costa Rica for a few years now and am fascinated with the Spanish I have learned there. I stumbled upon this blog today and have been reading everything with much amusement. I am not linguistically qualified to challenge what you say here but have you ever considered the difference between a "paraguas" and a "sombrilla"? I've heard both words used in CR to refer to an umbrella. And I have seen umbrellas used to defend oneself against rain as well as sun. So would it be wrong to say that a paraguas is to protect against rain and a sombrilla is to protect against the sun (ie a sombrilla used on a sunny day creates a "little bit of shade" which in turn blocks out the sun)?