I’m just musing here, not really looking for any answers, but maybe you’ll have some comments.
When I first started learning really basic Spanish (more than 40 years ago), I was told that a diminutive suggested that something was small. So, a «mesita» was likely to be smaller than a «mesa». OK. Fair enough.
In my bathroom right now I have something labelled «toallitas gigantes«. Whilst at first sight this may seem to be a contradiction, I can see that they are giant as far as wipes go but tiny in the realm of bathtowels. It does seem easier to me to have two different words like in English but…
A little later, to my surprise, I learnt that even adjectives could be used in the diminutive form. Somebody could be very «jovencito» or «enfermito». But for some reason, not all adjectives take kindly to this treatment. I’ve never heard that a scene is «bonitita» or that the window is «rotita». (Note that I’ve used both positive and negative-meaning adjectives in my examples.)
Time passed and I discovered that diminutives could express other nuances. The ones that come to mind now are:
- Baby talk – «No toques al perrito«, pronounced by the mother of a two-year-old who is trying to maul an 80 kilo Saint Bernard!
- Fondness – «Amiguitos/hijitos» etc. (even if they could qualify to be basketball players)
- Cuteness – Back to the «perritos», whatever their size.
- Comfort – Feeling «calentito» doesn’t seem to be feeling slightly/rather/quite warm, but pleasantly so.
(Regarding point number 1, (baby/mother-talk) does it ever get on your nerves to hear «Cómete todo el pollito con las verduritas para que estés fuertecito»?)
So, in many cases, the diminutive is a nice, friendly thing. But it can also be despective, can’t it? If you’re talking about the mayor of your town and say «Ese personajito/personajillo…», who would think that you voted for him in the last elections?
From the very little that I remember of German, I think that the «smallness» and «fondness» factors play a role in the use of diminutives, but I wonder what happens in other languages.
And what about English? Do we just miss out on all these nuances?
Hope I’ve given you some food for thought.