Women and other 'small things': <i>-ette</i> as a feminine marker

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Among the inventory of English nominal suffixes, <i>-ette </i>stands out as a relative latecomer with a rather limited productivity and a variety of meanings. Apart from small size, <i>-ette </i>can also indicate imitation or female sex, with the resultant formations often being classed as derogatory. This range of applications has been ascribed to universal tendencies in the semantics and pragmatics of the diminutive. A closer look at the origin and development of personal formations in <i>-ette </i>reveals, however, a number of special traits that can only be explained as the results of specific conditions operative in the English system. This paper sets out to trace the history of female <i>-ette </i>nouns and tries to explain why this minor pattern with its structural and semantic peculiarities has managed to survive in a language in which neither gender marking nor diminution are regular morphological categories.


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