This study investigates the analytic and synthetic diminutives of the English language. It is based on three assumptions. First, diminutives are not an exclusively morphological category. Second, to understand the specific nature of diminutives, both formal and functional aspects must be examined, as well as the interaction between them. And third, diminutives must be studied empirically and in context. Against this background, an integrative approach is developed which combines grammatical and pragmatic perspectives. This approach can be adopted in the analysis of diminutives of any language.
That English has no diminutives is a common myth. The present study shows, however, that English does possess diminutives, and not only analytic but also synthetic diminutive markers. Analytic markers include, first and foremost, little, as well as other adjectives from the same word field, whereas the inventory of synthetic markers comprises suffixes as, for instance, -ie, -ette, -let, -kin, -een, -s, -er, -poo and -pegs. These markers are examined from a grammatical and a pragmatic perspective in an integrative formal-functional framework. The grammatical perspective involves phonological, morphological and semantic features, while the pragmatic perspective involves pragmalinguistic as well as sociopragmatic features on the levels of the speech act and larger interactive units in dialogue. The findings reveal that English diminutive suffixes are, in fact, among the most productive suffixes of the English language. While the suffixes share a number of features, each has developed its own profile, specifically regarding semantic and pragmatic features. In everyday conversation, there is a division of labour between the synthetic and the analytic type of formation concerning the communicative functions of diminutives and their distribution in discourse. The choice of formal device and its function depend crucially on pragmatic factors, notably on the illocution, the interactive status, the realisation strategy, and the politeness value of the utterances in which diminutives are employed, and also on the relationship between the interlocutors.