What better way is there to show linguistic love than with a diminutive? They are some of the first suffixes we learn in our native tongue or in a new language, and we see an example of how ingrained they are in the English word “baby,” which is actually diminutive of the word “babe.”
Wikipedia defines diminutives as “a word which has been modified to convey a slighter degree of its root meaning, to convey the smallness of the object or quality named, or to convey a sense of intimacy or endearment.” I am going to focus here on the usages (1) to communicate the smallness of the subject and (2) to communicate a sense of endearment, because people often confuse the two in translation.
Let’s take my husband’s name, Thomas, as an example. If a Spanish-speaking buddy wrote him a letter, he might address him with the diminutive of Tomás, which is Tomasito. It would sound rather silly if I translated Estimado Tomasito as “Dear little Thomas,” and it might even embarrass the writer. “Dear Tommy” more accurately conveys his intended meaning in English.
A more difficult example is the word Perrito in Spanish. Perrito really is often the equivalent of “doggie” OR “little dog” in English, so context is very important. In such a situation you must use your judgment. If you are translating a story in which a person comes home and greets her pet St. Bernard with the words, “Hola, perrito,” then perrito is best translated as “doggy,” unless the author is creating a sense of irony.
This perrito is both small and endearing. :) Pay close attention to the context, and use your judgment.
Although this issue may seem small (no pun intended), confusing a diminutive that is intended to convey small size with one that is meant to convey endearment is a very common mistake that will stand out to your, and your client’s, audience. Avoiding this pitfall will go a long way toward making your translation sound natural!