In English, when something is big laterally, we say it's "wide", and when it's not, we say it's "narrow". This measure is called "width", and the word for it is derived from "wide", not "narrow".

Same holds for "deep / shallow / depth", "long / short / length" etc. The name of the measure is derived from the word used for when something is big by this measure and not for when it's small.

In all languages I'm familiar with, the situation is the same.

Are there any languages which systematically use the "small" word to name the measure?

In other words, the words for "length", "depth" and similar in this language would literally translate to "shortness" and "shallowness".

Of course "shortness" and "shallowness" are both words in English, but they are not usually being used to mean "length" and "depth". I am looking for a language where they are.

A language which does not have etymologically unrelated words for the big and small measures, but the less marked one would be the small one, would work too.

In other words, a language which uses, literally, "non-shallow" for "deep" and "non-narrow" for "wide".

  • Also high/low > height, broad/narrow > breadth (and cognitively fast/slow > speed). Some languages have still other cases, like Scandinavian stor/lille > størrelse and tung/let > tyngde (Danish) = stor/liten > storlek and tung/lätt > tyngd (Swedish), both meaning ‘big/small > size’ and ‘heavy/light > weight/heaviness’. I can’t think of a single language where the opposite is used. I suppose perhaps it’s because the zero end of the scale is at the light/narrow/etc. end, so that’s the base, and the thing you talk about is when you move away from the starting point. Commented Dec 11, 2021 at 23:36

1 Answer 1


Many of theirs...Even English: deepness/depth, longness/lengthiness/length. In Russian for some words thus model: dlinnyj > dlina (word stem +na), shirokij > shirina, glubokij > glubina . But some words that more similar to English depth/etc. are used for poetic purpose: shirj, glubj. A lot of agglutinative languages use the 'word+ness' model, especially Turkic ones: Turkish geniş/genişlik, etc.

Upd: This is answer for 'word+ness' model. At first time I read your article as it would consist two parts - for 'word+ness' model and for exotic 'non-VALUE' languages.

Upd2: The famous E auxiliary language can do what you want to see, but in jokable manner. And Australian aborigines too. Additionally, there is one problem - semantics. For you 'non-value-ness' languages. Because, sometimes 2+2 is not 4, but 5. If you can read in Russian, here more about your topic: https://cyberleninka.ru/article/n/k-voprosu-ob-opredelenii-antonimii-i-o-tipologicheskoy-klassifikatsii-antonimov/pdf

P.S. There was interesting example of 'length' as compound word 'short-long' in Chinese. Such type of nominalization is familiar to many other languages too.

Upd3: The very example is 'nonbadness~goodness'

P.S. For some reasons I can't add new answers and comments.

  • 1
    I was asking about the languages which would use "shortness" instead of "length". In Russian, нижина and ужина are not used except in the birthday song.
    – Quassnoi
    Commented Dec 11, 2021 at 23:08
  • 5
    This doesn’t appear to be an answer to the question asked. Commented Dec 11, 2021 at 23:26
  • The Chinese example is very interesting and close to what I am looking for. The aboriginal ritual languages look promising too.
    – Quassnoi
    Commented Dec 12, 2021 at 1:22

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