How do you use -chen with animals?
There are some words containing '-chen' like Eichhörnchen or Meerschweinchen. Are these "-chen" deadly stuck to the words? Or, they are used just because the animas are small? Or both?
Do "Eichhorn" and "Meerschwein" make any sense?
It's just a diminutive ending tacked on to indicate that the thing in question is little or cute, often as a term of endearment. You can add it to many things in everyday speech. In various parts of the country instead of -chen they add -lein, -l or -le instead, to indicate the same thing. And sometimes they double down on such endings, ie. Fraüleinchen.
The question is whether I can always remove it from words like those.
I remember from Schneewittchen (Snow White) that the Queen who trusted in her dear mirror (or Spiegel); addressed the mirror as Spieglein, Spieglein an der Wand, Wer ist die Schønste im ganzen Land? I always thought this was very telling of the queen's relationship with her mirror.
It is interesting to not overlook that Sneewittchen (low German which in modern orthography became Schneewittchen was first translated in book form as Schneeweißchen around 1812. Anyway Note the -chen. What does it mean, I don't know but it gives me the feeling that even her name was dear.
Oh, another interesting fact for English readers of Schneewittchen, is that the queen ordered the hunter to kill Snow White and bring back her liver and lungs as evidence of her demise , and not her heart as in the English version. Too much blood and guts for the English appetite?
Kaninchen, Eichhörnchen, Rotkehlchen are always used with -chen. Meerschwein might work without it but I'd always use it with -chen.
If you said Eichhorn, people would probably understand you but might think you're making a deliberate language joke. If you said Rotkehl, they might not even understand you.
hm, I'm not sure if there is really a rule how to use "-chen"
But I think there is a system. You use "-chen" to signal a person or an animal is cute, young, innocent and nice. A sign for that is that you change into the neuter so no gender (german thinking^^) DIE Frau aber DAS Mädchen. Der Mann/der Junge aber DAS Jungchen (kleiner unreifer Junge).
Also the animals you talking about are all little nice animals "das Rotkehlchen" is a little tiny bird, harmless. Scharing is right you would never say "Kuhchen" but for the child of the cow (das Kalb) you can say "Kälbchen" if it is very young and little.
Colloquial you can nettle someone when you say "Was für ein Auto"chen" fährst Du denn?" It is not correct german but you signal him he has no 'real' car only a little one.
So always when the meaning of your expression is about a nice tiny innocent person/animal you could try to use "-chen". No garantie but mostly it should work.
But be careful! If you use the diminutive for adults or things like that it could be taken as an offence. Don't call a "Mann" a "Männchen"! The female equivalent "Frauchen" can also cause a lot of trouble. Because they are not cute tiny and innocent anymore :-) You can also say "Tigerchen" but don't get near it is still dangerous^^. But "Hündchen" "Kätzchen" and "Spinnchen" are ok.
best regards Angel