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Abnaki-Penobscot Possession

On our parts of the body and kinship terms worksheets, you may notice that all the Abnaki-Penobscot words begin with N. Ne- or Nd- is an Abnaki-Penobscot prefix that means "my." Possessive prefixes can be used with almost any noun in Abnaki-Penobscot. For most nouns, the possessive prefixes are n-, ke-, and we- before a noun that begins with a consonant, and nd-, ked-, and wed- before a noun that begins with a vowel.

abazolagw (a boat) ndabazolagw (my boat) kedabazolagw (your boat) wedabazolagw (his or her boat)
maksa (a blanket) nemaksa (my blanket) kemaksa (your blanket) wemaksa (his or her blanket)


However, certain nouns (including most body parts and kinship terms, and some words for personal objects like clothing) have inalienable possession in Algonquian languages like Abnaki-Penobscot. That means you must use a possessive prefix with one of those words. You cannot say *okemes, "a grandmother," or *debkwan, "a hair." It isn't grammatically correct. There is an indefinite prefix, m- or me-, which you can use if you're referring to be abstract or if the possessor is unknown to you (i.e. if a body part has been severed, or has hit you from behind.) You could, for example, say "Zôwa mokemes olidaha," which means "often one's grandmother is kind." Or you could say "Mdebkwan abagasen," which means "a piece of somebody's hair is on the floor."

For these words, the possessive pronouns are slightly different. The pronouns are n-, ke-, we-, and m- before a root noun that begins with a consonant, and n-, k-, w-, and m- before a root noun that begins with a vowel.

*okemes (root noun, not used alone) nokemes (my grandmother) kokemes (your grandmother) okemesa (his or her grandmother) mokemes (someone's grandmother)
*debkwan (root noun, not used alone) ndebkwan (my hair) kedebkwan (your hair) wedebkwan (his or her hair) mdebkwan (someone's hair)
*namôn (root noun, not used alone) nenamôn (my son) kenamôn (your son) wenamôna (his or her son) menamôn (someone's son)
*elji (root noun, not used alone) nelji (my hand) kelji (your hand) welji (his or her hand) melji (someone's hand)

Three things to take note of:

1) When animate words use the third person form ("his or her"), there is not only a prefix (we-) but also a suffix (-a) at the end of the word. This is not true for inanimate words.

2) Notice that "his or her grandmother" is okemesa in Abnaki-Penobscot, not wokemesa. That's because w is not pronounced before an o in Abnaki-Penobscot. There are other exceptions to the prefix pattern on this page as well. Every language, including Abnaki-Penobscot, has irregular words. If you make a mistake, an Abenaki or Penobscot speaker will probably still understand you, just like an English speaker understands a person who says "fighted" instead of "fought."


Click here for an Abenaki pronunciation guide.
Click here for more Abenaki language resources.
Learn more about the Abenaki and Penobscot Indian tribes.


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