Indian tribes of North America
Animate and Inanimate Nouns In Algonquin
On our Algonquin colors worksheet, you can see that some adjectives
have two or three different forms in Algonquin--for example, the red rock is translated as miskwÓ in Algonquin, but
the red bird is miskozi.
That's because there is a distinction in Algonquin between animate and inanimate nouns.
If you're familiar with a European language like Spanish or French, nouns in those languages are divided by gender. In those European languages, adjectives describing
masculine and feminine nouns have different endings. So if you want to use the word "old" to
describe a man in Spanish, you say viejo, but if you want to describe a woman, you say vieja.
For men and women, this is easy to remember, but for other nouns, you just have to remember their grammatical gender. In
Algonquian languages like
Algonquin, you use the same adjective and verb forms
regardless of whether the subject is male or female. Instead, there are different word forms depending on whether the subject is animate or inanimate. All people and animals
are considered animate in Algonquin, but for other nouns, you just have to remember whether they are animate or not--you probably wouldn't be able to guess that "feather" is
animate and "river" is inanimate in Algonquin any more than you would be able to guess that "feather" is feminine and "river" is masculine in Spanish.
(the rock is red)
(the bird is red)
(the rocks are red)
(the birds are red)
(the rock is white)
(the bird is white)
(the rocks are white)
(the birds are white)
There are actually even more forms of each of these words that used to be used in the old days. If something like
stone or metal is red, you would say it is miskwÓbikad, but if some liquid is red, you would
say it is miskwÓgamid. Not many people still use those material-specific color words anymore, but you can
still hear them from older speakers.
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