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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.

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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.

asin miskwÓ
(the rock is red)
pineshýnjish miskozi
(the bird is red)
asinan miskwÓn˛n
(the rocks are red)
pineshýnjishag miskoziwag
(the birds are red)
asin wÓbÓ
(the rock is white)
pineshýnjish wÓbizý
(the bird is white)
asinan wÓbÓnan
(the rocks are white)
pineshýnjishag wÓbizýwag
(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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