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Animate and Inanimate Nouns In Arapaho

On our Arapaho colors worksheet, you can see that some adjectives have two different forms in Arapaho--for example, the red rock is bee'ee', and the red bird is bee'eiht. That's because there is a distinction in Arapaho 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 Arapaho, 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 Arapaho, 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 Arapaho any more than you would be able to guess that "feather" is feminine and "river" is masculine in Spanish.

siiyon bee'ee'
(the rock is red)
nii'eihii bee'eiht
(the bird is red)
siiyono bee'ei'i
(the rocks are red)
nii'eihiiho' bee'eihi3i'
(the birds are red)
siiyon nonoocoo'
(the rock is white)
nii'eihii nonookeiht
(the bird is white)
siiyono nonoocou'u
(the rocks are white)
nii'eihiiho' nonookeihi3i'
(the birds are white)

The third form that is written above the pictures--which doesn't exist for all the colors--is a prefix form. So instead of saying siiyon nonoocoo' you could also say nooksiiyon, white rock. That prefix is the same for both animate and inanimate nouns.

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