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Animate and Inanimate Nouns In Cheyenne
On our Cheyenne colors worksheet, you can see that some adjectives
have three different forms in Cheyenne--for example, "yellow" is translated as heóve, but the yellow rock is evó'kómo,
and the yellow bird is evó'komahe.
That's because there is a distinction in Cheyenne 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
Cheyenne, 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 Cheyenne, 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 Cheyenne any more than you would be able to guess that "feather" is feminine and "river" is masculine in Spanish.
In fact, the most common Cheyenne word for "rock," ho'honáá'e, is grammatically animate! So for the purpose of this exercise, so that we can illustrate both animate and
inanimate endings, we have used a different word for "rock," tséa'kâséto, which is inanimate:
(the rock is yellow)
(the bird is yellow)
(the rocks are yellow)
(the birds are yellow)
(the rock is red)
(the bird is red)
(the rocks are red)
(the birds are red)
The third form that is written above the pictures is a prefix form.
So instead of saying vé'keso ema'eta you could also say ma'evékéso,
red bird. That prefix is the same for both animate and inanimate nouns.
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