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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.

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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 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:

tséa'kséto eheóvonėstse
(the rock is yellow)
ve'keso eheóvahe
(the bird is yellow)
tséa'ksétoo'ėstse eheóvontse
(the rocks are yellow)
vé'kėseho eheóvaheo'o
(the birds are yellow)
tséa'kséto ema'o
(the rock is red)
ve'keso ema'eta
(the bird is red)
tséa'ksétoo'ėstse ema'ontse
(the rocks are red)
vé'kėseho ema'etao'o
(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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