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Animate and Inanimate Nouns In Kickapoo

On our Kickapoo colors worksheet, you can see that some adjectives have two or three different forms in Kickapoo--for example, "white" is translated as waapeski in Kickapoo, but the white rock is waapeskyai, and the white bird is waapeskeθia. That's because there is a distinction in Kickapoo 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 Algonkian languages like Kickapoo, 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 Kickapoo, 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 Kickapoo any more than you would be able to guess that "feather" is feminine and "river" is masculine in Spanish.

aθeni waapeskyai
(the rock is white)
wiiskenooha waapeskeθia
(the bird is white)
aθenani waapeskiani
(the rocks are white)
wiiskenoohaki waapeskeθiaki
(the birds are white)
aθeni oθaai
(the rock is yellow)
wiiskenooha oθaeθia
(the bird is yellow)
aθenani oθaani
(the rocks are yellow)
wiiskenoohaki oθaeθiaki
(the birds are yellow)

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 wiiskenooha oθaeθia you could also say oθai-wiiskenooha, yellow bird. That prefix is the same for both animate and inanimate nouns.


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