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Animate and Inanimate Nouns In Lenape

On our Lenape colors worksheet, you can see that some adjectives have two different forms in Lenape--for example, "yellow" is translated as wisaw in Lenape, but the yellow rock is wisae, and the yellow bird is wisawsu. That's because there is a distinction in Lenape 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 Lenape, 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 Lenape, 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 Lenape any more than you would be able to guess that "feather" is feminine and "river" is masculine in Spanish.

ahsën òpe
(the rock is white)
čulëns òpsu
(the bird is white)
ahsëna òpeyo
(the rocks are white)
čulënsàk òpsuwàk
(the birds are white)
ahsën wisae
(the rock is yellow)
čulëns wisawsu
(the bird is yellow)
ahsëna wisaeyo
(the rocks are yellow)
čulënsàk wisawsuwàk
(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 čulëns wisawsu you could also say wisaw-čulëns, yellow bird. That prefix is the same for both animate and inanimate nouns.


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