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Montagnais Possession

On our parts of the body and kinship terms worksheets, you may notice that all the Montagnais words begin with Ni. Ni- is a Montagnais prefix that means "my." Possessive prefixes can be used with almost any noun in Montagnais. For most nouns, the possessive prefixes are ni-, tshi-, and u- before a noun that begins with a consonant, and nit-, tshit-, and ut- before a noun that begins with a vowel.

massin (a shoe) nimassin (my shoe) tshimassin (your shoe) umassin (his or her shoe)
ush (a boat) nitush (my boat) tshitush (your boat) utush (his or her boat)

However, certain nouns (including most body parts and kinship terms) have inalienable possession in Algonquian languages like Montagnais. That means you must use a possessive prefix with one of those words. You cannot say *tun, "a mouth," or *ukum, "a grandmother." It isn't grammatically correct. There is an indefinite prefix, M- or Mi-, which you can use to be abstract or if the possessor is unknown to you (i.e. if a body part has been severed, or has hit you from behind.)

For these words, the possessive pronouns are slightly different. The pronouns are still ni-, tshi-, and u- before a root noun that begins with a consonant, but they are n-, tsh-, and u- before a root noun that begins with a vowel.

*tun (root noun, not used alone) nitun (my mouth) tshitun (your mouth) utun (his or her mouth) mitun (someone's mouth)
*ipit (root noun, not used alone) nipit (my tooth) tshipit (your tooth) uipit (his or her tooth) mipit (someone's tooth)
*ukum (root noun, not used alone) nukum (my grandmother) tshukum (your grandmother) ukuma (his or her grandmother) mukum (someone's grandmother)

Two things to take note of:

1) When animate words use the third person form ("his or her"), there is not only a prefix (u-) but also a suffix (-a) at the end of the word. This is not true for inanimate words.

2) Notice that "his or her grandmother" is ukuma in Montagnais, not uukuma. That's because the consonant sound u (pronounced like an English "w") is never pronounced before the vowel sound u in Montagnais. There are other exceptions to the prefix pattern on this page as well. Every language, including Montagnais, has irregular words. If you make a mistake, a Montagnais speaker will probably still understand you, just like an English speaker understands a person who says "fighted" instead of "fought."

Click here for a pronunciation guide.
Click here for more Innu language resources.
Learn more about the Montagnais Indian tribe.

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