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Animate and Inanimate Nouns In Munsee

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

asun nzukeew
(the rock is black)
awehleeshoosh nzuksuw
(the bird is black)
asunal nzukeewal
(the rocks are black)
awehleeshooshak nzuksuwak
(the birds are black)
asun wiisaaweew
(the rock is yellow)
awehleeshoosh wiisaawsuw
(the bird is yellow)
asunal wiisaaweewal
(the rocks are yellow)
awehleeshooshak wiisaawsuwak
(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 awehleeshoosh nzuksuw you could also say nzukii-awehleeshoosh, black bird. That prefix is the same for both animate and inanimate nouns.


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