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Animate and Inanimate Nouns In Meskwaki-Sauk

On our Meskwaki-Sauk colors worksheet, you can see that some adjectives have two or three different forms in Meskwaki-Sauk--for example, "white" is translated as w‚peshki in Meskwaki-Sauk, but the white rock is w‚peshky‚wi, and the white bird is w‚peshkethiwa (or w‚peshkesiwa, in the Fox dialect.) That's because there is a distinction in Meskwaki-Sauk 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 Meskwaki-Sauk, 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 Meskwaki-Sauk, 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 Meskwaki-Sauk any more than you would be able to guess that "feather" is feminine and "river" is masculine in Spanish.

atheni w‚peshky‚wi
(the rock is white)
wÓshkenŰha w‚peshkethiwa
(the bird is white)
athenani w‚peshky‚ni
(the rocks are white)
wÓshkenŰhaki w‚peshkethiwaki
(the birds are white)
atheni ath‚w‚wi
(the rock is yellow)
wÓshkenŰha ath‚wethiwa
(the bird is yellow)
athenani ath‚w‚ni
(the rocks are yellow)
wÓshkenŰhaki ath‚wethiwaki
(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 wÓshkenŰha ath‚wethiwa you could also say ath‚wi-wÓshkenŰha, yellow bird. That prefix is the same for both animate and inanimate nouns.


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