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Animate and Inanimate Nouns In Shawnee

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

θikun wakanaki
(the rock is white)
wiškiloθa wakanakiθi
(the bird is white)
θikuna wakanaka
(the rocks are white)
wiškiloθaki wakanakiθiki
(the birds are white)
θikun mškwaawi
(the rock is red)
wiškiloθa mškwaawiθi
(the bird is red)
θikuna mškwaawa
(the rocks are red)
wiškiloθaki mškwaawiθiki
(the birds are red)

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 wiškiloθa wakanakiθi you could also say waapa-wiškiloθa, white bird. That prefix is the same for both animate and inanimate nouns.


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