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Animate and Inanimate Nouns In Abenaki-Penobscot

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

asen wôbigen
(the rock is white)
sips wôbigo
(the bird is white)
asenal wôbigenal
(the rocks are white)
sipsak wôbigowak
(the birds are white)
asen wizôwigen
(the rock is yellow)
sips wizôwigo
(the bird is yellow)
asenal wizôwigenal
(the rocks are yellow)
sipsak wizôwigowak
(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 sips wizôwigo you could also say wizôwi-sips, yellow bird. That prefix is the same for both animate and inanimate nouns.


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