Indigenous languages * Indian tribes of North America * Indian art

Animate and Inanimate Nouns In Algonquin

On our Algonquin colors worksheet, you can see that some adjectives have two or three different forms in Algonquin--for example, the red rock is translated as miskwà in Algonquin, but the red bird is miskozi. That's because there is a distinction in Algonquin between animate and inanimate nouns.

Sponsored Links

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 Algonquin, 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 Algonquin, 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 Algonquin any more than you would be able to guess that "feather" is feminine and "river" is masculine in Spanish.

asin miskwà
(the rock is red)
pineshìnjish miskozi
(the bird is red)
asinan miskwànòn
(the rocks are red)
pineshìnjishag miskoziwag
(the birds are red)
asin wàbà
(the rock is white)
pineshìnjish wàbizì
(the bird is white)
asinan wàbànan
(the rocks are white)
pineshìnjishag wàbizìwag
(the birds are white)

There are actually even more forms of each of these words that used to be used in the old days. If something like stone or metal is red, you would say it is miskwàbikad, but if some liquid is red, you would say it is miskwàgamid. Not many people still use those material-specific color words anymore, but you can still hear them from older speakers.

Back to the Algonquin Indian homepage
Back to the Native American Words homepage
Learn more about the Algonquin people

Native American Indians * Indian shelter * Lumbee * Copper River Alaska * Indian names

Would you like to help support our organization's work with endangered American Indian languages?

Native Languages of the Americas website © 1998-2020 * Contacts and FAQ page