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Animate and Inanimate Nouns In Blackfoot

On our Blackfoot colors worksheet, you can see that some adjectives have two different forms in Blackfoot--for example, the white rock is ksikksinaattsiwa, and the white bird is ksikksináámma. That's because there is a distinction in Blackfoot 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 Blackfoot, 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 Blackfoot, 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 Blackfoot any more than you would be able to guess that "feather" is feminine and "river" is masculine in Spanish.

óóhkotoki ksikksinaattsiwa
(the rock is white)
pi'kssííwa ksikksináámma
(the bird is white)
óóhkotokistsi ksikksinaattsiyaawa
(the rocks are white)
pi'kssííksi ksikksinááyaa
(the birds are white)
óóhkotoki mi'ksinááttsiwa
(the rock is red)
pi'kssííwa mi'ksinaawa
(the bird is red)
óóhkotokistsi mi'ksinááttsiyaawa
(the rocks are red)
pi'kssííksi mi'ksinaayaawa
(the birds are red)

The third form that is written above the pictures is a prefix form. So instead of saying óóhkotoki ksikksinaattsiwa you could also say ksikkóóhkotoki, white rock. That prefix is the same for both animate and inanimate nouns.

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