Animacy In Action


For this second blog post on animacy we will talk more about how it works when actually using the language. It’s important to recognize that animacy is very complicated to describe and understand as a concept. As a matter of fact, linguists have struggled for a long time to explain it so don’t feel bad if you are left with more questions than answers. That being said, animacy plays an important grammatical function in our language and that is what we will focus on today. We ended our last post with the the following example sentence to show how animacy effects what verb form you use in a sentence:

Animate: mihšiimina ‘apple’ –> mihšiimina eemwaki ‘I am eating the apple’

Inanimate: keekaanwimini ‘banana’ –> keekaanwimini meeciaani ‘I am eating the banana’

It’s important to understand that we must use different verb forms with each type of noun. This is also the case when asking about a particular object when it is unknown, similar to the English question ‘what is that?’. To begin, we can make some assumptions if what we are asking about is a living being. For instance, we know in Myaamiaataweenki that any living animal such as a bird, mammal, fish, or insect is always marked animate.

When asking questions about objects we have to use a set of animate and inanimate ‘this or that’ forms that take into consideration the animacy and if the object is in reach (this) or out of reach but visible (that). We have to be prepared to use a different word for animate vs. inanimate nouns.

In reachoonaana (this)ooniini (this)
Out of reach (visible)iinaana (that)iiniini (that)

For example, if I pointed to an animal (as a reminder, all animals are animate) I would say keetwi iinaana ‘what is that (animate)?’. If I was looking at a cup sitting on the table, I would say keetwi iiniini ‘what is that (inanimate)?’.  In some instances, you may not be sure if an object is animate or inanimate. In a situation such as this, you can default to inanimate by using keetwi iiniini ‘what is that (inanimate) thing?’

Nouns can also become plural and that happens in different ways depending on the type of noun. For inanimate nouns, the -i at the end that makes it inanimate becomes -a. You might notice the confusion with this because that is the same ending that makes a noun animate. Typically, in these situations where you’re unsure, the context and language surrounding the word will give you clues as to which it is: one animate or plural inanimate. some examples of inanimate changing to plural are:

kookaani ‘spoon’ –> kookaana ‘spoons’; maalhsi ‘knife’ –> maalhsa ‘knives’

For animate plural, there are three variations for how the word could end. The most common is adding –ki to the end and the two others that exist are –iiki and –ooki (with some rules attached to them). Examples of the first, and most common, are below:

alenia ‘man’ –> aleniaki ‘men’; mitemhsa ‘woman’ –> mitemhsaki ‘women’

The other two endings, as previously mentioned, have some rules that go along with them that require taking extra letters off the end of the word. For the -iiki ending, the requirement is that the -a at the end gets taken off and replaced, as seen below:

mihšiimina ‘apple’ –> mihšiiminiiki ‘apples’

For the final ending, -ooki­, this is only found attached to some (not all) nouns that end in –wa. In order to make these words plural, you take off the -wa ending and replace with -ooki as shown here:

waapanswa ‘rabbit’ –> waapansooki ‘rabbits’; mahkwa ‘bear’ –> mahkooki ‘bears’

While this may be confusing and it may take you some time in remembering these rules as you continue learning Myaamiaataweenki, it is helpful for you to know that any noun that you find on the dictionary includes the plural in the entry. So, for just starting out, you can just search for the term ‘bear’ or ‘rabbit’ and you will find both singular and plural in the entry. This is intended to be a beginning guide to understanding nouns and there is more to learn. However, this will help you get started when you are speaking Myaamiaataweenki with your family and friends. Remember to use the online dictionary as a resource when figuring out which nouns are animate/inanimate and how to turn them into plurals.

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