Have you ever been eating with your Myaamia relatives and heard this: alaakani ayoolo! ‘Use a plate!’
That word, alaakani, we sometimes translate as ‘dish’ because just like that English word, alaakani in Myaamiaataweenki has a very broad meaning that covers all manner of plates, cups, and crockery!
Now, usually we start these posts about the language with a detailed description of what all the little pieces mean, looking at the word we’re talking about for the day. But this particular word is so old that, in this case, we don’t know. Even zooming out and taking a look at the same word in a related language (called a cognate), like Ojibwe onaagan, we see that, actually nobody really knows!
And while being so generic is a useful feature for a word to have, this particular word can also be made more specific in combination with other words.
For example, if you were to attach nipoopi ‘soup’ to the beginning of the word, nipoopilaakani, you would get ‘soup bowl’, or literally a dish for serving soup in – which of course must be some kind of bowl or a cup, in order to be useful to anyone.
What if you wanted to talk about wooden dishware? You have a few different options! If you attach ahtawaani (or the shortened form, tawaani) ‘wood, tree’ to the beginning, you can get tawaanilaakani, for ‘wooden dish’.
There’s another little piece that means ‘wood’ – you might have seen mihtekw- meaning ‘wood’ or ‘tree’ in some other words like mihtekamini ‘acorn’ (literally something like ‘tree berry’ or ‘wooden berry’). Well, you can also use that little piece to create mihtekowalaakani ‘wooden box, trunk, thousand dollars’.
By now you might be wondering, “Why does the word for ‘trunk’ also mean ‘one thousand dollars?’”
…But that’s a post for another day!