Thursday, June 19, 2008

Ojibwemowin: What's For Breakfast? Daataagwa'igan, Bakwezhigan!

Ingichi-minwendaan noondamaan mii apii dazhindameg, "Awegonen maajiyan noongom?" endaso-Naano-giizhigak. I really like hearing the segment "What's for breakfast" every Friday.

Awegonen maajiyan noongom zhebaag? What are you eating this morning?

Inga-miijin daataagwa'igan, naa bakwezhigan igaye indamwaa. I'll eat oatmeal this morning, and some bread, too.

Two different names for 'oatmeal', from two different ends of our Leech Lake reservation: 1)daataagwa'igan 2) ozhaashaaboo.

A basic name for bread: bakwezhigan.

There are two different basic verbs that we use when we talk about eating: 1) miijin & 2) amwaa. The short story of it: miijin is an inanimate verb, and amwaa is an animate verb. Oatmeal is inanimate - from the sentence above: Inga-miijin daataagwa'igan: I'll eat some oatmeal.

And, bread is animate: miinawaa bakwezhigan igaye indamwaa: and I'll eat some bread too.

There is not an easy answer to why some nouns are called 'animate' and why some are called 'inanimate' (which is a linguistic description that doesn't just mean 'living' or non-living - it's the gender of the noun).
We use different verbs that agree with the gender.

Folks who grow up speaking Ojibwemowin as their first language learn it contextually and naturally make the distinctions.

Many of us second-language learners learn this explicitly, and use many different tricks and tips to discern the best way to use these words. A good way to know which verb to use is to know the plural ending of the nouns: if the plural noun ends in -n, it is an inanimate noun. If the plural of the noun ends in -g then it is animate; then we'll know the correct verb to use when we're talking about something.

Off on another gender tangent: in some cases, the gender of the nouns may differ (dialectically) from region to region. What is animate here may be inanimate at another reservation or community. Strawberries, potatoes, rocks, these are classic examples of words that differ in animacy/gender from place to place.

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