Monday, April 6, 2009

Lingua Franca

I am passionate about languages. Languages are the window to the culture of the people who speak them. You can learn a lot about the soul of the nation through their language.

It was the grandfather of Charles Berlitz, Maximilian who developed the way we learn languages today. The “Direct Method” of learning uses the target language as the medium without using the student’s own language. Charles later developed the audio-lingual method for learning through listening and speaking.

The method presents a piece of text consisting of vocabulary and grammatical structures in a ever-developing manner. Following the text is a list of vocabulary and grammatical instructions based on the text. There are also exercises designed to let the learner be intimately acquainted with the text.

Western language learners are familiar with wrestling with gender-based nouns related to vocabulary. However, this is not a universal convention of language. Cree language uses animate and inanimate instead.

Cree is also known as Cree-Montagnais or Cree-Montagnais-Naskapi. It is related to the Algonquian language and is spoken by approximately 117,000 people across Canada.

In Cree, instead of gender the referee is to the possessing, or, not possessing, life. Nouns are Animate or Inanimate. Some objects not having life are treated as Animate and the verb form for the animate is used.

Source: A Cree Grammar
For example:

A word or group of words used as the name of a class of people, places, or things, or of a particular person, place, or thing.

Nouns in Cree are categorised into two categories, animate (na) and inanimate nouns (ni). Animate nouns include people, animals, most plants/trees and other items.
Animate nouns (na) are nouns that fall under the gender of animacy.
Man = napéw
Woman = iskwéw
A saulteaux person = nakawihiniw
Duck = sísíp
Dog = atim
Moose = moswa
Blueberry bush = sípíhkominátik
Poplar tree = mitos
Labrador tea bush = maskíkopakwáhtik

Stone/rock = asiniy
Pipe = ospwakan
Sock = askikan
There are certain items that will be in the animate category while other items of the same, fall in the inanimate category. Consider the following examples:
Some berries that are inanimate while other berries are animate:
Saskatoon berry = misáskwatómin (ni)
Goose berry = sápómin (ni)
Apple = caspimin/wásaskwécós (ni)
Strawberry = otihimin (ni)
Raspberry [s] = ayoskan [ak] (na)
Grape [s] = sóminis [ak] (na)

Source: Our Language ~ Plains Cree

Why? Why the change? Why the discrepancies?

(This article is written in regards to Ojibwe, but the rulings are also transposable to Cree)

“In an analysis of Cheyenne animate terms, a language related to Anishinaabemowin, Strauss and Brightman 1982 claimed that objects within the Algonquian worldview that are considered to have "power" are grammatically animate. Things have power by virtue of either being alive or being viewed as especially "sacred things." Yet there are many objects that Ojibwe people treat as animate, such as snowshoes and pants, which do not seem exceptionally sacred in their cultural evaluation.

The anthropologist Regna Darnell has claimed too that "power" is the primary reason for including items in the animate class of nouns in Cree, though the reason that something has power can be associative. Darnell claims that hides of animals are animate because in some way the hide retains the power of the animal, but meat and bones don't. Darnell claims that pants are animate because anything associated with procreation will be animate, and because pants have close contact with reproductive organs. In the Cree that Darnell was studying many body organs associated with procreation are animate, though most body parts are inanimate.” Source: Nouns – Gender (Animacy)

But the rules are not hard and fast. There has to be subtleties lost on the non-Native speaker of Cree. When you crawl into the language and start to feel your way around, perhaps you will have the opportunity to see that cultural artifact that defines the differences.

kîhtwâm ka-wâpamitin

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