Thursday, June 23, 2011

Language Learning

I am very passionate about languages. They are the doorways to culture. When you learn a language you learn about the people.

It was Charles Berlitz's grandfather, Maximilian Berlitz that created the way we learn language today. That is they use the direct method of language learning which is based in the target language and does not refer to the learner's language at all. They also advocated the audio-lingual approach which used listening and speaking to learn the target language.

What has developed now is the pattern of language learning that includes a block of text that introduces varying stages of grammatical constructs and vocabulary. A list of vocabulary words, grammar explanation and linked exercises. This method is almost universal to date. There are variants of the theme, but for adult learners, it is important that they use the method that they best learn by.

Let's look at the Cree language. It is also known as Cree-Montagnais or Cree-Montagnais-Naskapi. Cree is related to the Algonquian languages. It is spoken by approximately 117,000 people across Canada, from the Northwest Territories to Labrador, making it by far the most spoken aboriginal language in Canada.

While Western language learners struggle with the intricacies of female, male or neutral words in different languages, Cree uses animate and inanimate to order its words.

"Verbs contain most of the information. It contains obligatory reference to grammatical roles and number of its arguments (subject, direct and indirect object), and optionally also several valency-changing affixes (causative, applicative, detransitivizer, passive), gender-changing suffixes (from animate to inanimate, and the reverse) plus adverbial modifiers, tense, mood, aspect, Aktionsart, discourse markers, and further also incorporated nouns, classifiers,and diminutive suffixes. Even the stems are complex, most verbs consisting of at least two formative elements suggestive of a form of Aktionsart. Consequently, one Cree verb can sometimes be equivalent to a whole sentence in English."

I am most interested in the animate and inanimate. Consider:

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 Languages ~ Plains Cree.

You can learn more by clicking this link for an informative pdf.

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