What does one need to start learning this language: Bodewadmimwen?
How does one start?
Where does one begin?
I have often advised folks that one doesn’t learn this language properly unless one hears it all of the time. One does not effectively learn to speak any language by reading or writing it alone, yet many people do just that. There are some folks that start learning Bodewadmimwen or Neshnabemwen by reading it, and then they will ask you how to spell something in the language. In fact, they begin to dwell on the correct way to spell certain words and will even argue about spelling it with others.
When I was teaching this language in a Charter School at Wilson, Michigan for the Hannahville Potawatomi, I usually did not allow my students to see anything written, nor did I allow them to read any Potawatomi materials until much later. I would generally have them sit and listen to the language, rather than read it. After about 3-4 weeks of just listening to the language, they would have had their listening capabilities sharpened by reason of use, through our speaking the language to them during class time.
Then, it became time to introduce them to reading the language in semi-immersion sessions right in the classroom. We would often write short phrases on the black boards, or on dry erase boards situated in the classrooms. We would never teach them one word at a time, as that is not the way one learns to speak any language effectively. We taught them in simple phrases, utilizing words they had already learned from reading the Potawatomi materials.
There are basics one must learn to recognize when starting to speak a new language. Let me demonstrate by giving some examples.
We shall begin with Emphatic Pronouns:
Nin meaning I, me mine or my.
Gin meaning you, your or yours.
Win meaning he/she, him/her, it.
Ninan meaning we but not you.
Ginan meaning we plus you.
Ginwa meaning all of you, plural.
Winwa meaning they, them.
Next are Tense Markers.
De very present tense marker
Ge immediate present tense marker
Wi future tense marker
Gi past tense marker
Da can, could, should, or would tense marker
Wa future tense marker supplying info, used in queries
Ga past tense used in questions and supplying info
Ewi immediate future tense; future factive
Egi past factive; an action that occurred in the past
E factive, demonstrating several aspects of other tense markers
Next are Demonstrative pronouns.
Demonstratives are always used from the Speaker’s point of view, SPOV
The proximity of the object to speaker determines which demonstrative pronoun to use. The demonstratives are like, “this, that, these, and those” in English.
They fall into categories of animate, things that are alive or living, and inanimate, things that are not alive, or contain no life of their own. Things that are inanimate, or could be animate or inanimate, or possess a certain degree of animacy, we use the ode, i, e’i form of demonstratives.
Ode this i that e’i that over there
Ode this o that ago that over there
Gode these gi those e’gi those over there
Ode nene i nene e’i nene
This man that man that man over there
Ode kwe o kwe ago kwe
This kwe that kwe that kwe over there
Gode kwek gi kwek egi kwek
These kwek those kwek those kwek over there
Gode nenwik gi nenwik egi nenwik
These men those men those men over there
Ode this i that e’i that over there
Node these ni those eni those over there
Ode jiman i jiman e’i jiman
This boat that boat that boat over there
Ode mkesen i mkesen e’i mkesen
This shoe that shoe that shoe over there
Node mkesnen ni mkesnen eni mkesnen
These shoes those shoes those shoes over there
Node tetagnen ni tetagnen eni tetagnen
These bells those bells those bells over there
Next are the Affixes:
Affixes fall into two categories.
Prefixes those little words we put in front of, or before words.
They don’t usually stand alone and must be used as preverbs or prenouns.
Suffixes those little words we add to the end of nouns and verbs.
They determine who we are talking about or to, and generally take on singular and plural forms as well.
Interrogatives are questions.
Ni pi je can mean where but is also an interrogative.
Ni je pi can mean when but is also an interrogative.
Ne somewhere in the text of a sentence usually refers to a question and can sometimes be at the end of a query. (Ne can sometimes refer to the beginning or start of something also; example: ni je pi ne gwi zhyayen ibe; when are you going to start out to go over there?)
In addition to learning these “building blocks” of learning this language, one must have a certain amount of knowledge of verbs and nouns, know how to use them in various situations, everyday use, and whatever may be appropriate for them.
One cannot learn one word at a time but must be able to use whatever they are learning in an everyday context. You won’t be able to learn to speak any language simply by using a dictionary, perhaps one might at least get some better direction using a lexical type of work that cites examples of word use.
Introductions in Potawatomi:
Ahau, bo zho__________________
Hau, bo zho___________________
Ni je eshe ne kas yen?
What is your name?/What are you called?
________________ndesh ne kas.
My name is____________________
My name is_____________./or, I am_______________.
Ni pi je wech bya yen?
Where are you from?
I am from_________________.
Ni o gdotem?
What is your clan?
Mkwa o ndotem./Wasi o ndotem.
I am bear clan./I am catfish clan.
If one doesn’t know their clan:
Jo nge ken masi o ndotem.
I don’t know my clan.
Jo she nge ken masi o ndotem.
I really don’t know my clan.
Sometimes one does not have a clan, either they are non Native or simply do not have a clan:
Jo nde tosi o ndotem
I don’t have a clan
Gchemokman ndaw Jo nde tosi o ndotem
I am non Native I don’t have a clan
Ni pi je ende bendagziyen?
Where are you enrolled?
I am enrolled at________________.
Jo she gkendan ende bendagziyan.
I really don’t know where I am enrolled.
Jo nge kendan ende bendagziyan.
I don’t know where I am enrolled.
Neshnabe ne gdaw?
Are you Indian?
Wegni je eni yen?
What tribe are you?
Weni je gi ngetsimek?
Who are your parents?
Igwan wiye gi ngetsimek.
Those are my parents.
Wiye o nneneyem, mine wiye o ndedeyem.
That is my mother and that is my father.
Ni pi je ediyen?
Where do you live?
I live in_______________.
Gskono ne ngoji?
Do you go to school somewhere?
I go to___________________________.
Mkwa ne gdotem?
Are you bear clan?
Wasi ne gdotem?
Are you catfish clan?
Ni je etse pon ges yen?
How old are you?
__________________ndetse pon ges.
I am________________years old.
Ni je etse pon gezet o?
How old is he/she?
__________________pon geze o.
Ni je pi ga nigyen?
When were you born?
________________gishgek ngi dbe shka.
I came out on the_______________.
Example:Ede men gizes engot watso gishgek nde dbe shka.
My birthday is on the 6th of June.
Minke gizes en mdatso shech ngotwatso gishgek nde dbe shka.
My birthday is on the 16th of August.
Engot watso gishgek ngi nda des.
I was born on the 6th.
En mdatso shech ngotwatso ngi nda des.
I was born on the 16th.
Kche mezodanen ne gi byeshen?
Do you come from a big family?
Gde mbwajeweshen ne nomek
Do you want to visit a while?
Widmoshen bgeji wni eyawyen.
Tell me a little about yourself.
Anake ne gwi wgdemojegeshen
Or would you rather go fishing with me?
Gnebech gwi wgdemoyak gche gigo
Perhaps we might catch a big fish
Iw, bama pi mine gwi kigdomen.
That’s it, until another time we’ll talk again.
Bama pi mine nge wabmen
Until another time I’ll see you again too.
Bama pi mine gge wabmenem.
Until another time we’ll see you again. (pl.)