Zoom lesson from tonight 6/1

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.

Some examples.

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:

Bo zho___________________


Ahau, bo zho__________________

Oh, hello_____________________

Hau, bo zho___________________

Oh, hello_____________________

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?

_________________ndoch bya.

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?

__________________nde bendagwes.

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?

_______________________nde nskono.

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.

He/she is________________old.

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.)

Author: neaseno

I was born on Powers Bluff in Wood County, Wisconsin, into a traditional community of Neshnabek. I was raised speaking only native languages, and learned to speak English upon entering school at the age of 6. As of this writing, I am one of 5 remaining Heritage Fluent Speakers of Potawatomi.

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