The Proximate and the Obviative
In English, we talk about “storytelling” in “persons.” A story told in First Person is one in which the narrator is talking about himself, and the story is told this way, for example, “I went down to the store, and do you know who I saw walking across the street? Well, I never!” A story told in Second Person sounds like one of those old “choose your own adventure” books we read in the middle grades of school, “You enter the room and you see a paper on the table. Do you pick it up and read it?” A story told in third person is a story told about someone, or something, told by a narrator, “See Jane run. Run, Jane, run!” without the use of “I.”
In Potawatomi, and in many other related languages, the “third person” is divided into categories of closeness or importance. This allows a narrator of a story to verbally focus on one main character, an audio “spotlight”, if you will, a way of maintaining the direction and focus of the story. Here is how it works:
When using Transitive Verbs in the “Win” forms…
The first main noun is the “Proximate.”
The secondary noun is the “Obviative.”
Potawatomi is notable for having two “degrees” of obviation. As is seen in the following example, a “further obviative” can be marked by a second obviative suffix:
|o bnéshi||ni bnéshiyen||ni bnéshiynen|
Don’t let the “Ni” confuse you, and don’t let the endings confuse you.
Always consider the verb. The verb will tell you if there is a transitive action going on, and what kind of object to expect.
O kwé wabman ni nemoshen (animate object)
O kwé wabdan ni zawjisésen (inanimate object)
If a “fourth person” is performing an action, a different ending is required on the verb.
O kwé wabman ni nemoshen énemsénet.
The woman sees the dog walking off.
O nene wabman ni gigabéyen éyayénowet.
The man sees the boy laughing.
Wmeshomsen odanek éyénet.
His grandfather is in town.
So how do you know which to use as the proximate and which to use as the obviative?
Well, the main noun is the proximate, and the secondary noun is the obviative.
But how do you know which to use as the main noun, and which to use as the secondary noun?
It’s up to the speaker, the narrator, whoever is 1st person. The perspective of 1st person is the deciding factor, not just by which noun is closer, but also which noun is more important to the speaker.
First Person: The Speaker
Second Person: The Listener
Third Person: The one we are talking about
Fourth Person: The ones who interact with the one we are talking about
Verbs form the backbone of this language. Everything in Potawatomi is action oriented, so many names for items are actually verbs describing what those items do. Many words that would be considered adjectives in English are verbs in Potawatomi.
Every time one uses a Verb, one must consider the Type, the Mode, and the Order. For the fluent speaker, this happens instinctively and without hesitation. For the learner, one must slowly learn how to incorporate these concepts into daily language use.
It is important for beginners to avoid trying to learn every verb form in one day. Beginners should learn one set of verb conjugations at a time, slowly building up until the use of verbs becomes instinctual without hesitation.
Four Main Types of Verbs
Animate Intransitive (AI)
These verbs have an animate subject and no object. These verbs can be an action that an animate subject takes, or a description of an animate subject.
|I am cold||Nbigéj|
|Are you hungry?||gbekté ne?|
|He/she is thirsty||gashknabagwé|
Inanimate Intransitive (II)
These verbs have an inanimate subject, or no subject at all, and they describe an inanimate condition or situation. Many weather forms are in this form.
|It is cold (the weather)||ksenyamget|
|It is cold (an object)||dékyamget|
|It is red (inanimate)||mskwane|
|It is round||wawyeyamget|
|It is small||gachinwa|
|It is raining||gméyamget|
Transitive Inanimate (TI)
These verbs describe an interaction between an animate subject and an inanimate object.
|I see it||nwabdan|
|Do you hear it?||gnodan ne?|
|Do you want it?||gnedwendan ne?|
|I like it||nmedagwendan|
|I ate it||ngi-mijen|
Transitive Animate (TA)
These verbs involve an interaction between an animate subject and an animate object. These are verbs that can involve the use of obviatives.
|I see him||nwabma|
|I see her||nwabma|
|I see you||gwabmen|
|He sees him||wabman|
|He sees me||nwabmek|
|He sees you||gwabmek|
If there is an inanimate object involved with 2 animate persons, the animate persons take precedence. This becomes critical information when using the verb To Give.
|I gave it to him||Ngi-mina|
|He gave it to me||Ngi-mingo|