Locatives and Obviatives

Something a bit more difficult to understand for some.


In Potawatomi, you can take a noun and turn it into a “locative.”  The meaning of the “locative” form can range from “at the ____”, “in the ____”, “on the ___”,”near the ___”, “by the _____”, “to the ___” etc.  There are other words that give specific locations.

Noun                                                                     Locative

Dopwen (table)                                                Dopwenek

Wawabmowen (mirror)                                Wawabmonek

Mbagen (bed)                                                   Mbagnek

Wigwam (house)                                             Wigwamek

Dabyan (car)                                                       Dabyanek

Waséjgen (window)                                        Waséjgenek

Taswen (closet or cabinet)                           Taswenek

Shkemot (bag)                                                  Shkemotek

Gokbenagen (basket)                                     Gokbenagnek

Shkwadém (door)                                            Shkwadémek

Mbes (lake)                                                        Mbesek

Zibi (river)                                                           Zibik

Mtegwaki (forest)                                           Mtegwakik

Shkwengen (reservation)                             Shkwengenek

Odan (town)                                                      Odanek

Tkep (spring)                                                      Tkepik

Gtegan (garden)                                               Gteganek


Here are some common buildings, with their plural and locative forms…

Building                                                                Plural                                                     Locative

Dawéwgemek (store)                                     Dawéwgemgwén                             Dawéwgemgok

Okyangemek (barn)                                        Okyangemgwén                               Okyangemgok

Negdoshawgemek (horse barn)                 Negdoshawgemgwén                    Negdoshawgemgok

Tasogemek (shed)                                           Tasogemgwén                                  Tasogemgok

Dabyangemek (garage)                                 Dabyangemgwén                            Dabyangemgok

Dabyankéwgemek (auto shop)                  Dabyankéwgemgwén                    Dabyankéwgemgok

Mshenkiwgemek (jail)                                   Mshenkiwgemgwén                       Mshenkiwgemgok

Tadiwgemek (casino)                                     Tadiwgemgwén                                Tadiwgemgok

Kigdowgemek (hall for speaking)               Kigdowgemgwén                             Kigdowgemgok

Skonogemek (school)                                     Skonogemgwén                                Skonogemgok

Zhonyawgemek (bank)                                  Zhonyawgemgwén                         Zhonyawgemgok

Ogemawgemek (admin office)                   Ogemawgemgwén                          Ogemawgemgok

Mshkekiwgemek (hospital, clinic)              Mshkekiwgemgwén                       Mshkekiwgemgok

Wisnewgemek (restaurant)                         Wisnewgemgwén                            Wisnewgemgok

Some other words you will need to know…

Shote – Here                      Ibe – Over there               Ézhi – Over there             Zhi – There

Zagech – Outside             Bidek — Inside

Specific Locatives

These are words that are used to be specific in a description of a location…

Aizhok                                      back and forth

Aidwegmeg                             on both sides of the house

Aidwe-yégwan                        on both sides

Azhwe-yégwan                        on the other side, beyond

Azhokne                                   across the road

Azhodaki, azhodakig               over the hill

Azhogmeg                               behind the house

Azho-odan                               across town

Azhwekwe                               beyond the woods

Azhegamdés                            on the other side of the room

Azhweseg                                in the next room

Béshoj                                     close

Bijigwan                                  inside of something

Bideg                                       indoors

Bke-yégwan                            off to the side

Bnoj                                         far away

Gojeg                                       outdoors

Jigateg                                     by trees

Jiggemeg                                 near a house or lodge

Jigigwan                                  near here

Jig-mbes                                  next to the lake

Jig-myéw                                 next to the road

Jig-odaneg                               near town

Jig-shkwedé                             by the fire

Jig-zibe                                    next to the river

Kwédagon                               on top of the snow

Kwédajwen                              upstream

Kwedaki                                   uphill

Kwédbeg                                 on the roof

Kwédbyég or kwéjbyég           on the water

Kwéjgemeg or kwédgemeg    on top of a house

Kwéjigwan                               on top

Mchig                                      in the open, on the ground

Ibe                                           there

Ézhi                                          over there

Shote                                       here

Bijbyék                                    in the water

Bijigwan                                  inside something

Giwta yégwan                         around something

Jigakwa                                   at the edge of the woods

Jigatek                                     by trees

Jigbyék                                    by the water, on shore

Kwedbyék                                on the water

Kwejbyék                                 on top of the water

Nambyék                                 under the water

Namkemek                              under the ground

Namsek                                   in the basement, under the floor, downstairs

Nanaw yégwan                       in the middle of it

Nbené yégwan                        on one side of something

Nekmek                                   everywhere, different places

Ngoji                                        anywhere, somewhere

Pemé yégwan                         on the side of something

Shkwé yégwan                        at the end, the last

Shpemek                                 above, in the air

Shpemsek                                upstairs

Shpemsegok                            somewhere up above, Heaven

Zagje yégwan                          outside of it

Zhiw, zhi                                  there


The Proximate and the Obviative

                When using Transitive Verbs in the “Win” forms…

                                The first main noun is the “Proximate.”

                                The secondary noun is the “Obviative.”

The speaker is considered the “1st Person”, and the listener is considered the “2nd Person.”  In English, everyone else is considered to be “3rd Person.”  However, Potawatomi separates “everyone else” into degrees called “obviatives.”  The Potawatomi language is notable for having multiple “degrees” of obviation:

                Proximate (3rd)  Obviative (4th)                    Further Obviative (5th)

                O bnéshi                              Ni bnéshiyen                     Ni bnéshiywnen

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 doing an action, a different ending is used on the verb:

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?

                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.  This makes the use of the obviative very important to storytellers as a literary device.

Working with Obviatives

The Proximate and the Obviative

When using Transitive Verbs in the “Win” forms, the first main noun is the “Proximate,” and the secondary noun is the “Obviative.”

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)

                                The woman sees the dog

                O kwé wabdan ni zawjisésen      (inanimate object).

                                The woman sees the carrot

Here are more examples of obviatives in action:

                Gi jéman o nene ni kwéyen                        

The man kissed the woman

                Gi dbabman o wgyéyom ni penojén

                                The baby’s mother checked on the baby

                Gi miganan o gigabé ni shkenwén

                                The boy fought the young man

In each of these statements, the subject of the sentence is the proximate, and the object is the obviative.   When the INVERSE MARKER IS USED:

                O kwé wabmek ni nemoshen     (animate object)

                The woman is seen by the dog  Or            The dog sees the woman

                Gi jémek o nene ni kwéyen                        

The man was kissed by the woman          Or The women kissed the man

                Gi miganek o gigabé ni gigyagoyen

                The boy was fought by the girl  Or   The girl fought the boy

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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