Grammar Notes

Potawatomi is NOT English. This is the first concept to grasp for all language learners who are first speakers of English. There is a paradigm shift necessary to grasp Potawatomi.


The first concept to learn is Animate Nouns vs. Inanimate Nouns

Bmadzewen: Shkwedé mine Nibi mine Senik mine Skebgyak mine Nizhogadék mine Nyéwogadék mine Bebamojegéniyek mine Ébmashiwat….Wnago mine Ngom mine Wabek…

Life:  The fire, the water, the rock, the green, the two-leggeds, the four-leggeds, the creeping crawling ones, and the winged ones….The past, the present, and the future…

Animate

Any of the following can cause a noun to be considered animate:

  • Alive
  • Has a heartbeat
  • Once had a heartbeat
  • Moves independently
  • Grows
  • Attached to a source of life
  • Reanimated in ceremony

Inanimate

Any of the following can cause a noun to be considered animate:

  • Not Alive (this does not mean dead.)
  • Does not move independently
  • Does not grow
  • Is a part of something animate (like a body part)
  • Detached from source of life
  • Ceremonial object in storage

Animacy is not fixed! Many nouns can change states depending on the context and how they are used. Animate berries become inanimate when picked. Animate ceremonial objects become inanimate when they are placed in storage. Everything in the sentence must agree with the animacy of the conversation.


DEMONSTRATIVE PRONOUNS

In Potawatomi there are no “articles”, no words for “the,” “a,” or “an.” There is a set of clearly defined Demonstrative Pronouns: This, That, These, and Those. Sometimes they can be translated as “the” or “a”, but that is purely for the sake of English flow.


PERSONAL PRONOUNS

There are Personal Pronouns in Potawatomi, and these 7 “who’s” describe how Potawatomi people relate to each other.


VERB STRUCTURE

There are 4 types of Verbs in Potawatomi:

  • Animate Intransitive
    • Someone or something animate completes an action that does not interact with anyone or anything else.
      • Nde jibdeb – I am sitting
      • Nde wawijgémen – We are reading
    • Someone or something animate is described by a verb.
      • Mbigéj – I am cold
      • Mbiwé o nemo – The dog is wet
  • Inanimate Intransitive
    • Something inanimate is described.
      • Gshedémget – It is hot
      • Bokshkamget – It is broken
      • Wawyéyamget i pkwakwet – The ball is round
    • An action with no subject is related, usually related to weather.
      • Gméyamget – It is raining
      • Bonimget – It is snowing
  • Animate Transitive
    • Two animate beings interact with each other.
      • Gwabmen – I see you
      • Gwabem – You see me
      • Gigo nde mwa – I am eating the fish
  • Inanimate Transitive
    • An animate being interacts with an inanimate object.
      • Pkwakwet ngi dgeshkan – I kicked the ball
      • Msenegen ngi wawidan – I read the paper