Anishinaabemowin is a language focused on describing the world and the action that takes place in it. To use the verbs you will need to know the pronouns. These are the basic ingredients of speech: a root verb and words to show who is doing whatever you are describing. It is important to learn the seven pronouns and how they are used.
Niin is the word for both “me” and “I.”
Giin is the word for “you,” meaning just one other person who is being spoken to.
Wiin is the word for “he,” “she,” “him,” and “her.” There is no indication of male or female. This is just one person other than the person speaking or the person listening. We can use the context to find out if he or she is male or female when necessary. Compared to English, this is an elegant way to avoid choosing “he” or “she” when often we don’t know and don’t want to make assumptions.
Niinawind (Niinwi) is the word for “us” or “we.” Because there are two words for “us” in Anishinaabemowin, the easiest definition to use is “just us” because “niinawind” does not include the person being spoken to. For that reason it is sometimes called “exclusive.” Think of it as “niin / me” and some other people, not including you. An example that helps explain this word would be a couple of kids telling a busy Mom, “we are going out to play.” This would be the exclusive form because Mom is not going out to play with them.
Giinawind (Giinwi) is another word for “us” or “we.” Because there are two words for “us” in Anishinaabemowin, the easiest definition to use is “all of us” because “giinawind” does include the person you are speaking to. For that reason it is sometimes called “inclusive.” Think of it as “giin / you” and some other people, including me. An example that helps explain this word would be a busy Mom saying to kids, “we are all going to work together now.” In Anishinaabemowin the Mom can be very clear that she is including all the children in her statement.
Giinawaa (Giinwi) is a word for “you all’ meaning all of the people a person might be speaking to. This is another instance of Anishinaabemowin giving more specific detail than English. In English the word “you” is used for both one person and a group. In Anishinaabemowin speakers are able to clarify who is included in a statement.
Wiinawaa (Wiinwi) is the word for “them.” Like “wiin” there is no indication of male or female this is just a group of people other than you or I.
Memorize the following chart. Note that both the long and short spelling variations are given here.
Pronoun In Ojibwe
Pronoun In English
||he / she
|niinawind / niinwi
|giinawind / giinwi
||all of us
|giinawaa / giinwaa
|wiinawaa / wiinwaa
Pronouns are rarely used independently. There are a few examples when the whole pronoun is used. People often sign letters or emails, “Niin sa” which is the first person pronoun with a small emphasis marker. This is like saying, “yours truly” but literally means “it’s me!” Another instance of the pronoun used in its full form is when action flows from one person to another: Giinitam – your turn; Niinitam – my turn; Wiinitam – his / her turn.
As you learn verbs, it is essential to understand these action words represent the complexity of the world around us. Anishinaabemowin gives speakers four ways to think about action:
- as something that happens without variation or influence
- as something that a living being can do
- as something a living being can do to an object unable to respond
- as something a living being can do with another living being
The idea of what is a “living being” is not fixed. It is true that all people and animals are usually spoken about as animate, but things English speakers think of as non-living are also connected to the animate verbs, for instance cars, potatoes and bread to name a few. In some cases this is an arbitrary linguistic habit for which there is no longer an epistemological reason, which is to say that if there ever was a worldview that caused the potato to be animate, it is no longer common knowledge. In other cases the storyteller may make a choice to talk about a thing as inanimate in one instance and animate in another. For example, a rock or a cross may take on different descriptions depending on how it is used in the sentence. As you learn new words, be sure to find out how they are predominantly used. This is what a fluent child would learn by listening and what second-language speaker needs to spend a little time memorizing.
There are a number of ways to find out which category a noun is in. One way is by finding out how one says “this” or “that” for the new word.
In the West:
In the East:
Another way to find out which category is most common for a noun is ask how to say “more than one” of the item. In Anishinaabemowin nouns become plural in a very consistent manner:
- ianimate words take “an” at the end
- animate words take “ag” or “oog” at the end
|o’o makizin – this shoe
||wa’aw mishiimin – this apple
|onow miinan – these berries
||ongow daabaanag – these cars
There are only four types of increasingly complicated verbs and some fairly simple rules about which one to use when. Before any sentence can be understood, a speaker or listener will ask himself or herself, “What is happening and who or what is involved?” The answer to those questions will determine which verb is used.
Type 1 (Intransitive Inanimate) – Something happens with no pronoun involved.
- Gimiwan – Rain
- Waabanjigaade – It is seen
- Giizhaanamad – Hot wind
- Awan – Fog
Type 2 – (Intransitive Animate) One of the seven pronouns does something without anyone else or any objects involved.
- Niwaab – I see
- Nimbimose – I walk
- Nindizhinikaaz – I am named
- Ningiiwe – I am going home
Type 3 – (Transitive Inanimate) – One of the seven pronouns is doing something with a direct object in the inanimate (i’iw) category.
- Makizin niwaabandaan. – The shoe I see.
- Dopwin nindozhitoon – A table I am making.
- Gidaapnaan ozhibiiganatig. – You are taking a pen.
- Miinan omiijinaawaan. – The blueberries they are eating.
Type 4 – (Transitive Animate) – One of the seven pronouns is doing something with a direct object in the animate (a’aw) category. This means there are actually two pronouns involved.
- Giwaabamin. – I see you.
- Giwaabamaa. – You see him or her.
- Owaabamaawaan. – They see them.
- Mishiiminag nindamwaanaanig – We (just us) are eating apples.
- Gimiigwechwigo – We (just us) all thank just you.