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Grammar of the Ottawa and Chippewa Language

 Native American Nations | Ottawa and Chippewa Indians of Michigan                   


     Common nouns in the Ottawa and Chippewa language are divided into two classes, animate and inanimate. Animate nouns are those which signify living objects or objects supposed to have life, as persons, animals and plants. Inanimate nouns signify objects without life.
     A third form of nouns is derived from these two classes, called diminutive nouns. These are formed by the termination "ens" or "na" placed upon other nouns.
     The plural of animate nouns is usually formed by adding the syllable "wog" to the singular; if the word ends in a vowel, only the letter "g" is added; and sometimes the syllables "yog," "ag," or "og."
     All words are pronounced with accent on the last syllable.

Singular Plural  English
Pezhe-keens, (dim.)
Aw-ni-mouns, (dim.)

The plural of inanimate nouns usually terminates in an, en, on, or n.




Maw-kok-ons, (dim.)
Tchi-maw-nes, (dim.)
Tchi maw-nes-on
Small box
Small boat

     Nouns have three cases, nominative, locative and objective. The locative case denotes the relation usually expressed in English by the use of a preposition, or by the genitive, dative and ablative in Latin.

Nom. Aw-kick, Kettle.
Loc. Aw-kick-ong, In the kettle.
Obj. E-naw-bin aw-kick-ong, Do look in the kettle.

     This relation can be expressed by the word "pin-je," as "Pin-je aw-kick,"--in the kettle; "E-naw-bin pin-je aw-kick,"--do look in the kettle; but this form is seldom used. It is employed only for great emphasis or formality.

     The locative termination is "ong," "eng," or "ing."
     The objective case is like the nominative when the subject is in the 1st or 2d person, but when the subject is in the 3d person the object takes the termination "won."

     Example of locative and objective cases: Chicago is derived from she-gog-ong, the locative case of the Ottawa word she-gog, meaning skunk; nominative, she-gog; locative, she-gog-ong; objective, she-gog or she-gog-won.

     Locative case--
She-gog-ong ne-de-zhaw, I am going to Chicago.
She-gog-ong ne-do-je-baw, I come from Chicago.
She-gog-ong e-zhawn, Go to Chicago.

     Objective case--
1st p.--She-gog ne-ne-saw, I kill the skunk.
2d p.--She-gog ke-ne-saw, You kill the skunk.
3d p.--She-gog-won o-ne-sawn, He kills the skunk.

     Gender is distinguished by the word "quay," either prefixed or added to nouns, to indicate the feminine.
Aw-ne-ne, pl. wog; Man. Aw-quay, pl. wog; Woman.
Aw-nish-naw-bay; Indian man. Aw-nesh-naw-bay-quay; I. woman.
Osh-kee-naw-way; Young man. Osh-kee-ne-ge-quay; Y. woman.
Que-we-zayns, pl. og; Boy. Quay-zayns, pl. og; Girl.
Aw-yaw-bay-pe-zhe-kee; Bull. Quay-pe-zhe-kee; Cow.

     Proper names always form the feminine by adding "quay."
Ce-naw-day; Irishman. Ce-naw-day-quay; Irishwoman.

     Some genders are irregular.
Aw-ke-wa-zee; Old man. Me-de-mo-gay; Old woman.
Aw-be-non-tchi, an infant, has no distinction of gender.
Os-see-maw, pl. g; Father. O-gaw-shi-maw, pl. g; Mother.
Me-kaw-ne-see-maw; Brother. O-me-say-e-maw; Sister.
O-me-shaw-mes-se-maw; Gr.father. O-kee-mes-se-maw; Grandmother.
O-me-shaw-way-e-maw; Uncle. O-nou-shay-e-maw; Aunt.
We-taw-wis-see-maw; Male cousin. We-ne-mo-shay-e-maw; Fem. cous.

     Diminutive nouns take the same modifications as the nouns from which they are derived.
     Verbs and adjectives are modified to agree with the animate or inanimate nouns to which they belong, as will be illustrated hereafter.


Personal pronouns have no distinction of gender in the third person singular. A peculiarity of this language is the two forms for the first person plural. These two forms for pronouns, and for verbs in all moods and tenses, are like each other except in the first syllable. In one form the first syllable is always "Ke," and in the other "Ne." The form commencing with Ke is used only when speaking to one person, and that commencing with Ne, which might be called the multiple form, is used whenever more than one person is addressed, even though no word may appear in the sentence indicating how many. This is an idiosyncracy which perhaps would never have been developed, certainly would not be perpetuated, in any except an unwritten language. It is of no effect except in a language always
colloquial. The multiple form will be given in this grammar as the first person plural, and, whether indicated or not, the other may be understood as being the same with the change of the first syllable from Ne to Ke.

Personal Pronouns



1st. p.--Keen or nin, I

2d p.--Keen or kin, Thou or you
3d p.--Ween or win, He or she
(Ne-naw-wind, (mult.), We
(Ke-naw-wind,) We
,Ke-naw-waw, You
We-naw-waw, They

     When these personal pronouns are connected with other words, or when they become subjects or objects of verbs, the first syllable only is used, or pronounced. In the third person of verbs the pronoun is entirely omitted.



Ne wob, I see
Ke wob, You see
Wo-be, He or she sees
Ne wob-me, We see
Ke wob-em, You see
Wo-be-wog, They see

     The whole pronoun is sometimes used when the emphatic or intensive form is desired, as,



Neen-ne wob, I myself see
Keen-ke wob, You yourself see
Ween wo-be, He himself, or she herself sees
Ne-naw-wind ne-wob-me, We ourselves see
Ke-naw-waw ke-wob-em, You yourself see
We-naw-waw wo-be-wog, They themselves see

Possessive Pronouns

Ne-daw-yo-em, Mine, Ne-daw-yo-em-e-naw, Ours.
Ke-daw-yo-em, Thine, Ke-daw-yo-em-e-waw, Yours.
O-daw-yo-em, His or hers, O-daw-yo-em-e-waw, Theirs.

Emphatic form--nin ne-daw-yo-em, etc., throughout all the different persons. When these possessive pronouns are used with nouns, nearly all the syllables are omitted, except the first, which is added to the noun in the plural; as--



Ne we-ok-won, My hat
Ke we-ok-won, Your hat
O we ok-won, His hat
Ne we-ok-won-e-naw, Our hat
Ke we-ok-won-e-waw, Your hat.
O we-ok-won-e-waw, Their hat

     The emphatic form, "my own hat," is made by prefixing the personal pronouns, as--



Neen ne we-ok-won
Keen ke we-ok-won
Ween o we-ok-won
Ne-naw-wind ne we-ok-won-e-naw
Ke-naw-waw ke we-ok-won-e-waw
We-naw-waw o we-ok-won-e-waw

The Impersonal Pronoun

The impersonal pronoun "maw-got," plural "maw-got-on," may be represented by the English impersonal or neuter pronoun It, but it has a wider significance. The inanimate subject of a verb is also represented by maw-got or maw-got-on. Wa-po-tchin-ga maw-got, or wa-po- tchin-ga-sa maw-got, it strikes; plural, wa-po-tchin-ga maw-got-on, or wa-po-tchin-ga-sa maw-got-on, they strike.

Au-no-ke maw-got, It works. Pe-me-say maw-got, It walks.
Ne-bo-we maw-got, It stands. Wo-be maw-got, It sees.
Pe-me-baw-to maw-got, It runs.

Au-nish, interrogative pronoun what; au-naw-tchi, relative pronoun what; e-we, relative pronoun that.

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