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Minority Language Talk – Meyer

February 25 @ 4:00 pm - 5:00 pm

Note Change of Date!

Noun Categorization in Ojibwe: The Link between Gender and Classifiers

Cherry Meyer

Ph.D. student, University of Chicago

Gender assignment in Ojibwe is relatively straightforward, i.e. nouns with notionally animate
referents are assigned to the ANIMATE gender (1), while nouns with notionally inanimate
referents are assigned to the INANIMATE gender (2). There are exceptions to this generalization
found in the ANIMATE gender, i.e. nouns with notionally inanimate referents assigned to the
ANIMATE gender (3). I propose an analysis of gender assignment that draws on the semantics of
the classifier system to motivate such ‘exceptional’ nouns. Data are drawn from fieldwork with
speakers in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, and from dictionaries and grammars (Baraga, 1878;
Rhodes, 1985; Valentine, 2001).

1. Animate Referent and ANIMATE Gender
ikwe ‘woman’, inini ‘man’, animosh ‘dog’, makwa ‘bear’, giigoonh ‘fish’

2. Inanimate Referent and INANIMATE Gender
waabigwan ‘flower’, ozid ‘his/her foot’, wiiyaas ‘meat’, nibaagan ‘bed’, izaaga’igan ‘lake’

3. Inanimate Referent and ANIMATE Gender
mitig ‘tree’, zesab ‘nettle’, asekaan ‘tanned hide’, miskomin ‘raspberry’, asin ‘a stone’

There are five sortal classifiers in Ojibwe. The assignment of nouns like those in (3) is motivated
by their compatibility with the semantics of one of these sortal classifiers, illustrated by pairings
of classifiers and nouns (4).

4. a. /-aatig/ ‘long, narrow, rigid’, i.e. stick-like – mitig ‘tree’
b. /-aabiig/‘long, narrow, flexible’, i.e. string-like – zesab ‘nettle’
c. /-eg/ ‘long, wide, flexible’, i.e. sheet-like – asekaan ‘tanned hide’
d. /-minag/ ‘small, round’, i.e. berry-like – miskomin ‘raspberry’
e. /-aabik/ ‘mineral’, i.e. metal, stone, glass – asin ‘a stone’

Complexities arising from dialectal differences, diachronic changes and analogical extension, as
well as comparison to relevant analyses are discussed.

Selected References

Baraga, F. (1878). A theoretical and practical grammar of the Otchipwe language for the use of
missionaries and other persons living among the Indians . Montreal: Beauchemin & Valois.

Rhodes, R. A. (1985). Eastern Ojibwa-Chippewa-Ottawa Dictionary (Vol. 3). Walter de Gruyter.

Valentine, J. R.( 2001). Nishnaabemwin reference grammar . University of Toronto Press.


February 25
4:00 pm - 5:00 pm
Event Category:


7191 HCW
7191 Helen C. White Hall