Ojibwe grammar

Ojibwe grammar

The Ojibwe language is an Algonquian American Indian language spoken throughout the Great Lakes region and westward onto the northern plains. It is one of the largest American Indian languages north of Mexico in terms of number of speakers, and exhibits a large number of divergent dialects. For the most part, this article describes the Minnesota variety of the Southwestern dialect. The orthography used is the Fiero Double-Vowel System.

Like many American languages, Ojibwe is polysynthetic, meaning it exhibits a great deal of synthesis and a very high morpheme-to-word ratio (e.g., the single word for "they are Chinese" is aniibiishaabookewininiiwiwag, which contains seven morphemes: elm-PEJORATIVE-liquid-make-man-be-PLURAL, or approximately "they are leaf-soup [i.e., tea] makers"). It is agglutinating, and thus builds up words by stringing morpheme after morpheme together, rather than having several affixes which carry numerous different pieces of information.

Like most Algonquian languages, Ojibwe distinguishes two different kinds of third person, a proximate and an obviative. The proximate is a traditional third person, while the obviative (also frequently called "fourth person") marks a less important third person if more than one third person is taking part in an action. In other words, Ojibwe uses the obviative to avoid the confusion that could be created by English sentences such as "John and Bill were good friends, ever since the day he first saw him" (who saw whom?). In Ojibwe, one of the two participants would be marked as proximate (whichever one was deemed more important), and the other marked as obviative.



Rather than a gender contrast such as masculine/feminine, Ojibwe instead distinguishes between animate and inanimate. Animate nouns are generally living things, and inanimate ones generally nonliving things, although this is not a simple rule due to the cultural understanding as to whether a noun possesses a "spirit" or not (generally, if it can move, it possesses a "spirit"). Objects which have great spiritual importance for the Ojibwe — such as rocks — are very often animate rather than inanimate, for example. Some words are distinguished purely by their gender; for example, mitig can mean either "tree" or "stick:" if it is animate (plural mitigoog), it means "tree," and if it is inanimate (plural mitigoon), it means "stick."


Number in Ojibwe is a simple singular/plural contrast. Nouns and pronouns can be either singular or plural, and verbs inflect for the number of their subject and object, although some nouns and verbs lack singular forms. Plural forms differ from word to word depending on the word's gender, root, and historical stress. By examining the plural form of the word, one can generally determine the word's gender and root. Animate plurals end in -g, while inanimate plural nouns (and obviative nouns) end in -n. The underlying form of a root determines the "linking vowel" — the vowel that appears before the plural suffix (-g or -n) but after the root itself.


There are seven Ojibwe inflectional categories expressing person/gender combinations for each of the two numbers (singular and plural).[1] However, the singular and plural categories do not always exactly correspond. The total number of 14 "persons" arises from taking into consideration all the contrasts of animate/inanimate, proximate/obviative, and singular/plural.

Animate gender (singular) Animate gender (plural) Inanimate gender

Characteristics of the resulting 14 persons are built into Ojibwe nouns and pronouns, thus dictating which verb forms would be used in speech. In nouns and verbs, all 14 forms of persons may or may not present themselves, as words are divided as either animate or inanimate genders and very few words exist as both, but all 14 forms of persons generally do appear with pronouns.


Ojibwe pronouns, along with distinguishing singular and plural number and first, second, third, and fourth (obviative) persons, also carry a distinction between inclusive and exclusive first person plural. Pronouns may present themselves either as independent words or as series of prefixes and suffixes.

An inclusive first person plural indicates that the pronoun includes the addressee, i.e., "we including you" (giinawind). An exclusive first person plural indicates that the addressee is not included, i.e., "we excluding you" (niinawind).

The other personal pronouns are the first singular niin, second singular giin, third singular wiin, second plural giinawaa, and third plural wiinawaa.

Like the independent words, Ojibwe pronominal prefixes indicate first person with n-, second person with g- and third person with w-. However, the associated suffixes for these persons will be different depending on if the word is a verb or a noun.[8]

Word begins with... 1 or
2 or
3 or
a aa e i (n)ind- gid- od-
oo n- g- od-
ii n- g- w-
o (n)indo- gido- odo-
b (n)im- gi- (o)-
d g ' j z zh (n)in- gi- (o)-
p t k h ch m n s w y ni- gi- (o)-

In many Ojibwe-speaking communities, the first person prefix is used without the initial n. Due to vowel syncope in some communities, those prefixes are further reduced without the initial i. However, among Saulteaux communities, the first person prefix nim- and nin- are instead reduced to ni-, nind- to nid- and nindo- to nido-.

Ojibwe also has a set of demonstrative pronouns, distinguishing animate/inanimate, here/there/yonder/over here, singular/plural, and proximate/obviative. The demonstratives differ in their phonetic forms very significantly across Ojibwe dialects and communities, so this table, based on the Minnesota dialect of Southwestern Ojibwe, will not be entirely correct for many speakers:

Animate Inanimate
Singular Plural Obviative Singular Plural
Here wa'aw ongow onow o'ow onow
There a'aw ingiw iniw i'iw iniw
Over there/
a'awedi ingiwedig iniwedin i'iwedi iniwedin
Over here wa'awedi ongowedig onowedin o'owedi onowedin

Ojibwe also has a set of interrogative pronouns (awenen, "who?", awegonen, "what?"), dubitative pronouns (awegwen, "I don't know who", wegodogwen, "I don't know what"), and "indefinite" pronouns (awiiya, "someone", gegoo, "something," both of which can be preceded by gaawiin or akina to mean "no one, nothing" and "everyone, everything," respectively).


Ojibwe verbs mark information not only on the subject (their animacy, person, and plurality), but also on the object. There are several different classes of verbs in the language, which differ based on whether they are transitive or intransitive, and whether they take animate or inanimate subjects. The main classes of verbs are abbreviated VAI (intransitive with animate subject), VII (intransitive with inanimate subject), VTA (transitive with animate object), and VTI (transitive with inanimate object).

Verbs mark tenses with prefixes (gii-, past, ga- and da-, future, and wii-, desiderative future), but also can take a myriad of affixes known as "preverbs", which convey a great amount of additional information about an action. For example, the preverb izhi- means "in such a way," and so its addition to the verb root -ayaa-, "to be," makes the verb izhi-ayaa, "to be a certain way." The preverb bimi-, "along," combines with the verb root -batoo-, "to run," to form bimibatoo, "to run along, run by." The preferred order of these prefixes are personal prefix, tense prefix, directional prefix, relative prefix, any number of preverbs, and finally the verb.[9] In addition, the initial syllable may be modified by an initial vowel change or by an initial syllable reduplication.[10][11][12]

Furthermore, there are three so-called "orders" of Ojibwe verbs. The basic one is called Independent Order, and is simply the indicative mood. There is also a Conjunct Order, which is most often used with verbs in subordinate clauses, in questions (other than simple yes-no questions), and with participles (participles in Ojibwe are verbal nouns, whose meaning is roughly equivalent to "someone who is (VERB), does (VERB)," for example, the word for "traveler," bebaamaadizid, is the third singular conjunct of babaamaadizi, "to travel about," and literally means "someone who travels about"). The final order is the Imperative Order, used with commands and corresponding to the imperative mood.

Negatives are generally introduced by the leading word gaawiin, which is usually translated as "no," before introducing the actual words in their negative form. Negatives are generally formed by adding sii (or zii) for independent order and si (or zi) for conjunct order, both adding the negative element immediately after the root but before other suffixes. The sii/si are found after vowels while the zii/zi are found after n. In some words, the final consonant is dropped and the sii/si are added to the remaining vowel, in other words the final m is converted to n before adding zii/zi, yet in other words a linking vowel i (or aa) is added after the final consonant and then the sii/si added. Imperatives do not follow the sii (zii)/si (zi) pattern.

There are three imperatives in Ojibwe: the immediate imperative, used to indicate that the action must be completely right away (nibaan!, "Sleep (right now)!"), the delayed imperative, used to indicate that the action should be completely eventually, but not immediately (nibaakan!, "Sleep (in a little bit)!"), and the prohibitive imperative, used to indicate that the action is prohibited ((gego) nibaaken!, "Don't sleep!"). Like the negatives, the "k" in -k, -ken, -keg and -kegon take on the lenis form and become "g" after n. Also like the negatives, the general the connector vowel between the imperative suffix and the terminal consonant here is i; however, for k/g, the connector vowel instead is o.

All verbs can also be marked for four "modes:" indicative (neutral), dubitative (the speaker is unsure about the validity of what they are saying, for example: bakade, "he is hungry," but bakadedog, "he must be hungry; he could be hungry"), preterit (which emphasizes that the action occurred in the past, and is also used to refer to attempted or intended but uncompleted actions, for example: imaa ninamadabi, "I'm sitting there," but imaa ninamadabiban, "I was sitting there; I meant to sit there"), or preterit-dubitative (which expresses doubt about a past action: imaa namadabigoban, "she must have sat there; she could have sat there").


As an example of some of the Ojibwe verbal distinctions at work, consider the conjugation of positive and negative indicative long-vowel-final VAI verbs (using the example nibaa, "to sleep"):

Subject Independent
Positive Negative
Conjugation Example Gloss Conjugation Example Gloss
Niin n _ 0 ninibaa "I sleep" n _ sii(n)¹ ninibaasiin "I don't sleep"
Giin g _ 0 ginibaa "You sleep" g _ sii(n)¹ ginibaasiin "You don't sleep"
Wiin 0 _ 0 nibaa "S/he/it sleeps" 0 _ sii(n)¹ nibaasiin "S/he/it doesn't sleep"
Obviative 0 _ wan nibaawan "S/he/it (obviate) sleeps" 0 _ siiwan nibaasiiwan "S/he/it (obviate) doesn't sleep"
Indefinite 0 _ m nibaam "Someone sleeps" 0 _ siim nibaasiim "Someone doesn't sleep"
Niinawind n _ mi(n)¹ ninibaamin "We (exclusive) sleep" n _ siimi(n)¹ ninibaasiimin "We (exclusive) don't sleep"
Giinawind g _ mi(n)¹ ginibaamin "We (inclusive) sleep" g _ siimi(n)¹ ginibaasiimin "We (inclusive) don't sleep"
Giinawaa g _ m ginibaam "You guys sleep" g _ siim ginibaasiim "You guys don't sleep"
Wiinawaa 0 _ wag nibaawag "They sleep" 0 _ siiwag nibaasiiwag "They don't sleep"
Subject Conjunct
Positive Negative
Conjugation Example Gloss Conjugation Example Gloss
Niin 0 _ yaan nibaayaan "That I sleep" 0 _ siwaan(h)² nibaasiwaan "That I don't sleep"
Giin 0 _ yan nibaayan "That you sleep" 0 _ siwan nibaasiwan "That you don't sleep"
Wiin 0 _ d nibaad "That s/he/it sleeps" 0 _ sig nibaasig "That s/he/it don't sleeps"
Obviative 0 _ nid nibaanid "That s/he/it (obviate) sleeps" 0 _ sinid/g nibaasinid
"That s/he/it (obviate) don't sleep"
Indefinite 0 _ ng nibaang "That someone sleeps" 0 _ sing nibaasing "That someone don't sleep"
Niinawind 0 _ yaang nibaayaang "That we (exclusive) sleep" 0 _ siwaang nibaasiwaang "That we (exclusive) don't sleep"
Giinawind 0 _ yang nibaayang "That we (inclusive) sleep" 0 _ siwang nibaasiwang "That we (inclusive) don't sleep"
Giinawaa 0 _ yeg nibaayeg "That you guys sleep" 0 _ siweg nibaasiweg "That you guys don't sleep"
Wiinawaa 0 _ waad nibaawaad "That they sleep" 0 _ siwaa nibaasiwaa "That they don't sleep"
Subject Imperative (Immediate) Imperative (Prohibitive)
Conjugation Example Gloss Conjugation Example Gloss
Giin 0 _ n nibaan "You! Sleep!" (now) 0 _ ken nibaaken "You! Don't Sleep!"
Giinawind 0 _ daa nibaadaa "Let's sleep!" (now) 0 _ siidaa nibaasiidaa "Let's not sleep!"
Giinawaa 0 _ (o)k/(o)g nibaak
"You guys! Sleep!" (now) 0 _ kegon nibaakegon "You guys! Don't Sleep!"
Subject Imperative (Delayed)
Positive Negative
Conjugation Example Gloss Conjugation Example Gloss
Giin 0 _ (:)kan³ nibaakan "You! Sleep!" (soon) 0 _ siikan nibaasiikan "You! Don't sleep!" (soon)
Giinawaa 0 _ (:)keg³ nibaakeg "You guys! Sleep!" (soon) 0 _ siikeg nibaasiikeg "You guys! Don't sleep!" (soon)
1 In Odaawaa, the final n is absent.
2 In Odaawaa, nh is used instead of n.
3 Short vowels are lengthened before adding the suffix.

Also as an example of some of the Ojibwe verbal distinctions at work, consider the conjugation of positive and negative indicative long-vowel-final VII verbs (using the example ozhaawashkwaa, "to blue"). Note that unlike VAI verbs, VII do not have imperatives:

Subject Independent
Positive Negative
Conjugation Example Gloss Conjugation Example Gloss
Singular 0 _ (w)¹ ozhaawashkwaa "It blues" 0 _ siinoon ozhaawashkwaasiinoon "It doesn't blue"
Singular Obviative 0 _ ni(w)¹ ozhaawashkwaani "It (obviate) blues" 0 _ sinini(w)¹ ozhaawashkwaasinini "It (obviate) doesn't blue"
Plural 0 _ wan ozhaawashkwaawan "They blue" 0 _ siinoon ozhaawashkwaasiinoon "They don't blue"
Plural Obviative 0 _ niwan ozhaawashkwaaniwan "They (obviate) blue" 0 _ sininiwan ozhaawashkwaasininiwan "They (obviate) don't blue"
Subject Conjunct
Positive Negative
Conjugation Example Gloss Conjugation Example Gloss
Singular 0 _ g ozhaawashkwaag "That it blues" 0 _ sinog ozhaawashkwaasinog "That it don't blue"
Singular Obviative 0 _ nig ozhaawashkwaanig "That it (obviate) blues" 0 _ sininig ozhaawashkwaasininig "That it (obviate) don't blue"
Plural 0 _ g ozhaawashkwaag "That they blue" 0 _ sinog ozhaawashkwaasinog "That they don't blue"
Plural Obviative 0 _ nig ozhaawashkwaanig "That they (obviate) blue" 0 _ sininig ozhaawashkwaasininig "That they (obviate) don't blue"
1 In some words, a final w is present.


Ojibwe, as with other Algonquian languages, also exhibits a direct–inverse system, in which transitive verbs are marked for whether or not the direction of the action follows a "topicality hierarchy" of the language. The topicality hierarchy in Ojibwe is 2 > 1 > X > 3 > 3’ > 0, determined by 1) person, 2) gender, and 3) obviation.[13] Ojibwe has no case distinctions among agent, patient and experiencer theta roles, so in a transitive verb with two participants, the only way to distinguish subject from object is through direct/inverse/goal suffixes.

DIRECT 3 -aa-
INVERSE 3 -igw-
1-GOAL (2) 1 -i
2-GOAL (1) 2 -iN-

1. In the Oji-Cree language, this is -ishi-.

For the first person and second person GOALs, their ACTORs are specified if the words are in their Independent Order, and can also be known as local direct (first person GOAL) and local inverse (second person GOAL). A DIRECT suffix indicates that the action is performed by someone higher on the person hierarchy on someone lower on the person hierarchy (e.g., by the addressee on the speaker, or by a proximate third person on an obviative):

o- bizindaw -aa -n
3- listen.to -DIRECT -3OBVIATIVE
"He listens to the other one"

An inverse suffix indicates that the action is performed by someone lower on the person hierarchy on someone higher on the person hierarchy (e.g., by the speaker on the addressee, or by an obviative third person on a proximate):

o- bizindaw -igoo -n
3- listen.to -INVERSE -3OBVIATIVE
"The other one listens to him"

As can be seen, the only difference between these two verbs is the direct–inverse opposition, rather than case markers (or word order, when distinct nominals are used). An inverse verb is not equivalent to a passive verb. There is a separate passivity marker, distinct from the direct–inverse markers:

bizindaw -aa
listen.to -PASSIVE
"He is listened to"


Nouns distinguish plurality, animacy, obviation, and case with suffixes. Animacy is only overtly marked on plural nouns. There are no core cases to distinguish categories such as "subject" or "object," but rather various oblique cases, including a locative (e.g., wiisiniwigamig, "restaurant," wiisiniwigamigong, "in the restaurant") and a vocative plural (e.g., Ojibwedog, "(you) Ojibwes!"). Other suffixes are: pejorative (e.g., jiimaan, "canoe," jiimaanish, "worthless canoe"), diminutive (e.g., zhooniyaa, "money," zhooniyaans, "coin"), contemptive (e.g., odaabaan, "car", odaabaanenh, "just some old car"), preterit (which marks a deceased or no-longer existent person or object, e.g. nookomis, "my grandmother," nookomisiban, "my late grandmother"), and preterit-dubitative (which maks a deceased or no-longer existent person or object which was never known by the speaker, e.g. a'aw mindimooyenh, "that old woman", a'aw mindimooyenyigoban, "that late old woman I never knew").

Some nouns are considered "dependent" and cannot be presented by themselves. Instead, these dependent nouns are presented with pronoun prefixes/suffixes attached to them. An example of a dependent noun is nookomis ("my grandmother") where the dependent root -ookomis- ("grandmother") must be presented with a pronoun affix, which in this case is n-.

Other nouns are derived from verbs by transforming them to their participle form. Of the choices, third person (and thus third person plural) is the most common form. Though each class of verbs may have their own pariciple-forming patterns, for simplicity, only the VAI neutral mode, positive participles are shown in the example, again, using nibaa ("sleep").

Note: C and V are used in some of the tables below to indicate a consonant or a vowel, respectively.

Subject VAI Neutral Mode, Positive Participles
Conjugation Example Gloss
Niin 0 * yaan nebaayaan "Sleeper"
Giin 0 * yan nebaayan "Sleeper"
Wiin 0 * d1 nebaad1 "Sleeper"
Obviative 0 * nijin nebaanijin "Sleeper"
Indefinite 0 * ng nebaang "Sleeper"
Niinawind 0 * yaang nebaayaang "Sleepers"
Giinawind 0 * yang nebaayang "Sleepers"
Giinawaa 0 * yeg nebaayeg "Sleepers"
Wiinawaa 0 * jig nebaajig "Sleepers"

* For participles, the word experiences initial vowel change.
1 In Oji-Cree language, this is a "j" and not a "d".

Plurals and Obviative

Plurals and obviative suffixes are the easiest to add to Ojibwe words. By examining the plural, one can generally determine the underlying root of the word. Generally, animate plurals end with -g, while inanimate plurals and obviatives end with -n. Often, a linking vowel is required to join the root to one of these endings. Underlying -w or -y or an augment may affect the choice of linking vowels.

Singular Inanimate
Obviative Singular
Consonant Stem
C Can Cag Can miin miinan "blueberries"
Long-vowel Stem
CVV CVVn CVVg CVVn ajidamoo ajidamoog "squirrels"
CVV CVVwan CVVwag CVVwan bine binewag "partridges"
CV CVwan CVwag CVwan wado wadowag "bloodclots"
CVVw CVVwan CVVwag CVVwan niwiiw niwiiwag "my wives"
CVV CVVyan CVVyag CVVyan nimaamaa nimaamaayag "my mamas"
CVVnh CVVnyan CVVnyag CVVnyan giigoonh giigoonyag "fishes"
Short-vowel Stem
CV CVwan CVwag CVwan inini ininiwag "men"
CVw CVwan CVwag CVwan bigiw bigiwan "gums"
W Stem
C Coon Coog Coon mitig mitigoon "sticks"
C Cwan Cwag Cwan nigig nigigwag "otters"
Cwa Cwan Cwag Cwan makwa makwag "bears"
Cwa Cwan Cwag Cwan ikwa ikwag "lice"
Y Stem
C Ciin Ciig Ciin aniib aniibiig "elms"
Ci Ciin Ciig Ciin anwi anwiin "bullets
C Cwiin Cwiig Cwiin nining niningwiin "my armpits"
Augment Stem
C Can Cag Can ninow ninowan "my cheeks"
C Coon Coog Coon nikatig nikatigoon "my foreheads"
Ca Cawan Cawag Cawan oodena oodenawan "towns"
Cay Cayan Cayag Cayan omooday omoodayan "bottles"
C Can Cag Can nindengway nindengwayan "my faces"
Can Canan Canag Canan ma'iingan ma'iinganag "wolves"
Can Canan Canag Canan nindooskwan nindooskwanan "my elbows"
Cana Canan Canag Canan mikana mikanan "roads"
Participle Stem
C Cin Cig Cin maaniwang maaniwangin "fruits"
d1 jin jig jin naawogaaded naawogaadejig "quadrupeds"

1 In Oji-Cree language, this is a "j" and not a "d".

Diminutives and Contemptives

Diminutives in Ojibwe express an idea of something that is smaller or younger version of the noun. All diminutives are treated as a Consonant Stem when made into one of the plural forms or into the obviative form, thus taking on the linking vowel -a-. Contemptives are formed in a similar fashion as diminutives and are used to express negative or depreciative attitude the speaker may have of the noun. Contemptive plurals and obviatives remain as contemptives, but can take on the linking vowel -i- to add a possible pejorative. Many words to express fauna are often in contemptive forms. In the Ojibwemowin spoken in Wisconsin and certain areas of northwestern Ontario, often contemptives are reduced from -nh/-ny- forms to /-y-. In Odaawaa, the frequency of contemptives in fauna are higher than in other Anishinaabemowin dialects. For example, it is from the Daawaamwin word jidmoonh ("red squirrel") where the English word "chipmunk" has its origins, while the same word in Ojibwemowin is ajidamoo.

Singular Diminutive Contemptive Singular
Consonant Stem
C Cens Cenh miin miinens "little blueberry"
Long-vowel Stem
CVV CVVns CVVnh ajidamoo ajidamoons "little squirrel"
CVV CVVns CVVnh bine binens "little partridge"
CV CVns CVnh wado wadons "little bloodclot"
CVVw CVVns CVVnh niwiiw niwiins "my little wife"
CVV CVVns CVVnh nimaamaa nimaamaans "my little mama"
CVVnh CVVns CVVnh giigoonh giigoons "little fish"
Short-vowel Stem
CV CVVns CVVnh inini ininiins "little man"
CVw CVVns CVVnh bigiw bigiins "little gum"
W Stem
C Coons Coonh mitig mitigoons "twig"
C Coons Coonh nigig nigigoons "little otter"
Cwa Coons Coonh makwa makoons "bear cub"
Cwa Coons Coonh ikwa ikoons "little louse"
Y Stem
C Ciins Ciinh aniib aniibiins "young elm"
Ci Ciins Ciinh anwi anwiins "little bullet"
C Cwiins Cwiinh nining niningwiins "my little armpit"
Augment Stem
C Cens Cenh ninow ninowens "my little cheek"
C Cwens Cwenh nikatig nikatigwens "my little forehead"
Ca Cawens Cawenh oodena oodenawens "hamlet"
Cay Cayens Cayenh omooday omoodayens "vial"
C Caans Caanh nindengway nindengwayaans "my little face"
Can Caans Caanh ma'iingan ma'iingaans "little wolf"
Can Caans Caanh nindooskwan nindooskwaans "my little elbow"
Cana Caans Caanh mikana mikaans "trail"
Participle Stem
C Coons Coonh maaniwang maaniwangoons "little fruit"
d doons doonh naawogaaded naawogaadedoons "little quadruped"


Locatives indicate a location, and are indicated with -ng. Locatives do not take on any plurals or obviative suffixes, but obviation possessor or the number can be added before the locative suffix.

Singular Locative Singular
Consonant Stem
C Cing miin miining "by/on the blueberry"
Long-vowel Stem
CVV CVVng ajidamoo ajidamoong "by/on the squirrel"
CVV CVVng bine bineng "by/on the partridge"
CV CVng wado wadong "by/on the bloodclot"
CVVw CVVng niwiiw niwiing "by/on my wife"
CVV CVVying nimaamaa nimaamaaying "by/on my mama"
CVVnh CVVnying giigoonh giigoonying "by/on the fish"
Short-vowel Stem
CV CVVng inini ininiing "by/on the man"
CVw CVVng bigiw bigiing "by/on the gum"
W Stem
C Cong mitig mitigong "by/on the tree"
C Cong nigig nigigong "by/on the otter"
Cwa Coong makwa makoong "by/on the bear"
Cwa Cong ikwa ikong "by/on the louse"
Y Stem
C Ciing aniib aniibiing "by/on the elm"
Ci Ciing anwi anwiing "by/on the bullet"
C Cwiing nining niningwiing "by/on my armpit"
Augment Stem
C Caang ninow ninowaang "by/on my cheek"
C Cwaang nikatig nikatigwaang "by/on my forehead"
Ca Caang oodena oodenawaang "by the village"
Cay Caang omooday omoodaang "by/on the bottle"
C Caang nindengway nindengwayaang "by/on my face"
Can Caning ma'iingan ma'iinganing "by/on the wolf"
Can Canaang nindooskwan nindooskwanaang "by/on my elbow"
Cana Canaang mikana mikanaang "by/on the road"
Participle Stem
C Cong maaniwang maaniwangong "by/on the fruit"
d dong naawogaaded naawogaadedong "by/on the quadruped"

Pejoratives and Vocative Plurals

Pejoratives, marked with the -sh suffix, generally indicates a stronger negative feelings a speaker may have than that of the contemptive. However, pejorative may also indicate a term of affection. Some words take on different meaning in the pejorative, such as aniibiish, which means "no good elm" but also means "leaf". In some dialects, some words are always shown in their pejorative forms, such as animosh for "dog".

Vocative plurals mimic pejorative conjugation patterns. It is identified with the -dog suffix, which in the Ottawa dialect shows up instead as -dig suffix. Some nouns have special vocative singlular forms that do not fit into any common patterns. For example "my grandmother" is nookomis and "Grandmother!" is nookoo, but "my father" is noos and "Father!" is noose.

Singular Pejorative Vocative Plural Singular
Consonant Stem
C Cish Cidog miin miinish "no good blueberry"
Long-vowel Stem
CVV CVVsh CVVdog ajidamoo ajidamoosh "no good squirrel"
CVV CVVsh CVVdog bine binesh "no good partridge"
CV CVsh CVdog wado wadosh "no good bloodclot"
CVVw CVVsh CVVdog niwiiw niwiish "my no good wife"
CVV CVVsh CVVdog nimaamaa nimaamaash "my no good mama"
CVVnh CVVsh CVVdog giigoonh giigoosh "no good fish"
Short-vowel Stem
CV CVwish CVwidog inini ininiwish "no good man"
CVw CVwish CVwidog bigiw bigiwish "no good gum"
W Stem
C Cosh Codog mitig mitigosh "no good tree"
C Cosh Codog nigig nigigosh "no good otter"
Cwa Coosh Coodog makwa makoosh "no good bear"
Cwa Cosh Codog ikwa ikosh "no good louse"
Y Stem
C Ciish Ciidog aniib aniibiish "no good elm"
Ci Ciish Ciidog anwi anwiish "no good bullet"
C Cwiish Cwiidog nining niningwiish "my lousy armpit"
Augment Stem
C Caash Caadog ninow ninowaash "my no good cheek"
C Cwaash Cwaadog nikatig nikatigwaash "my no good forehead"
Ca Caash Caadog oodena oodenawaash "damn village"
Cay Caash Caadog omooday omoodaash "no good bottle"
C Caash Caadog nindengway nindeshwayaash "my no good face"
Can Canish Canidog ma'iingan ma'iishanish "no good wolf"
Can Canaash Canaadog nindooskwan nindooskwanaash "my no good elbow"
Cana Canaash Canaadog mikana mikanaash "no good road"
Participle Stem
C Cosh Cidog maaniwang maaniwangosh "no good fruit"
d dosh jidog naawogaaded naawogaadedosh "no good quadruped"

Possessives and Obviative Possessor Themes

Another set of affixes in the Anishinaabe language is indicated by the possessive theme -m or the obviative possessor theme -ni. Generally, dependent nouns and nouns ending with either -m or -n do not take the possessive theme -m. A small group of nouns also do not ever take the possessive theme suffix.

Singular Possessive
Consonant Stem
C Cim Cini miin nimiinim "my blueberry"
Long-vowel Stem
CVV CVVm CVVni ajidamoo nindajidamoom "my squirrel"
CVV CVVm CVVni bine nimbinem "my partridge"
CV CVm CVni wado niwadom "my bloodclot"
CVVw CVVm CVVni niwiiw niwiim "my wife"
CVV CVVm CVVyini nimaamaa nimaamaam "my mama"
CVVnh CVVm CVVnyini giigoonh ningiigoom "my fish"
Short-vowel Stem
CV CVVm CVVni inini nindininiwim "my man"
CVw CVVm CVVni bigiw nimbigiim "my gum"
W Stem
C Com Coni mitig nimitigom "my tree"
C Com Coni nigig ninigigom "my otter"
Cwa Coom Cooni makwa nimakoom "my bear"
Cwa Com Coni ikwa nindikom "my louse"
Y Stem
C Ciim Ciini aniib nindaniibiim "my elm"
Ci Ciim Ciini anwi nindanwiim "my bullet"
C Cwiim Cwiini nining niningwiim "my armpit"
Augment Stem
C Caam Caani ninow ninowaam "my cheek"
C Cwaam Cwaani nikatig nikatigwaam "my forehead"
Ca Caam Caani oodena noodenawaam "my village"
Cay Caam Caani omooday nindoomoodayaam "my bottle"
C Caam Caani nindengway nindengwayaam "my face"
Can Canim Canini ma'iingan nima'iinganim "my wolf"
Can Canaam Canaani nindooskwan nindooskwanaam "my elbow"
Cana Canaam Canaani mikana nimikanaam "my road"
Participle Stem
C Com Coni maaniwang nimaaniwangom "my fruit"
d dom doni naawogaaded ninaawogaadedom "my quadruped"

Rarely do either the possessive theme -m or the obviative possessor theme -ni stand by themselves. The above examples for the possessive theme -m were for the first person singular. For other persons or number, again using the possessive theme -m as an example, the word is conjugated as following:

Subject Possessive
Conjugation 3s Example Gloss
Niin n _ m n _ man n _ m n _ mag n _ ming n _ man nimiinim "my blueberry"
Giin g _ m g _ man g _ m g _ mag g _ ming g _ man gimiinim "your (sg.) blueberry"
Wiin w _ m w _ man w _ man w _ man w _ ming w _ man omiiniman "his/her/its blueberry"
Niinawind n _ minaan n _ minaanin1 n _ minaan n _ minaanig1 n _ minaaning n _ minaanin nimiiniminaan "our (exclusive) blueberry"
Giinawind g _ minaan g _ minaanin1 g _ minaan g _ minaanig1 g _ minaaning g _ minaanin gimiiniminaan "our (inclusive) blueberry"
Giinawaa g _ miwaa g _ miwaan2 g _ miwaa g _ miwaag g _ miwaang g _ miwaan gimiinimiwaa "your (pl.) blueberry"
Wiinawaa w _ miwaan2 w _ miwaan2 w _ miwaan w _ miwaan w _ miwaang w _ miwaan omiinimiwaan "their blueberry"
Obviative w _ manini

1 In the Algonquin, the plural suffix remains as -an/-ag, rather than becoming -in/-ig.
2 Terminal -n is not found in Algonquin language.


Ojibwe has no adjectives per se, but rather verbs which function as adjectives. Thus, instead of saying "the flower is blue," you would say something which is actually closer to "the flower blues" (ozhaawashkwaa waabigwan) or "be a blueing flower" (waabigwan-ozhaawashkwaa). Ojibwe does have a copula in some situations, in that it has a verb (several, in fact) that can be translated as "to be" and used in situations to equate one thing with another; however, a copula is not always used in Ojibwe—for example, when using demonstrative pronouns (jiimaan o'ow, "this is a canoe").

Modifications of sound

Ojibwe initials of words may experience morphological changes under two modification strategies: initial vowel change and initial syllable reduplication.

Initial vowel change

In general, verbs in conjunct and partitive orders and nouns of subjunctive order change the vowel quality of the first syllable in the manner shown in the table below.

unchanged changed
-a- -e-
-aa- -ayaa-
-e- -aye-
-i- -e-
-ii- -aa-
-o- -we-
-oo- -waa-

However, in some words beginning in dan-, dazh-, das-, dash- or daa- instead take on the prefix en- to form endan-, endazh-, endas-, endash- or endaa-. The directional prefix bi-, meaning "over here," instead becomes ba-.

Initial syllable reduplication

Words typically conveying repetitive actions have their very first syllable experience reduplication. Reduplication may be found in both verbs and in nouns. Vowel syncope process Eastern Ojibwe and Odaawaa experiences happen after the word has gone through reduplication. The most general reduplication pattern for the initial syllable is C1V1C1V2C2V1 but the table below shows the most common reduplication strategies.

unchanged reduplicated unchanged reduplicated
a- aya- Ca- CaCa-
aa- aayaa- Caa- CaaCaa-
e- eye- Ce- CeCe-
i- ayi- Ci- CaCi- or CeCi-
ii- aayii- Cii- CaaCii- or CeCii- or CiiCii-
o- wawo- or wawi- Co- CaCo-
oo- oo'oo- Coo- CaaCoo- or CeCoo- or CooCoo-

In some words, the reduplicated consonant shifts from their lenis value to their fortis value. Yet in some stems, initial Cw- retains the -w- while others do not. Those words experiencing the prefix en- may change to in- before experiencing reduplication.


As Ojibwe is highly synthetic, word order and sentence structure is relatively free, since a great deal of information is already encoded onto the verb. The subject can go before or after the verb, as can the object. In general, whichever participant is deemed more important or in-focus by the speaker is placed first, before the verb, and the less important participant follows the verb. Ojibwe tends to prefer a VS order (verb–subject) when subjects are specified with separate nominals or pronouns (e.g., bakade a'aw asabikeshiinh, be.hungry that.there.ANIMATE net.make.PEJORATIVE.CONTEMPTIVE, "that spider is hungry").

See also

  • Anishinaabe language


  1. ^ (Valentine 2001, p. 122)
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Kegg, 1990, pp. 143-144
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o (Valentine 2001, pp. xxxv-xxxvii)
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Nichols, 1998, pp. 291-292
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Ontario Ministry of Education, Native Languages: A Support Document for the Teaching of Language Patters—Ojibwe and Cree, p. 97
  6. ^ (Valentine 2001, p. 219)
  7. ^ Valentine, Theft of Fire, as 3pObv
  8. ^ Kegg, 1990, p. 136
  9. ^ Kegg, 1990, p. 135
  10. ^ Kegg, 1990, p. 137
  11. ^ Nichols and Nyholm, 1995, p. xv
  12. ^ (Valentine 2001, pp. 155–156, 508–510, 913–915)
  13. ^ (Valentine 2001, pp. 267–275)


  • Artuso, Christian. 1998. Noogom gaa-izhi-anishinaabemonaaniwag: Generational Difference in Algonquin. M.A. thesis. Department of Linguistics, University of Manitoba.
  • Kegg, Maude. 1990. Nookomis Gaa-inaajimotawid: What my grandmother Told Me. Bemidji, MN: Indian Studies Publications.
  • Mithun, Marianne. 1999. The Languages of Native North America. Cambridge: University Press.
  • Nichols, John D. (ed.). 1988. An Ojibwe Text Anthology. London, ON: Centre for Research and Teaching of Canadian Native Languages.
  • Nichols, John D. and Earl Nyholm. 1995. A Concise Dictionary of Minnesota Ojibwe. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
  • Picard, Marc. 1984. On the Naturalness of Algonquian ɬ. International Journal of American Linguistics 50:424-37.
  • Rhodes, Richard A. 1985. Eastern Ojibwa-Chippewa-Ottawa Dictionary. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.
  • Valentine, J. Randolph "Rand" (2001). written at The Ojibway Heritage Center, Walpole Island. Nishnaabemwin Reference Grammar. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. ISBN 0802048706. 

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