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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


May 17, 2003 - Issue 87


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History of the Ottawa and Chippewa Indians of Michigan

by ANDREW J. BLACKBIRD, Late U.S. Interpreter, Harbor Springs, Emmet Co., Mich.
credits: submitted by Timm Severud (Ondamitag)


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 "ns" 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.

Sing. Pl. Eng.
Pe-nay, Pe-nay-wog, Partridge.
Aw-dje-djawk, Aw-dje-djaw-wog, Crane.
Waw-mawsh-kay-she, Waw-mawsh-kay-she-wog, Deer.
Waw-goosh, Waw-goosh-og, Fox.
Pezhe-kee, Pezhe-kee-wog, Cattle.
Pezhe-keens, (dim.), Pezhe-keens-og, Calf.
Aw-ni-moush, Aw-ni-moush-og, Dog.
Aw-ni-mouns, (dim.), Aw-ni-mouns-og, Puppy.

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

Sing. Pl. Eng.
We-ok-won, We-ok-won-an, Hat.
Wig-wom, Wig-wom-an, House.
Mo-ke-sin, Mo-ke-sin-an, Shoe.
Maw-kok, Maw-kok-on, Box.
Maw-kok-ons, (dim.), Maw-kok-on-son, Small box.
Tchi-mawn, Tchi-mawn-an, Boat.
Tchi-maw-nes, (dim.), Tchi-maw-nes-on, 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.   Loc.  
Aw-kick, Kettle. Aw-kick-ong, In the kettle.
    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 sha-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--   Objective case--  
She-gog-ong ne-de-zhaw, I am going to Chicago. 1st p.--She-gog ne-ne-saw, I kill the skunk.
She-gog-ong ne-do-je-baw, I come from Chicago. 2d p.--She-gog ke-ne-saw, You kill the skunk.
She-gog-ong o-zhawn, Go to Chicago. 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 he 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-c-naw; 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.

Verbal and adjective 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 idiosyncrasy, which perhaps would never have been developed, certainly would not be perpetuated, in any except an unwritten language. It is of no effect except is 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.


Singular and Plural.

1st p.--Neen or nin, I, {Ne-naw-wind, (mult), We. {Ke-naw-wind, We.
2d p.--Keen or kin, Thou or you, Ke-naw-waw, You.
3d p.--Ween or win, He or she, 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.

Singular and Plural.

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

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

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


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 is the plural; as--

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

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

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


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.


Adjectives take two forms, agree with the animate or inanimate nouns to which they belong.

Comparison of adjectives is made by other words: O-ne-zhe-she (inanimate o-ne-zhe-shin), good; Maw-maw-me (or ne-go-ne) o-ne-zhe (or -shin), better; Au-pe-tchi o-ne-zhe-she (or -shin), best. A fourth degree is sometimes used: Maw-mo-me o-ne-zhe-she (or shin), very best.

The words "Me-no" and "Maw-tchi" or "Mau-tchi," do not change when used with other words, and they are the most common adjectives in the Ottawa and Chippewa languages; they are used as adverbs, as well as adjectives."Me-no," is equivalent to good, right, and well; and "Mau-tchi," is equivalent to bad, wicked, evil; as Me-no au-ne-ne, good man; Me-no au-quay, good woman; Me-no au-way-sin, good animal; Me-no au-ky, good land; Me-no waw-bo-yon, good blanket; Me-no e-zhe-wa-be-sy, good behavior, or kind; Me-no au-no-ky, he works well, or doing good business; Me-no pe-maw-de-sy, he is well; Me-no au-yaw, he is getting well, or convalescent from sickness; Me-no au-no-kaw-so-win, good utensil, or handy instrument; Me-no wau-gaw-quat, good ax; Me-no ke-zhi-gut, good day, or pleasant weather; Me-no au-no-kaw-tchi-gon, good goods, or nice goods; Me-no e-zhe-wa-be-sy, he or she is kind or good; Me-no maw-tchaw maw-got, it goes well, etc.

The word "Mau-tchi" is equally useful; as, Mau-tchi au-ne-ne, bad man; Mau-tchi au-quay, bad woman; Mau-tchi e-zhe-wa-be-sy, bad behavior, or wicked person; Mau-tchi may-ne-to, evil spirit, or the devil; Mau-tchi ke-ge-to, wicked language, or profanity; Mau-tchi wau-gaw-quat, bad ax; Mau-tchi ke-zhwa, vulgar speaker; Mau-tchi no-din, bad wind; Mau-tchi au-naw-quot, bad cloud; Mau-tchi ke-zhe-got, bad day, or rough weather; Mau-tchi wig-wom, bad house, or wicked house; Mau-tchi au-no-ke-win, bad business, etc.

Another adjective equally comprehensive is Kwaw-notch: Kwaw-notch au-ne-ne, well-behaved man; Kwaw-notch au-quay, pretty woman; Kwaw-notch au-no-ke-win, good business; Kwaw-notch au-no-kaw-tchi-gon, nice goods; Kwaw-notchi-won, pretty or nice (inanimate); Kwaw-notchi-we, pretty (animate); Au-pe-tchi kwaw-notchi-we au-quay, very pretty woman.

The following illustrate the changes of form in adjectives for animate and inanimate:

Animate. Inanimate.  
Me-no-e-zhe-wa-be-sy, Me-no-e-zhe-wa-bawt, Kind, mild.
Ke-no-sy, Ke-nwa, Long, tall.
Ke-zhe-we-sy, Ke-zhe-waw, Hard.
Mush-kaw-we-sy, Mush-kaw-waw, Strong.
Ke-zhe-kaw, or ke-zhe-be-so, Ke-zhe-be-ta, Swift, fleet.
Ko-se-gwan-ny, Ko-se-gwan, Heavy.
Maw-tchi-e-zhe-wa-be-sy, Maw-tchi-e-zhe-wa-bot, Bad.
Ma-tchaw-yaw-au-wish, Ma-tchaw-yaw-e-wish, Wicked.
We-saw-ge-sy, We-saw-gun, Bitter.
Wish-ko-be-sy, Wish-ko-bun, Sweet.
Sou-ge-sy, Sou-gun, Tough.
Se-we-sy, Se-won, Sour.
Maw-kaw-te-we-sy, Maw-kaw-te-waw, Black.
Ozaw-we-sy, Ozaw-waw, Yellow.
Ozhaw-wash-ko-sy, Ozhaw-wash-kwaw, Green.
Mis-ko-sy, Mis-kwa, Red.
We-bin-go-sy, We-bin-gwaw, Blue.
O-zaw won-so, O-zaw won-day, Yellow color.
Maw-kaw-te won-so, Maw-kaw-te won-day, Black color.
Maw-kaw-te au-ne-ne,   black man.
Maw-kaw-te mo-kok,   black box.
Mis-ko au-ne-ne,   red man.
Mis-ko wau-bo-yon,   red blanket.

It will be observed that the last one or two syllables of the adjective are dropped when in connection with a noun.


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