Nouns name things. They refer to people, places and things. These are a couple of the definitions we commonly encounter for “nouns”, and they are correct as far as they go. Nouns are words that allow us to refer to things: both concrete, physical objects and abstract, mental concepts. They are “referring expressions”. But most of these definitions are quite abstract in themselves. It is therefore also desirable to have a more concrete means of determining exactly what constitutes a noun in any given language. The two best tests for noun status have to do with how a noun is formed as a word (its morphology), and how it is used together with other words (its syntax). In these pages, we will primarily be concerned with the word form or morphology of nouns, and specifically Plains Cree nouns.
There are several categories that commonly characterize nouns across languages and in the following pages we will describe the ones that are most important for Plains Cree Nouns. These categories include:
- Gender – all Cree Nouns are divided into two distinct noun classes or genders: Animate and Inanimate.
- Number – most Nouns can be marked for the categories of Singular and Plural
- Person – reference can be made to the person who speaks (i.e. the speaker or First person), the person spoken to (i.e. the addressee or Second person), and to others who are spoken about (the Third person(s)).
- Person and Number – when person and number are combined, full Possessive paradigms can be formed to attribute relationship or ownership of Nouns.
- Case – marking that indicates the role a Noun plays in an utterance is called case and the most important case-marking of Cree Nouns is the Locative.
- Stems – all of the preceding categories are referred to as Inflectional categories and they mark existing nouns for their place within utterances. Together, all of these inflections will produce the Paradigms or lists of forms that Noun Stems occur in. Noun stems can be Subclassified by regularities (or irregularities) of their paradigms, or by the forms of the Stems themselves. One important distinction that Cree makes is between Independent and Dependent Stems.
- Derivation – in contrast to inflection, derivation creates new noun stems which will have their own paradigms. There are many ways in which new nouns stems are formed in Cree, but one common and important pattern is the creation of Diminutives.
- Inflection versus Derivation – the differences between Inflectional and Derivational word formation are reiterated.