I.  Inanimate Nouns (NI)

Virtually all Inanimate Nouns (NI) in Cree refer to inanimate or non-living entities.  However, the reverse is not strictly true, as not all inanimate or non-living entities are classed as Inanimate Nouns.  As explained under the introduction to Nouns and Gender, some non-living items are classified as Animate Nouns.  Please see Animate Nouns (NA) for more information.

Nouns classed as Inanimate will generally follow one of four basic patterns: 1) regular, 2) vowel-glide, 3) consonant-/w/, and 4) single-syllable stems.  Each of these patterns is characterized by particular forms of the singular stems and the suffixes for plural-marking, possessive-marking, the locative, and the diminutive.  A brief introduction will be given here, with more detailed information for each subtype provided on the appropriate page for Regular (NI1), Vowel-Glide (NI2), Consonant-/w/ (NI3) and Single-Syllable (NI4) stems.  [Note: there is also a very marginal and irregular fifth subtype – with alternating /s/ ~ /t/-final stem – which will also be described as S~T (NI5) stems].

As discussed in the general introduction to Nouns, Inanimate Nouns will have singular and plural forms, can be marked for person (as possessives) and case (as locatives), and can be converted to diminutives.  Most Inanimate noun stems are identical to their singular form (i.e. no suffix is needed).  However, consonant-/w/ (NI3) stems have a complication in that a stem-final /w/ must be deleted in the singular, and single-syllable (NA4) stems must add an –i suffix.  The inanimate plural suffix –a is regular throughout all stem types, but this means that the stem-final /w/ of NI3 stems shows up before the –a suffix, and the –a suffix replaces the –i suffix in NI4 stems.  Similarly, the addition of all /i/-initial possessive suffixes, the locative (–ihk) and the diminutive (–is(is)) are straightforward when occurring with regular stems, but a variety of complications occur when added to the other stem types.  The following chart summarizes the changes that will occur (and note that Ø means no change occurs at all):

Table I.0.1

Stem Types
Word Form Regular

NI1

Vowel-Glide

NI2

Consonant-/w/

NI3

Single-Syllable

NI4

Singular

Ø

maskisin

“shoe”

Ø

mīcimāpoy

“soup”

delete /w/

mahkahk

“barrel”

–i

wāwi

“egg”

Plural

–a

maskisina

“shoes”

–a

mīcimāpoya

“soups”

/w/ –a

mahkahkwa

“barrels”

–a (replaces –i)

wāwa

“eggs”

Possessive

–i…

nimaskisināna

“our shoes”

VW+–i…→V:…

nimīcimāpōm

“our soup”

/w/+–i…–o…

nimahkahkonān

“our barrel”

–i…

niwāwim

“my egg”

Locative

–ihk

maskisinihk

“in the shoe”

VW+–ihk→V:hk

mīcimāpōhk

“in the soup”

/w/+–ihk–ohk

mahkahkohk

“in the barrel”

–ihk

wāwihk

“in the egg”

Diminutive –is

maskisinis

“small shoe”

VW+–is→V:s

mīcimāpōs

“small amount of soup”

/w/+–is–os

mahkahkos

“small barrel”

–is

wāwis

“small egg”

 

A further division important for Inanimate Nouns is the distinction between Independent and Dependent stems.  The majority of Inanimate Nouns are independent or “free” stems.  This means that they can stand alone as words in Cree, and the discussion thus far has concentrated on independent stems, such that abbreviations like NI1NI2, etc., imply that the stems are independent.  In contrast, some nouns stems are dependent or “bound” meaning that they cannot stand alone but must be marked by a person-marking prefix in order to be used as words in Cree. Inanimate Dependent stems are primarily body-part terms (plus a few special items).  When a distinction like this occurs in the grammar of a language, linguists refer to these bound nouns as “inalienable” since they represent things that are not normally referred to outside of their relationship to the possessor.  Body parts, for instance, are usually (and preferably) found attached to the whole individual, the possessor.  Thus, such stems usually occur with the person prefixes n–/ni–, k–/ki– or w–/o–.  Still, with most inanimate bound stems, it is possible to make reference to an unpossessed form, in which case, the person prefixes must be replaced by an impersonal m–/mi– prefix.  For example, alongside nitōn “my mouth”, kitōn “your mouth” and otōn “his/her mouth”, it is possible to say mitōn “mouth”, but the basic root word for “mouth”, -tōn-, cannot be used as a word at all.  Thus, it is the presence of this unspecified possessor prefix m–/mi– which identifies most dependent inanimate nouns (NDI).  Just as with independent stems, we can find examples of dependent stems across all stem types, as shown here:

Table I.0.2

Bound Stem Types

Word Form

Regular

NDI1

Vowel-Glide

NDI2

Consonant-/w/

NDI3

Single-Syllable

NDI4

Singular

Ø

mitōn

“mouth”

Ø

matay

“belly”

delete /w/

miskīsik

“eye”

–i

nīki

“my home”

Plural

–a

mitōna

“mouths”

–a

mataya

“bellies”

/w/ –a

miskīsikwa

“eyes”

–a (replaces –i)

Possessive

–i…

nitōnināna

“our mouths”

VW+–i…V:…

natānāna

“our bellies”

/w/+–i…–o…

niskīsikonāna

“our eyes”

–i…

nīkināna

“our homes”

Locative

–ihk

mitōnihk

“in the mouth”

VW+–ihkV:hk

matāhk

“on the belly”

/w/+–ihk–ohk

miskīsikohk

“in the eye”

–ihk

nīkihk

“in my home”

Diminutive

–is

micōnis

“small mouth”

VW+–isV:s

macās

“small belly”

/w/+–is–os

miskīsikos

“small eye”

–is

nīkis

“my little home”

These basic patterns will be described in more detail for each subclass of inanimate nouns on their individual pages:

Independent Inanimate Nouns: Regular Stems (NI1), Vowel-Glide Stems (NI2), Consonant-/w/ Stems (NI3) and Single-Syllable Stems (NI4).

Dependent Inanimate Nouns: Regular Stems (NDI1), Vowel-Glide Stems (NDI2), Consonant-/w/ Stems (NDI3) and Single-Syllable Stems (NDI4).