Pronouns are primarily related to the class of Nouns as both are means to refer to the participants or ideas evoked in discourse. They are typically shortcuts that allow us to refer back to someone or something that has been previously mentioned in a conversation without having to repeat a lengthy description again and again. For instance, if we introduce “That old man who used to live all winter long on his trapline” and then wish to refer to “him” again, we do not have to repeat “that old man that used to live all winter long on the trapline”, but can instead use a pronoun like “he”, “him” or “his”. These are shortcuts for referring to certain grammatical or inflectional features of the referent no matter how complex.  Thus, “that old man who used to live all winter long on the trapline” is a complex noun phrase used to introduce a character which is also a third person singular (masculine) referent. In English, person, number, case and gender (of singular third persons, anyway) are important grammatical features for pronominal representation (i.e. for representing in shortcut form in pronouns; see also the introduction to Nouns). Instead of repeating such a complex noun phrase, we can then refer to this character as “him” or talk about what “he” did while on “his” trapline. If the character we had introduced in our complex noun phrase had instead been “that old woman who used to live all winter long on the trapline”, we would have to talk about “her” and say what “she” did on that trapline of “hers”.

Languages differ considerably on the inflectional features that are important in the representation of pronouns. Plains Cree pronouns share some similarities with English pronouns but also exhibit many differences. For instance, the English pronouns “he/she” “his/her” and “his/hers” are all third person singular pronouns (like Plains Cree wiya) but, unlike as in Cree, they also distinguish masculine/feminine gender and are differentiated by the feature of case (or role in the context of the sentence).  “She” and “he” are ‘subject’ forms indicating that the third person is the topic of the sentence, often performing an action, while “her” and “his” may refer to a third person singular as the ‘object’ of an action, and “her(s)” and “his” refer to the possessor of an object, etc. These latter distinctions, gender and case, are not indicated in the form of Plains Cree pronouns, but other distinctions not made in English can be very important for Cree.

 

As a preliminary introduction to Pronouns (PR) in general, the following inflectional categories are among those which are important for Plains Cree.

Person and Number

As through the discussion of Person and Number for Nouns and Verbs, the distinction of 1st, 2nd and 3rd persons and singular and plural number (and occasionally 4th person obviative) will be important for the personal pronouns (both basic and additive-focal). Person and number combine into pronominal paradigms of the following shape:

1s

first person singular 1p first person plural exclusive

21

first and second person plural inclusive

2s

second person singular

2p

second person plural (exclusive)

3s third person singular 3p

third person plural

Number is also important for many other types of pronouns where at the very least a distinction is made between singular and plural referents (e.g. awa  “this” vs. ōki “these”; ēwako “that aforementioned one” vs. ēkoni “those aforementioned ones”). Even some marginal particle elements which take no other inflections can sometimes be marked for singular versus plural (e.g. awas “go away (said to one person)” vs. awasitik “go away (said to more than one person)”).

Gender: Animate and Inanimate

As with Nouns, the distinction between animate and inanimate is important to many of the pronoun classes that we will encounter in Cree. Where this distinction is important, we can refer to animate pronouns (PrA) and inanimate pronouns (PrI).  Demonstrative Pronouns, for instance will have both animate and inanimate sets (e.g. awa “this (animate)” vs. ōma “this (inanimate)”; ēkoni “those aforementioned (inanimate) ones” vs. ēkonik “those aforementioned (animate) ones”, etc.). Personal pronouns, however, are only and always animate.

Distance

A category that we have not encountered before which will be important for demonstrative pronouns is the notion of distance. In English, demonstratives are divided not only by singular and plural number, but by the closeness of a referent to the speaker. In other words, if a single referent is close to the speaker (or “proximal”) we use “this”, but if it is further away (or “distal”), we use “that”. In Plains Cree, there are in fact three degrees of distance specified: proximal or near – e.g. awa “this (animate) thing”; medial – e.g. ana “that (animate) thing”; distal or far – e.g. nāha “that (animate) thing over yonder”.

Place, Time, Manner, Reason

Finally, when we look at interrogative pronouns, we will find that we don’t just ask questions about the participants (e.g. awīna “who”, kīkwāy “what”), including person number and gender, but we also ask about place (locative: tānitē “where”), time (temporal: tānispī “when”), manner (tānisi “how”) and reason (tānēhki “why”), and each of these latter categories are usually grouped under the class of interrogative pronouns (or more correctly “proforms”) of a language.

 

Through this very brief introduction, many of the subtypes of Plains Cree pronouns have already been introduced or at least hinted at.  In the following descriptions, a number of different types of pronouns will be discussed. Tarzan didn’t know how to use pronouns very well, but we do and, after reading these pages, you will also know how to recognize and describe the following types:

Personal Pronouns: Basic (e.g. niya) and Additive-Focal (e.g. nīsta)

Demonstrative Pronouns: Basic (e.g. awaōma) and Topical (e.g. ēwako)

Interrogative Pronouns (and Proforms) (e.g. awīna, tāniwā, tānita, etc.)

Impersonal Pronouns and Quantifiers (e.g. awiya, kīkwayātiht, etc.)

“Inflected Particles” (e.g. niyākawasitik, etc.)