Thursday, March 10, 2011

Ojibwe, a little detour

I'm not going to write about anything Norwegian, Polish or Turkish in this post. I'm going to spend a little time documenting what started as a curiosity - Ojibwe.

Near my family cabin in NW Wisconsin, there are a couple Indian Reservations. One of them - Lac Courte Oreilles - has a WPR station that occasionally broadcasts in their "native" Ojibwemowin, or Anishinaabemowin. I put "native" in quotes, because there aren't that many left that can claim this language as their first, native language. The particular dialect in this region is estimated at around 1000 first-language speakers. The two reservations near me, St. Croix and Lac Courte Oreilles, only have 25 and 10 first-language speakers, respectively. Fortunately, Ojibwe is now being taught in school to children, although they have yet to reach the fluency levels of a first-language speaker. But the younger generation is learning, so that's encouraging.

So with this interest, I set out to see what actual learning I could do online. The amount of resources certainly isn't anything like other, more well-known minor languages, but there are indeed quite a few places to get started on learning the language. I should note that I won't be actually learning the language for now, but my interest is piqued and it will definitely be a language I learn in the future.

One of the learning resources I found (surprisingly) was a Pimsleur comprehensive course of 30 lessons. They offer the first lesson free, so I took a half hour and listened to it. In that half hour, I learned quite a bit. Right off the bat, I found many, many similarities with Turkish, which I'm currently learning.

Ojibwe is agglutinative, for starters. Possessives are formed with either a prefix and/or a suffix and Ojibwe has what's called a preterite noun - meaning something an either living or deceased person once had, with a suffix added, much like Turkish does away with the verb "to have". Ojibwe also has what is called "vowel rounding" - something very similar to Turkish's vowel harmony, although a bit more subtle. Questions are formed by adding a simple question marker "na", and it can appear either mid-sentence or at the ending, depending on what's being stressed, much like Turkish.

These similarities, among others, made it non-threatening, for lack of a better word, in learning the language mechanics.

There are some notable concepts that are new to me too which are interesting. Ojibwe has gender, but gender is defined as either animate or inanimate - in other words, it has a spirit or it doesn't. And I find it interesting that different dialects consider the same object as either having a spirit or not. For example, in SW Ojibwe dialect, "bread" is animate, while in Ottawa dialect it is not. Another new concept for me is the third person obviative. For example, take the sentence "John and Jim were there, and I introduced him to him". That sentence doesn't sound correct in English, but is perfectly acceptable in Ojibwe. Ojibwe differentiates between him (John) and him (Jim), even though they're both third person.

There are many other language points I could consider here, but suffice it to say that Ojibwe is something I'll be taking up in the future. It's a very pretty language. And I'm finding that there is actually a decent amount if Ojibwe literature that's been transcribed from oral tradition.


  1. Hi there,

    I must say you have hit the nail on the head here. I am Anishnaabe. I have always known quite a few words in the language but am by no means fluent, which is why I am teaching myself the language right now. This is exactly how I would describe the language to others. Kudos, very cool!

  2. Thanks for commenting!

    Anishinaabemowin is defintely a language I'll be taking up. The more I learn about the laguage and the culture, the more interested I am.

    I recently watched a special that featured David Treuer, among others, and the efforts to revitalize the language. Culture and language always go hand in hand, but there seems to be such a closeness between Anishinaabemowin and Anishinaabe culture. It's truly fascinating.