Learning to Speak Ojibwemowin (Ojibwe) Maamawi ezhichigeyang – wiisiniyang by Shaawano Chad Uran

Boozhoo, niijii-bimaadizidog!

In keeping with the current theme of bossing kids around, here are some phrases for use at meal times.

You may notice a few things in these words. For one thing, most of the verbs here are in command form, just like in the previous two lists. These are all in second person singular form, which means the commands are issued to one person other than the speaker.

You will also see frequent use of ambe. Ambe is an invitation, like saying “Come on” before an action. A phrase beginning with ambe usually has a verb ending with –daa, which adds a sense of “let’s do this thing together.”

So in #3, the basic verb is wiisini, s/he is eating. Wiisinidaa means “let’s eat” and ambe adds the invitation.

Daga basically means “please.” Indaga means the same thing, but this form is heard from Red Lake speakers. Dagash is also sometimes used; I was told this is a slightly less formal version of daga.

You will also see a few locative endings, such as –ing at the end of adoopowining. Adoopowin means table, and the –ing tells the listener you mean on, to, or at the table. When added to a different sort of noun, such as zaaga’iganing, the –ing may also mean in, as in in the lake. When putting a locative onto a word ending in /k/, then –ong may be used (as in #12). There are some rules underlying when to use –ing, -ong, or even other slightly different forms.

One way to explore how words are changed according to use is to try to find the basic word form and then look it up in The Ojibwe People’s Dictionary. Some entries will include more than one form of each word, so you can see how flexible and creative you can be by adding smaller parts of meaning, called morphemes, to words you already know.

Another thing to notice is how many things end with –igan. That morpheme turns a verb into a noun. Ojibwemowin is mostly verbs; it’s an action-oriented language. Nouns are made from verbs. Badaka’an is a verb meaning “stick it with something pointy.” Adding –igan, means “a thing that you stick things with” or, more simply, a fork.

My favorite example is the word for television, mazinaatesijigan. The morphemes are mazin-, which means an image, and usually a stylized or fancy image. The –aate indicates that something is in the light, either revealed through light and shadow, or perhaps made out of light and shadow. Mazinaate means “it is projected,” like a movie in a theater. So a television is “a thing where images appear through light and shadow.”

One reason mazinaatesijigan is my favorite example is because it is a new word, a new technology. In English, new words—especially new technology terms—are usually made of nouns that are turned into verbs. So words like shuttle, phone, fax, and email are things that also work as actions.

But even if you can live without exploring all the underlying morphological rules, I hope that you find these phrases useful with your family.

Miigwech agindaasoyeg!

Here’s the audio:

Maamawi ezhichigeyang – wiisiniyang
1. Indaga ozisinaaganen. Please set the table.
2. Ambe giziibiigininjiidaa! Come on, let’s wash your hands!
3. Ambe, wiisinidaa. Come on, let’s eat.
4. Ahaw, maadanjigen OK, start eating.
5. Indaga biidinamawishin doodooshaaboo. Please pass me the milk.
6. Izhiwidoon gidoonaagan iwidi adoopowining. Carry your plate over there to the table.
7. Emikwaanens aabajitoon gemaa gaye badaka’igan. Use a spoon or a fork.
8. Giwii-aabajtoon ina badaka’igan? Do you want to use a fork?
9. Eya’ niwii-aabajitoon badaka’igan. Yes, I want to use a fork.
10. Izhiwidoon giminikwaajigan imaa adoopowining. Carry your cup there to the table.
11. Minwabin wiisiniyan. Sit properly when you eat.
12. Webinan gidishkwaanjigan omaa webinigemakakong. Throw away your leftovers here in the garbage can.
13. Biinichegen ishkwaa-wiisiniyan. Clean up after you finish eating.
14. Giziidoone’on aabajitoon. Use a napkin.
15. Hay’! Gibananjige. @#$! You are dropping food while eating.
16. Minikwen ginibiim omaa adoopowining. Drink your water here at the table.
17. Ziikaapidan gidoodooshaaboom. Drink up your milk.
18. Atoon giminikwaajigan imaa anaaway’iing. Put your cup here in the middle.
19. Biidinamaw a’aw gimaamaa. Pass it to that mother of yours.
20. Mii zhigwa da-biinichigeyang. It is time for us to clean up.

Shaawano Chad Uran (White Earth Anishinaabe)

Shaawano Chad Uran (White Earth Anishinaabe)

Shaawano Chad Uran (White Earth Anishinaabe) received his PhD in Anthropology in 2012 from the University of Iowa. He did his undergraduate work at the University of Minnesota. He has taught at Bowdoin College in Maine, the University of Victoria in British Columbia, The Evergreen State College in Washington, and the University of Washington. His research areas are: Indigenous language revitalization, language and identity, American cultural studies, language ideologies, American Indian sovereignty, critical theory, Native American studies, and coloniality.

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