Language and Societies

ANT/LIN 5320 at Wayne State University

The Revitalization and Modernization of Anishinaabemowin

The Revitalization and Modernization of Anishinaabemowin

Maria Santine

This paper examines the revitalization of Anishinaabemowin, the endangered language of the Ojibwe people. Revitalization of a language is not successful if it is merely preserved in a fossilized form. Instead, new words must be added to the lexicon so that the language is useful for modern communication. As a result, this paper considers the new Anishinaabemowin nouns that have been created to refer to modern technology. This consideration includes the etymological origins of the words, as well as the successful programs which created them. Further, it considers how these new nouns fit into the grammatical system of the language. Anishinaabemowin nouns are distinguished by gender – animate or inanimate. Thus, the paper investigates whether the new words for modern technology are considered animate, with a sense of agency, or inanimate, with no sense of agency. By investigating several dictionaries compiled by committees of Ojibwe elders, it was found that many of these new nouns are created by agglutination (e.g., ishkodemakakoons ‘battery’ literally means ‘small box fire’) and metonymical extension (e.g., giigidowin ‘phone’ originally meant ‘speech’).  Many of the nouns are classified as inanimate, but some dialects classify ‘car,’ ‘battery,’ and ‘audio player’ as animate. Further investigation is necessary to determine whether this classification is random or intentional. Finally, further investigation is necessary to determine to what extent the speakers might still use loanwords for certain modern concepts.

April 20, 2022 - Posted by | abstract


  1. This is wonderful. You may never reach a nomothetic or predictive conclusion as to what new nouns will be animate or not, but the work is definitely worthwhile. The question of what is random or intentional may be unanswerable, if the new words are emerging within a diverse and nominally disorganized social context. If there is no Anishinaabeg equivalent of the French Academy to pass judgement on a neologism, then the language growth is, in effect, crowd-sourced. How is acceptance defined, acknowledged, codified? Who “controls” Anishinaabmowin? These are questions that can only be asked of a living language, and that in itself is a good thing.

    Comment by Daniel Harrison | April 20, 2022 | Reply

  2. Having grown up on an Ojibwe reservation and gone to school with plenty of Ojibwe tribal members, this is a very interesting topic to me. I was unaware that words were currently being added to their lexicon! How widespread is this movement?

    Comment by Casey Carter | April 28, 2022 | Reply

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