Animate and Inanimate

As does its sister Algonquian languages, Cheyenne divides the world up into two categories which are reflected in the grammar of the language. Every object in the world is considered either animate ("living") or inanimate ("non-living"). Cheyenne nouns which refer to these objects are, therefore, either animate or inanimate. Cheyenne verbs also must show whether or not their subjects or objects are animate or inanimate. So we can see that this two-way division is very important in Cheyenne. Technically, we call this two-way division into animate and inanimate, gender. Cheyenne gender works in a similar way to masculine versus feminine gender found in many languages, such as Spanish and French.

The terms "animate" and "inanimate" are simply convenient linguistic labels which reflect the two-way Cheyenne division of everything in the world. There may be better terms for Cheyennes to use for these two categories. For instance, one of the easiest ways to test whether a noun is animate or inanimate is for a Cheyenne speaker to say whether tse'tohe ('this/these,' animate) or he'tohe ('this/these,' inanimate) would be used with that word. For example, a Cheyenne speaker will tell you that only tse'tohe can be used with vo'ęstane 'person'. And he will also tell you that only he'tohe can be used with semo 'boat.' So, for Cheyenne speakers, it may be more convenient to refer to the two types of nouns as "tse'tohe words" and "he'tohe words", than using the technical labels of animate and inanimate.

As expected, animals and people are part of the animate group. So are spirits and trees, but not bushes, grass, or plants. The sun, moon, and stars are animate, and so are rocks. Some body parts (especially some, but not all, having to do with reproduction) and some clothing (especially clothing made with fibers) are animate, but other body parts and pieces of clothing are considered inanimate. Some items of food are animate, while others are inanimate.

Here are some animate and inanimate nouns:

                ANIMATE                            INANIMATE
        Cheyenne        English            Cheyenne        English

people
        vo'ęstane       person
        hë'e            woman
        hetane          man
        ka'ęškone       child
        ma'hahkeso      old man

animals, birds, insects
        poeso           cat
        vaotseva        deer
        ve'keso         bird
        hameško         beetle        (cf. hameško         spoon)
        hahnoma         bee
        me'šemehne      caterpillar

spirits
        ma'heono        spirit beings
        Ma'heo'o        God
        seoto           ghosts (of dead people)
        mâhta'soomaho   spirits (of people)
        mestaeo'o       ghosts/spooks
        nesemoono       spirit helpers

trees and related wood items
        hoohtsęstse     tree
        šestoto'e       pine
        maxe            log                kâhamaxe        stick
        hestoomo'ke     bark               hesotseve       root of tree

celestial objects
        eše'he          sun
        hotohke         star

body parts
        hestahpe        brain              me'ko           head/hair
        hestsetato      kidneys            he'e            liver
                                           hesta           heart
                                           he'po           lung
        matonęše        belly
        heta'e          gland
        mata'xevoto     testicles          vetoo'ôtse      penis
        matanane        breasts
        ma'kesta        vulva
        mo'eško         finger        (cf. mo'ęško         ring)
                                           ma'ahtse        arm/hand
        mâhtoohevo      nail
        ve'henôtse      eyebrow            ma'exa          eye
        hesevo          calf               mâhtse'ko       leg
        ma'eeme         snot
        še'ęškema       wart
        veveto          horns              he'pe           rib
        meeno           feathers           matsenoonôtse   wings

clothing
        estse'he        shirt/coat         hohkęha'e       hat
        hoestoto        dresses            hoestato        belt
        heva'keehestoto scarves            ho'ota          choker
        nęhpe'ęhestôtse diaper
        hone'komo       button
                                           mo'kęhanôtse    shoes

geological objects
        ho'honaa'e      rock               heseovo'e       sand
                                           ho'e            land
                                           o'he'e          river

food
        mesęhestoto     potatoes
        henene          tomato
        ma'xemeno       apples (Montana)   ma'xemenôtse    apples (Okla.)
        mâhoo'o         melon
        he'ehesono      rice               penôheo'o       flour/wheat
        hestovo'ęškono  mushrooms
        ho'enoono       sweet potatoes     mâhaemenôtse    corn
        monęškeho       beans
        mo'ôhta'ene     turnips
        anonevee'tose   carrots
                                           ho'evohkôtse    meat
                                           ame             pemmican
                                           kohkonôheo'o    bread
                                           hohpe           soup

toys
        hohtseme        ball               neto'ôheo'o     top
                                           no'ôheo'o       bat
        mene'keso       doll
        âhko'a'haseono  dominoes
                                           amo'keneo'o     wagon

tools, grooming implements
        tseene'eheo'o   combs              hohpo'easeehestôtse barrette
        penôhemenahtôtse pounding stone    peeneo'o        grinder
        o'ęseena        file
        eehaseo'o       whetstone/file     hahpaneo'o      pliers
                                           hasoo'o         crowbar
                                           hohkôxe         axe
                                           tôhohko         hammer
 
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