Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Going too far to find it so Close: The Rediscovery of My Native Igbo Language through Innu, A Canadian Native Language

On studying innu, a language spoken by one of the native peoples of Canada, I came to observe a crucial dichotomy difference that exist between Native Peoples Languages and most of the European languages, more especially, those who have Latin as their grammatical bases. As a matter of fact, Innu language, which is one of the numerous Algonquin family languages, has certain characteristics that differentiate it from other Latin and Greek oriented. Anyone intending to study it, must first get rid of every tendency of comparing it to other Latin grammar structures. I have already evoked some of its particularities in a former blog post and so will only enumerate the cases here without much emphasis. 
One of the errors, for example, that French, Spanish, Italian etc., speaking  learners of innu language do is to look for the traditional genres of words. But fortunately or unfortunately, innu language does not categorize words as either masculine, feminine or neutral but either as animate or inanimate. And unlike those languages who have tendency of looking at an object from the point of view of their sexes, innu language is more interested in the relationship that the objects maintain with life in general, and with human beings in particular. For this reason, an object is animate or inanimate in innu language because of the particular vital  role it has to play in the cosmos. In many cases, the particular role of an object can change its genre from inanimate to animate and vice versa. For non indigenes, this is a very serious cause of misunderstanding and really one of the reasons of dichotomy in the vision of the world amongst the Autochthons and the non autochthons.
Secondly, Innu language is a language of relationship and it is on this that their genre classification is fundamentally based on for it plays a very important role in the modal classification of its verbs. It is also here that I recently discovered the anthropological relationship between innu language and Igbo language. In the same article I mention above, I explained that in innu language, a verb is never in neutral form for it is always relates to its subject. 

In Latin grammatically based languages like English, French, Italian, Spanish etc., the infinitive mode is always in a neutral form. For example, the infinitive verb “to dance, danser, ballare, balar says nothing about who does the dancing. It only says something about  the act of dancing but nothing about who does it. “To run, to eat, to speak etc., in all these European languages says absolutely nothing about the person who carries out the action simply because they are not languages of relationship. They are only interested in the act of dancing, eating, running, speaking etc., and not who carries them out. 
In natives languages, on the contrary, they are more interested in who does what and not on what is being done. In Igbo for example, the English infinitive “to run” is not “gbaa oso” but “igba ōsō” which is also the second person singular of the same verb “you run”(g) igba ōsō. The English infinitive verb “to speak” will translate both in second person singular and infinitive in Igbo language as (g)íkwù okwu and íkwú okwu. And so on and so forth. 
However, if in Igbo language, the person of relationship, in this grammatical formation is the second person singular, in innu, it is the third person singular. For example, the verb “to dance” in innu language will translate into “nimu” he or she dances; to sleep will translate into “nipau” He or she sleeps. More to this particularity, in innu, is the change of the same verb according to the object of the verb. Example aimu – He or she speaks, aimieu – He or she speaks to himself or herself, tshikaueu – He or she speaks loudly, katshitaueu - He or she speaks with a great confidence, etc. 
Brief, the indigenous languages are not just means of passing information about an act but a way of communicating the act of being in the world of a people who passes information about their relationship with the world. In this types of languages, neutral forms of words have no place as they  lack the anthropological aspects of communication that characterizes indigenous peoples languages. In my next post, I will write on the formation of words from verbs in Igbo language. In that post, I will try to demonstrate the relationship between the formation of infinitives and nouns in Igbo language. Suffice to say here that curiously, both are formed from the second and the third person singular of the indicative mode. 

Ali C. Nnaemeka ( ''The truth might be hard to say, painful to bear or even drastic for the truth sayer but still needed to be said''. ALISON. 


  1. It will be interesting to refer to Austin with his book "Quand dire c'est faire"...

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