Mahican Nouns 1 Gender and Plurals

Mohican nouns are divided into two groups or genders, animate nouns and inanimate nouns

Animate nouns

(abbreviated as na) : Most living things are animate in gender but there are some notable exceptions such as fruit. Some non-living nouns are animate however.

Examples of animate nouns: Translation
niimanaaw man
pxaanum woman
piiskwaaθuw girl
ahtóhw deer
kóoskoos pig
namaaθ fish
póosiis cat
mihtukw tree
nóhum grandmother
moonáhkaaw groundhog

Inanimate nouns

(abbreviated as ni) : Most non-living things are inanimate: however some berries, nuts, vegetables are inanimate including the words for strawberry, corn and pumpkin.

Examples of inanimate nouns: Translation
wahw egg
níhkąąt leg
mbúy water
xíikan knife
ahpapoon chair
nusk hand
makθun shoe
θiipuw river

Noun Plurals

Singular nouns may be turned into plural nouns by adding a suffix which is different for each gender. Animate nouns form plural nouns by adding the suffix -ak to the noun stem. Inanimate nouns form plurals by adding the suffix -an to the noun stem.

Noun Gender Plural Ending
Inanimate (noun) + (an)
Animate (noun) + (ak)

Poosiis. Cat.
Poosiisak. Cats.
Ahpapóon. Chair. 
Ahpapóonan. Chairs.

Adding the plural ending often shifts the accents on the word, so weak vowels may shorten or drop. This process is called syncopation and the strength of this effect is variable. Syncopated vowels are sometimes omitted and sometimes are written as ă or ŭ.

Mihtukw. Tree. 
Mihtkwak. Trees. 
Note how the vowel (u) weakens and drops such that both words are two syllable words. 

Θiipuw. River. 
Θiipwan. Rivers. The weak vowel (u) drops. 

Ndayoom. My son. 
Ndayoomak.  My sons. 
Wiikwahm. House.
Wiikwahman Houses. 

Some words add a plural ending with a long vowel. This happens because the word was shortened at point over the years.

Pxaanum. Woman.
Pxaanmaak. Women. (Goddard2008) (TM11) 

This word had the form /paxaanumw/ and the final w lengthens the plural ending.

Eastern Mahican words often contract, such that similar sounding syllables fall together as one.

Niimanaaw. Man. 
Niimanaak. Men

The expected plural form niimanaawak shortens and blends together. Non-contracted forms can be found in Western Mahican source materials suggesting this phenomenon was a notable difference between the two dialects.

Many of the Mahican words have variants which differ in small ways. This could reflect variations in the way words were pronounced by different people and differences in ways words were heard by different people but may also reflect true variants.
Professor Ives Goddard has published data on the large number of ‘personal dialects’ within a small community of Munsee speakers. A similar degree of variability amongst speakers of Mahican is to be expected.

Ahpapoon. Chair.
Papoon. Chair. (variant)
Ahkuy. Earth. 
Hkuy. Earth. (variant)

Gender and other parts of speech

Other parts of speech besides nouns have gender. Verbs also are gender specific. For example one uses an inanimate verb when the noun involved is inanimate.
Like nouns, verbs and other parts of speech differ in endings depending on the gender of the word.
This will become more clear using examples as these words are discussed in this study.

The word for tree is animate in gender, therefore a tree is a ‘he‘ or a ‘she‘ in the mind of a speaker of Mahican. When speaking of a tree in Mahican one should use a verb which uses he or she as a subject.

To say, “The tree (he) is there” one uses the verb apuw meaning ‘He is there’.

Conversely, the word for water is inanimate in gender, so water is an ‘it‘ in the mind of a speaker. To say “The water (it) is there” one would use the inanimate intransitive verb ahtaaw meaning ‘It is there’.

Plurals of animate gender may be glossed as ‘they’ but should be thought of as ‘more than one he’ and the plural inanimate also glossed as ‘they’ should be thought of as ‘more than one it’.

There is no way to say ‘‘she’’ distinctly from ‘‘he’’ in Mohican. Historically, when Mohican speakers began to learn English they would refer to both male and female subjects as ‘‘he’’ (Reference Jonathan Edwards)

Back to top