Signing "that" for languages with animate and inanimate nouns

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Little Cree Books

Jun 14, 2013, 9:17:13 PM6/14/13
Hi there! I'm pretty new to WAYK, and I'm a non-Cree person doing work with the Cree language in Alberta. The groups I work with are still just in the process of preparing how we want to navigate all of this (particularly in terms of our nouns), and I'm wondering if anyone has any advice on the use of signs for a "that" that refers to animate objects vs. the "that" that refers to inanimate objects. From what I understand, the Total Physical Response method applied via ASL helps learners by building muscle memory, essentially, but is there a way to do that for words that would be the same in English but different in Cree? It seems useful to train my body to use one movement for the animate "that," and another for the inanimate one.

From what I understand (and please correct me if you see that I'm mistaken!), if you don't know whether something is inanimate or animate when you're asking about it in Cree, you would use the inanimate demonstrative: "Kîkwây anima?" ("What's that?") The answer for an inanimate object would use the same demonstrative ("Maskisin anima." - "That is a shoe."), while the answer for an animate object would use the singular animate demonstrative ("Asiniy ana." - "That is a rock.")



Seumas Macdonald

Jun 14, 2013, 10:28:44 PM6/14/13
I don't see any problem here, just use two different signs for 'that' which refer to animate vs. inanimate.

To give an example, most languages distinguish between 'who?' and 'what?' as questions, and I use different signs for them; if I was working in a language that used different demonstratives for  animate/inanimate, I would probably use different signs to distinguish them (although I find not everything that is distinct in language needs distinct signs). And if you're lacking a sign, just make one up!

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Evan Gardner

Jun 15, 2013, 2:48:51 PM6/15/13

I agree.

The sign you might want to invent should be close to the sign for that. So maybe instead of a pointing finger for "that", use a pointing finger with your thumb out to make and "L" handshape.

Be sure to start a round with all Animate objects and run the language for a bit limiting to animate objects and therefore limited variation in structure changes. Then run the same lessons with a few inanimate objects. Then run the same lessons with both animate and inanimate objects to really solidify the issue.

Jay Bazuzi

Jun 15, 2013, 3:27:58 PM6/15/13
to wayk
Many languages has similar structure where some nouns get talked about one way, and other another way. For example, most European languages have gender. German has der/die/das. Spanish has el/la. Swedish has en/ett. Even English has a/an.

For those who have built rides in these languages, how have you signed these words? How did it go?


Seumas Macdonald

Jun 15, 2013, 5:41:42 PM6/15/13
Responding to Jay

I tend not to sign articles. Ancient Greek has 24 forms of 'the', based on number/gender/case, so rather than sign, I just use emphasis to make the distinction clear whenever we are introducing a new form or I need to help someone get the right one. It falls into my category of words that don't need signs. If we signed articles and inflected endings it would slow us down too much in terms of speaking naturally.



Jun 15, 2013, 10:03:27 PM6/15/13
In German, I use one sign for all definite articles (der/die/das/den/dem/...), and a related one for all the indefinite ones (ein/eine/einem/...). However, I phase them out as soon as possible, and then only use them when I feel that some player has problems applying them. The art is always to find the balance, and not to over-sign.

David Edwards

Jun 15, 2013, 10:39:04 PM6/15/13
to wayk
For Spanish, I like to use gendered signs for articles. 

We use an ASL "L" shape for "el", and then spell out "la". The "L" + "A" motion is really easy for people, so it works well. Then for "un", we hold up one finger, and for "una", we do "un" and then an "A" shape. Again, because of the way the handshapes are, the "un" + "A" motion is really easy.

The two of these together create an obvious pattern for marking the feminine gender. So far, we haven't needed to use gendered signs for the different "that"s as well, but if we did, we would probably use the same "transition-to-A-shape" pattern.

A while back I was playing a language that had a whole bucket full of different "that" words depending on what you were pointing to. The other players and I experimented with two-handed "that" signs, where one hand pointed at the thing while the other made some sign to show what group it was in. But that turned out to be too difficult—it filled people up extremely fast, and it decelerated the game a lot.

- David

Arne Sostack

Jul 7, 2013, 2:28:13 PM7/7/13
Is it necessary to worry about the grammar in the signs? If I see "the ram" (or bull horns or whatever you call it) pointed at something, I'm pretty sure they mean to indicate that thing, no matter the gender of the item.

I use the signs as a way to indicate what I mean, not sign exactly what I'm saying. I also leave out the signs for articles and variants of "to be", unless I need to call attention to them being there.

Just my two cents.
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