The Menominee language (also spelled Menomini) is an Algonquian language originally spoken by the Menominee people of northern Wisconsin and Michigan. It is still spoken on the Menominee Nation lands in Northern Wisconsin in the United States.
Menominee is a highly endangered language, with only a handful of elderly speakers left. According to a 1997 report by the Menominee Historic Preservation Office, 39 people speak Menominee as their first language, all of whom are elderly; 26 speak it as their second language; and 65 others have learned some of it for the purpose of understanding the language and/or teaching it to others. The Menominee Language & Culture Commission has been established by the Menominee Nation to promote the continued use of the language.
The name of the tribe, and the language, Omāēqnomenew, comes from the word for wild rice, which was a staple of this tribe's diet for millennia. This designation for them (as Omanoominii) is also used by the Anishinaabe (Ojibwa), their Algonquian neighbors to the north.
The main characteristics of Menominee, as compared to other Algonquian languages, are its heavy use of the low front vowel /æ/, its rich negation morphology, and its lexicon. Some scholars (notably Bloomfield and Sapir) have classified it as a Central Algonquian language based on its phonology.
For good sources of information on both the Menominee and their language, some valuable resources include Leonard Bloomfield's 1928 bilingual text collection, his 1962 grammar (a landmark in its own right), and Skinner's earlier anthropological work.
|Near-open||ɛ [æ]||ɛː [æː]||aː|
Vowels are slightly nasalized before or after /m/ or /n/.
Consonants, including nasals, are palatalized before front vowels and labialized before back vowels.
Menominee does not make contrasts between voiced and voiceless stops and voicing from a following vowel may set in before the opening is complete.
Syllable structure in Menominee is typically VC(C) or C(C)VC(C); syllables do not end in vowels. Any consonant can begin or end a syllable except h and q. The only clusters which can occur at the end of a syllable are qc and qs. The only cluster which can begin a syllable is kw.
Primary stress occurs on every long vowel or diphthong that is in the next-to-last syllable of a word. Most compounds and inflected forms are treated as single words in assigning stress. Rhetorical stress comes on the last syllable.
In an interrogative sentence which uses a question word, there is a rising and then falling of pitch near the beginning and a drop at the end. In yes-no questions, there is a sharp rise in pitch at the end of the sentence. The modulations of pitch for expressing exclamations, quotations, etc. is generally much more pronounced in Menominee than in English.
Nouns belong to two genders, animate and inanimate, which are marked in the plural inflection.
Gender is also marked in referential inflection, such as in verb inflection which marks the gender of the actor. (The animate/inanimate distinction usually, but not necessarily, coincides with whether an object is animate or inanimate in the world)
There are four personal prefixes used to modify nouns and in personal pronouns:
Certain nouns occur only in possessed forms, typically referring to body parts or relatives, such as okiːqsemaw, "son"; kese:t, "your (s.) foot"; mese:t, "someone's foot". These affixes are used to indicate possession (e.g. neme:h "my older sister"; neta:qsɛnem, "my stone"). They are also used in the inflection of verbs to indicate the actor.
The personal pronouns formed by these prefixes are as follows:
1st person singular ("I"): nenah
1st person exclusive ("we"): nenaq
1st person inclusive ("we"): kenaq
2nd person singular ("you"): kenah
2nd person plural ("you"): kenuaq
3rd person singular ("he/she/it"): wenah
3rd person plural ("they"): wenuaq
Nouns and nearly all pronouns are inflected for singular and plural. Some nouns occur only as singulars, typically denoting liquids or other uncountable substances (e.g. kahpeːh, coffee). The singular is often used for a representative meaning, e.g. ɛːsespemaːteset omɛːqnomeneːw, "the way the Menomini lives".
Nouns can also be inflected for locality:
weːkewameh, "in a house"
yoːs, "right here"
Diminutives can be formed from any noun by suffixing -æshs
Agent nouns (ie, nouns that mean one who does the action of the verb, such as "worker" from "work", "talker" from "talk", in English) are homonymous with the third person inflected verb. So,
anohkiːw, "he works" or "worker"
moːhkotaːqsow, "he whittles" or "carpenter"
Menominee displays inflectional reference. Nouns, verbs, and objects are inflected to agree in gender, person, and number of their possessor, actor, or transitive verb, respectively.
Intransitive verbs typically occur in two forms: one for animate actors, the other for inanimate actors: paːpɛhcen, "he falls" paːpɛhnɛn, "it falls"
Transitive verbs can be used with either animate or inanimate actors. Transitive verbs contain inflectional reference both to their subject and to the object. One form of the verb exists for animate objects and another for inanimate objects: koqnɛw, "he fears him" koqtam, "he fears it"
Impersonal verbs occur with no identifiable actor and in the singular inflection: kɛqsiw, "it is cold" kemeːwan, "it is raining"
The negator kan typically precedes the verb: kan kemeːwanon, "it is not raining". The negator also inflects for certain elements of modal inflection: kasaq kemeːwanon, "why, it isn't raining anymore!" It can be used alone to answer a yes-no question. The particle poːn is used to negate imperatives: poːn kasɛːhkehseh, "don't be too late".
Bloomfield distinguishes five modes of the verb in Menominee, which are reflected in the verb, negator, personal and demonstrative pronouns, and auxiliary verbs:
The indicative makes statements. In the first-person plural, it is used as a hortatory (first person plural imperative: kenawmaːciaq, "let's set out"
Menominee is an Algonquian language, part of the larger family of Algic languages. Goddard (1996) and Mithun (1999) classify it with the Central and Plains Algonquian languages, along with languages like Blackfoot, Arapaho, Cheyenne, Cree-Montagnais, and Eastern Great Lakes languages like Ojibwe.
In his more controversial classification of American Indian languages, Joseph Greenberg places the Algic family within a family which he calls Almosan. The classification was first proposed by Edward Sapir in 1929. It groups Algic with other language families including Kutenai, otherwise thought to be an isolate, and Mosan, which includes Wakashan, Chimakuan, and Salishan. The Mosan family proposal is currently considered to be unfounded.