Algonquian Features of Blackfoot


When one who gains familiarity with two languages notices that several words in one of those languages are similar in shape to words with similar meanings in the other language, he might suspect that the languages are genetically related. But such similarities may be due to coincidence, or they may be due to borrowing of words between the languages or by both languages borrowing from a third language. How can one determine whether the similarities are the result of genetic relationship?

The most widely accepted and convincing evidence that two or more languages descended from a common "parent" language is regular sound correspondences in apparently cognate lexical items. See Linguistic Genealogy for discussion and exemplification (including examples from Algonquian).

But comparison of Blackfoot nouns with nouns of other Algonquian languages turns up very few pairs of words that look like they might be cognate; so few in fact, that one would suspect that they are just coincidental similarities.

However, as  soon as one becomes familiar with the grammar of Blackfoot and of another Algonquian language, the relationship is obvious. For a simple example, compare the possessed forms for 'mother' in Cree and Blackfoot:

Cree


nikâwiy
my mother    
       
nikâwiyinân
our (not incl. you) mother

 

kikâwiyinaw
our (incl. you) mother
kikâwiy
your(sg) mother

kikâwiyiwâw
your(pl) mother
okâwiya
his/her mother

okâwiyiwâwa
their mother

Blackfoot

niksíssta
my mother    
       
niksísstsinnaana
our (not incl. you) mother

 

kiksísstsinoona
our (incl. you) mother
kiksíssta
your(sg) mother

kiksísstowaawa
your(pl) mother
oksísstsi
his/her mother

oksísstowaawayi
their mother

Notice the identical pattern of prefixes in these two paradigms. And the suffixes are also largely the same. So even though the stems for 'mother' are different, the pattern of inflection for person of  possessor is too similar to be due to coincidence.

The same degree of similarity is found in the verb affix paradigms. Most impressive is the "direct" vs "inverse"system seen in transitive verbs which take animate gender objects. Examine the following Cree and Blackfoot pairs of verb forms:

            Cree                                                                            Blackfoot
 nimiweyimânân aniki      'we like those'               nitáákomimmannaani  omiksi    'we love those'
 nimiweyimikonân aniki   'those like us'               nitáákomimmokinnaani  omiksi  'those love us'

Notice that the verb forms are identical in each pair except for a small portion (highlighted) at the end of the verb stems. These highlighted portions are the direct and inverse markers. Notice also that the prefixes and suffixes of Cree and Blackfoot are again very much alike.