Lesson 1: Introduction

This page links you to the individual components of your first lesson. Components include a conversation (which you must memorize), vocabulary, grammar notes (specific to the lesson, and with practice materials), a narrative addressing some aspect of Anishinaabewi-bimaadiziwin, and, in many cases, extra materials as well, including links to other web materials.

Navigation. At the top of each page, below the title, is a navigation bar containing links to various pertinent pages. Remember that you can also use your browser's navigation buttons to move around as well. Some links, such as Grammar ToC (Table of Contents), above, open a new browser window. The link Home should always take you back to the index for this entire site -- if it doesn't please let me know.

Overview. Since this is the first lesson, you are essentially starting from scratch. The goal of this lesson is to provide you with a simple introductory song, and some vocabulary. You will also be introduced to the writing system of Anishinaabemowin.

Song "Aaniin, Boozhoo"

This simple song, using the melody of "Are You Sleeping," provides some common expressions used in greeting.

To hear the song, click here. You can also download this song by right-clicking (Windows) or control-clicking (Macintosh) and saving the file to a designated location on your computer. Your browser should open the song player in a new window. Just close it to get back here.


Vocabulary sets for each week can be found here. Note that even though I provide you with plural forms of nouns, and other forms listed in your dictionary, I do not provide all of the forms for verbs. It will be useful for you to look these words up in your dictionary, both to get practice in using the dictionary, and to discover the various inflectional forms that are listed for verbs.

I will also make an mp3 file of my own pronunciation of vocabulary for each week's vocabulary. The file for week 1's vocabulary can be found here. Right click this link and choose a download location on your hard-drive to save it. You can then play it in any mp3 player. It would be better if we had optimized files allowing you to listen independently to each word, but this will probably be beyond my means. But you can download a free sound-editing program called Audacity, which will let you open the mp3 file and select a portion of it and keep repeating just that porition. Audacity is available for both Macintosh and Windows. Go here to get it.

Introduction to Spelling and Pronunciation

Go here to find notes on Anishinaabemowin spelling and pronunciation. Read as much as you have time to, and listen to the various word examples for which audio is provided. This will create a huge mess on your desktop, but you can just delete the audio files. My html skills are pretty meager at this point. If everyone used a Macintosh, life would be much simpler for me.

Ricing Narrative

It's important from the outset that you carefully practice pronunciation. The biggest problem that English-speaking learners of Anishinaabemowin (or any other language) have is that they tend to pronounce Anishinaabemowin (or whatever language they're studying) words on the basis of their sense of how the letters used to spell the word would be pronounced in English. In English, there is a huge bias towards writing, with the idea that a written form is more careful or "correct" than a spoken one. For example, the sentence spelled "Don't you want to go?" is properly pronounced in American English as something like "Doncha wanna go?" If you pronounce it as "don't" "you" "want" "to" "go", then you do not sound like you really know English. No fluent speaker of American English ever says the sentence that way! In other words, in spoken language, speech is primary, and spelling is secondary. This presents a huge problem for literate people, because they can read lots of stuff that they can't properly pronounce. And because of our education, we tend to think of the written form as somehow more "correct." It isn't.

The real problem for English-speaking language learners of Anishinaabemowin is that the same letters are used to spell Anishinaabemowin as are used to spell English, and so English learners assign to those Anishinaabemowin letters pronunciation values based on their values in English. And of course this will usually get you within the ballpark, since there is a reason the letters match across languages. But to gain good pronunciation, you need to listen to the language, not read it. The way you hear a fluent Ojibwe speaker say something is the "right" way to say whatever they're saying, not how it is spelled. And certainly, certainly not how the spelling of the Anishinaabemowin would be pronounced if the word or words in question were to be read as if they were English! It would actually be better for language learners if a totally unEnglish spelling system were used and I've toyed over the years with using the northern Ojibwe writing system, called syllabics, to introduce Ojibwe. The problem is that the language is already enough unlike English that the learning curve in a single semester course is already very steep -- adding a totally different writing system to the mix would make the task even more difficult. But the bottom line is this: even though you have a spelling of a word or sentence before, you won't know how it is pronounced until you hear a fluent native speaker pronounce it. Spelling is secondary (it is an imperfect "pointer" or "record" of a thing), speech is primary (it is the "thing"). Many language courses use no written forms for some time, so that students won't produce Xglish, e.g., Ojibglish, Spanglish, Franglish, or whatever. I think the biggest problem in learning to pronounce Anishinaabemowin is that the existing dictionaries don't give pronunciation guides for words (ideally, they would be electronic and provide sound samples). The reason for this is that pronunciation is largely predictable on the basis of linguistic principles. But these principles seem very complex to beginners. There's also lots of dialect variation in Anishinaabemowin.

To get a sense of the cadence of Anishinaabemowin as spoken by a fluent elder, go here, and listen to some of the story of ricing told by Mrs. Nancy Thompson, who lived at Peguis, Manitoba (here is the mp3, a link you can right-click on [control-click on Mac] to download). Note that the audio is presented with a Shockwave audio player. To start the narration over, just click the player to stop it, if it is playing, and then click the refresh button for your browser. Listen to the whole story in Anishinaabemowin a few times, and read the English so that you know what Mrs. Thompson is talking about. Then compare Mrs. Thompson's account with Mrs. Kegg's account of ricing, discussed in the next section.

Maude Kegg: Portage Lake, Memories of an Ojibwe Childhood

An important text for your course is Maude Kegg's autobiographical narratives, transcribed by John Nichols. For this week, take a look at the entire book, in order to see its varied parts. These consist of an introduction, the narratives in facing-page Ojibwe and English, and appendices containing grammatical information and a glossary. Then read the story called Manoominikeng / Ricing, which begins on p. 122. Of course at this point you will only be able to read the English.