Case: the Locative

Possessive marking is fundamentally different in English and Cree.  In Cree, the same basic person prefixes that are used for the possessive, as in (19a), also function to mark the equivalent of subjects (19b) and objects (19c) on verbs, without any differences.


a) Prefix + Noun:


my canoe”



    ni-    +    cīmān




    1s           canoe







b) Prefix + Verb:


I pinch them.”



    ni-    +    cīstin-  +  -ā  +  -wak




    1s           pinch       →      3p







c) Prefix + Verb:


“They pinch me.”



    ni-    +    cīstin-  +  -ik  +  -wak




    1s           pinch       ←       3p



In contrast, English generally uses completely different forms of the pronouns to represent differences between subjects, objects and possessors, as shown in the translations in (19), and the table in (20).  Differences of this kind are known as case-marking, since each pronoun (and/or noun, depending on the language) is, through its form, marked for the case or grammatical role that the person is playing in a particular context (e.g. subject, object, possessor, etc.).


English Case-marked Pronouns and Determiners








singular 1s I me my
2s you you your
3ms he him his
3fs she her her
3ns it it its
plural 1p we us our
2p you you your
3p they them their


Although Cree does not use case-marking to differentiate subjects, objects and possessors, whether on pronouns or nouns, there is one important way that nouns are marked in Cree to specify their role in a sentence.  When a noun is meant to indicate that it represents a place or location, the noun must be marked as a locative.  Although the specific details of locative marking will be discussed in detail in the appropriate sections of each noun type, the basic locative suffix is –ihk, as exemplified in (21a).



sākahikan  +  -ihk                              >



“lake”              locative

in/on/at the lake”



niwāpahtēn sākahikan.

“I see a lake.”



niwāpahtēn sākahikanihk.

“I see it in/on/at the lake.”



niwāpahtēn cīmān sākahikanihk.

“I see a canoe on/at the lake.”


The difference in meaning created by adding the locative ending is illustrated by comparing (21b) and (21c).  In (21b), the noun sākahikan “lake” occurs unmarked and therefore serves as the object of the verb niwāpahtēn “I see (it)”.  In (21c), however, the locative ending has been added to sākahikan to create the general locative sākahikanihk “in/on/at the lake”.  When this occurs, the “lake” can no longer serve as the object of the verb, but must instead be interpreted as the location where something else was seen.  (21d) shows that another noun can now be inserted to act as the object of the verb.

Normally, for a language to be described with a case-marking system, we expect to find ways of marking nouns for a variety of different roles (e.g. subject, object, possessor, locative, etc.).   Cree, however, does not have specific subject and object marking and so case-marking has not generally been considered an important feature of Cree grammar.  Nevertheless, the locative ending on Cree nouns does serve this important role just as do other case-markers in languages with more extensive case systems (e.g. Latin, Inuktitut or Finnish, which all have cases marking locatives and/or directionals).  In fact, there is even a second, more marginal pattern known as the vocative or address form which can also be thought of as case-marking.  The vocative only occurs with animate nouns and particularly kinship terms and as such will only be introduced as part of the discussion of dependent animate nouns (NDA).