Nouns Inflected for Obviation

ᓂᐙᐸᐦᑌᓐ ᐊᔥᑐᑎᓐ᙮   niwaapahten ashtutin. I see a hat.
ᐧᐋᐸᐦᑕᒻ ᐊᔥᑐᑎᓂᔫ᙮ Click here to hear this word waapahtam ashtutiniyuu. She sees a hat.

Notice the suffix -iyuu on ᐊᔥᑐᑎᓂᔫ ashtutiniyuu. It is called OBVIATIVE. Obviative inflection happens when there are several third persons in a story. For example, a child and a hat or a frog.

ᐧᐋᐸᐦᑕᒻ ᐊᔥᑐᑎᓂᔫ ᐊᓐ ᐊᐧᐋᔥ᙮ Click here to hear this word waapahtam ashtutiniyuu an awaash. That child sees a hat.
ᒌ ᐧᐋᐸᒣᐤ ᐊᔨᒃᐦ ᐊᓐ ᐊᐧᐋᔥ᙮ Click here to hear this word chii waapameu ayikh an awaash. That child saw a frog/frogs.

The form awaash is called PROXIMATE, ayikh and ashtitiniyuu are called OBVIATIVE.

For animate nouns, the obviative suffix is -h, like in ayikh above. The number distinction is over-ridden. -h could mean one or many frogs.

For inanimate nouns, the obviative singular has a special suffix -iyuu. The obviative plural looks just like the proximate plural.

Animate Noun
  proximate obviative  
singular ᐊᔨᒃ   ayik ᐊᔨᒃᐦ   ayikh frog
plural ᐊᔨᑲᒡ   ayikach ᐊᔨᒃᐦ   ayikh frogs
Inanimate Noun
  proximate obviative  
singular ᐊᔥᑐᑎᓐ   ashtutin ᐊᔥᑐᑎᓂᔫ   ashtutiniyuu hat
plural ᐊᔥᑐᑎᓐᐦ   ashtutinh ᐊᔥᑐᑎᓐᐦ   ashtutinh hats

Because of the rule of obviation, a noun possessed by a third person carries the obviative marking.

ᐅᑖᐱᔥᑳᑲᓐᐦ   utaapishkaakanh his/her scarf
ᐅᓇᒣᓯᒻᐦ   unamesimh his/her fish

Obviation plays an important role in Cree, not just for nouns, and pronouns but also for verbs forms. It allows speakers to rank the importance of participants in a story in ways that are impossible to convey in English. The rule is that you can only have one proximate person or thing at a time in a story, all others must be marked obviative.

The proximate-obviative contrast works like a spotlight on the story participants. The spotlight is the proximate and it can only shine on one person or one group at a time, all the other story participants end up in the obviative. [see story analysis]

This is how proximate and obviative forms look in sentences.

  Proximate Obviative
  singular plural singular plural
Animate ᓂᐧᐋᐸᒫᐤ ᐊᔨᒃ᙮ ᓂᐧᐋᐸᒫᐅᒡ ᐊᔨᑲᒡ᙮ ᐧᐋᐸᒣᐤ ᐊᔨᒃᐦ᙮ ᐧᐋᐸᒣᐤ ᐊᔨᒃᐦ᙮
niwaapamaau ayik. niwaapamaauch ayikach. waapameu ayikh. waapameu ayikh.
I see a frog. I see frogs. She sees a frog. She sees frogs.
Inanimate ᓂᐧᐋᐸᐦᑌᓐ ᐊᔥᑐᑎᓐ᙮ ᓂᐧᐋᐸᐦᑌᓐ ᐊᔥᑐᑎᓐᐦ᙮ ᐧᐋᐸᐦᑕᒻ ᐊᔥᑐᑎᓂᔫ᙮ ᐧᐋᐸᐦᑕᒻ ᐊᔥᑐᑎᓐᐦ᙮
niwaapahten ashtutin. niwaapahten ashtutinh. speak waapahtam ashtutiniyuu. speak waapahtam ashtutinh.
I see a hat. I see hats. She sees a hat. She sees hats.