"Personal Inclusive Pronouns"
[Monday, September 8, 2014]
Ever since Kenzie discovered
that learning tribal languages
could earn a lot of points
toward membership, he
soaked up everything
that he possibly could.
He wasn't even picky
about which language.
He fumbled along in
Plains Cree with Blair and
the slightly different dialect
her parents sometimes used.
"I'm not very good at this,"
"Don't worry, you'll
get a feel for it soon,"
Blair promised Kenzie.
He sat at Sounding Shell's feet
while she sang songs in Oji-Cree.
"I croak like a crow," Kenzie said,
after listening to himself sing.
"That's all right," said Sounding Shell.
"Soon you'll sing like a meadowlark."
He wanted to believe her.
Whenever he could, Kenzie
spent time with Many Tongues,
who spoke Plains Cree, Chippewa,
Oji-Cree, and a bunch of others too.
"They're so different from English,"
Kenzie said to Many Tongues. "How
do you keep them all straight?"
Many Tongues just laughed.
"Yes, Algonquian languages are
different from Indo-European ones,
but they're also different from
other language families here in
Turtle Island. Each one sounds
distinct, like a voice in a chorus."
Sometimes when his head
got too full, Kenzie would go out
into the woods for a little introspection.
He thought about how the pronouns
divided into animate and inanimate
instead of masculine, feminine, neuter.
He quite liked having a pronoun, wii,
that didn't specify gender presentation,
although he hadn't decided whether
he wanted a different set in English.
The personal inclusive pronouns
bothered him, though, because
they had a version that meant
"we too but not you" as well
as "you and me too."
Being white meant that
Kenzie heard neshtaniiyaan
a lot more than cheshtachiiyaanuu,
which made him feel left out.
Over time, though, he realized that
if he was speaking a tribal language --
any tribal language -- and someone made
plans, then they were much more likely
to include him in whatever they did.
That made Kenzie more determined
than ever to learn as much as he could,
even if the grammar bent his brain a bit.
Then one day he went to visit Many Tongues
and found new people already there.
The older man grinned as he
introduced a woman and her baby.
"Kenzie, these are my sister Soo
and her daughter Nuttah. They
have just moved in with me."
"Hi," Kenzie said, then slumped.
"Does this mean you don't want me
to come help with the house anymore?"
His housekeeping vocabulary
had gotten pretty darn good
in all of the languages.
"No," said Many Tongues.
"I am not going to dump
the support network I have
just because I got more." He
shook his head. "We have
a baby. We're not going
to run out of work to do!"
That was certainly true,
Kenzie realized as Nuttah
barfed on her mother's blouse.
"Here, Soo, give her to me and
I'll clean her up while you go change,"
Kenzie said, holding out his hands.
Soo happily plopped Nuttah in
his grasp and hurried away.
Kenzie set Nuttah on the island
beside the kitchen sink, keeping
one hand on her as he rummaged
in the top drawer for a dishtowel.
It only took a few moments
to get her more-or-less clean.
"There you go, little cousin,"
Kenzie said, and Nuttah stopped
frowning over the towel to babble
at him in something that didn't
sound much like English.
"What's she saying?
What language is that?"
Kenzie asked Many Tongues.
"She's not saying anything yet,
she's just babbling. Soo has been
talking to her in Plains Cree, though,"
said Many Tongues. "Want to help?
You could read her a story."
"Yeah, I can make it through
Little Bear's Day on my own,"
Kenzie said, and Many Tongues
fetched a copy of the book.
Then Kenzie took Nuttah and
sat on the squashy tan couch.
Kenzie was still reading, and
Nuttah was babbling along with
great enthusiasm, when Soo
came back from the bathroom.
"Many Tongues says that Nuttah
isn't really talking yet, but she
sure is trying," Kenzie said.
Soo sat down beside him and
transferred Nuttah to her own lap
so Kenzie could handle the book better.
"Don't worry, we will teach her how
to talk," Soo said in Plains Cree.
And Kenzie heard her include him too.
* * *
The notes for this poem run long, so they appear separately.