"Proximate" and 'Obviative' in Arapaho/
"Third" and "Fourth" Person in Arapaho

In Arapaho, rather than having only a third person form (‘he/she’) there is also a fourth person form (‘the other one’). Whenever two or more third persons are involved, a speaker has to choose one of them as the more important or ‘proximate’ person, and the others as less important, or ‘obviative’ persons. There are different verb endings for the obviatives:

  Singular Plural
3rd person -t -3i'
4th person -ni3 -ni3i

Examples with cebísee- 'to walk' and ni'í3ecoo- 'to be happy':

ceebíseet = 'he is walking'
ceebíseení3 = 'the other one is walking'
nii'í3ecóó3i' = 'they are happy'
nii'í3ecooní3i = 'the other ones are happy'

In addition, the demonstrative 'this' has two forms – néhe' for proximates, núhu' for obviatives (and inanimate things). Note that the proximate/obviative distinction is only used for animate objects.

So if you’re telling a story about two people, you might end up saying something like 'this one (main focus) is happy, but the other one is said.' In Arapaho, this would be:

Néhe' nii'í3ecoo-t, 'oh núhu' teneení3ecoo-ní3.
This (prox) happy-3, but this other(obv) sad-4.

Because of the markers on the verbs, there’s no need to use nouns or pronouns as in English, so in Arapaho narrations, you will often have long strings of just verbs. There’s not a problem tracking who’s doing what, because the proximate/obviative distinctions allow you to keep track of the different folks involved and their relation to each other. Here's a brief example, with the obviative markings in red and the proximate markings in blue.

Néhe' nii'í3ecoo-t, 'oh núhu' teneení3ecoo-ní3.
This (prox) one is happy, but this other (obv) one is sad.

Núhu' yiihóo-ní3 hito'óowúúnin, 'oh néhe' yiihóó-t bii3hííno'óowúú'.
This other(obv) one is going to his house, but this (prox) one is going to a restaurant.

Beníí3i-t nisíkoc noh niiscíh'ebi-t.
He (prox) is eating cake and drink soft drinks.

Núhu' beníí3i-ní3 cée3íbino. Bééne-ní3 nec. Niibeetbíí3i-ní3 nisíkoc.
This other (obv) one is eating beans. He (obv) is drinking water. He (obv) wants to eat cake.

Proximate/obviative with Nouns

Nouns change their form to indicate obviative or proximate status:

hinén = man (PROX), hinén(i)nó' men (PROX)
hinénin = man (OBV), hinén(i)no men (OBV)

hísei = woman (PROX), híseino' women (PROX)
hísein = woman (OBV), híseino women (OBV)

Here are two examples of sentences with nouns in them:

Néhe' hísei ceebísee-t, 'oh núhu' hinén-in nííhi'kóóhu-ní3.
This woman (prox) is walking, but this other man (obv, less important) is running.

Hísei-no' nii'í3ecóó-3i', 'oh hinén-ino teneení3ecoo-ní3i.
The women (prox) are happy, but the other men (obv) are sad.

Proximate/obviative with adjective/descriptive verbs.

Whenever adjective-like verbs occur, there is agreement between the adjective verb and the noun:

néhe’ bee’éíhi-t he3.
this red-3 dog
'this red dog'

núhu’ bee’éíhi-ní3 hé3-ebii.
this red-4 dog(obv)
'this other red dog'

Proximate/obviative with Transitive Verbs

If you have a transitive verb, you only mark the proximate person on the verb. Here's a sentence with noohow- meaning 'to see someone':

hinén nonoohówoo-t hísei-n.
man see-3 woman(obv)

So what does the above sentence mean in Arapaho? What it means is, "a man (prox) sees a woman (obv)." At first, it might not seem clear whether the woman is seeing the man, or the man is seeing the woman. In fact, here's a very similar sentence in Arapaho:

hinén nonoohobéí-t hísei-n.
man see-3 woman(obv)

This sentence means 'the woman sees the man.' As you can see, the order of the words in Arapaho doesn't have anything to do with the meaning of the sentence (unlike in English). In fact, the only thing that changes from one sentence to the other is that the verb noohow- has a special ending -oo- on it in the first sentence, and a different ending -ei- (which causes the final -w to turn into a -b by the way) on it in the second sentence. What's happening here is that the little endings -oo- and -ei- are 'direction of action' markers. The marker -oo- tells you that the proximate person is doing something to the obviative one, while the marker -ei- tells you that the obviative person is doing something to the proximate one.

hinén nonoohów-oo-t hísei-n.
man see-prox>obv-3 woman(obv)
'a man sees another woman'

hinén nonoohob-éí-t hísei-n.
man see-prox<obv-3 woman(obv)
'another woman sees a man'

Here are two more examples, this time with an adjective-like descriptive verb thrown in:

nonoohów-oo-t hiinóno’éini-ní3 hísei-n
see-3 Arapaho-4 woman(obv)
‘he sees the Arapaho woman’


nonoohob-éí-t hiinóno’éini-ní3 hísei-n
see-3 Arapaho-4 woman(obv)
‘the Arapaho woman sees him'


nonoohów-oo-t hiinóno’éíni-t hísei-n
see-3 Arapaho-3 woman(obv)
‘the Arapaho sees the woman’