Going through some Tuareg texts from Mali recently, I found a rather eloquent passage describing the nomads' relationship to their land:
exắy năkkắneḍ, húllăn ăgg ăjăma wăr ăddobăt ád ikrəš ắkall făll ắkall, năkkắneḍ tijắrăken a-hənăɣ ílăn əntănắteḍ á-dagg nəkká d ắšăkšo, wắr noleh d ə́ddinăt wí n ɣərman, dihá-hənăɣ əttə́mălăn súdar e rə́zzejăn ɣás á nəkká, ášăl wa əssinḍărắn-anăɣ dắɣ teje ta n ătắram, ášăl wa ta n ăfắlla ášăl wa ta n əjúss, mušám wăddén á ikkắsăn erhitt-nắnăɣ y ắkall wa s ə́nta, á nəzzáy isidáw-anăɣ năkkắneḍ dătén tərə́zzekk-nắnăɣ.Now, -la- "own, have" does not have quite the same semantics as English "own"; you use it not only in reference to your property, but also to your children, and one can easily say "God owns us (yl-ânaɣ)" (Prasse 2010:30). Nevertheless, its subject is ordinarily human, as in English. The most obvious comparison here is with ownership of livestock. The clouds control where we go (by determining where vegetation will grow), just as we control where our flocks go; therefore, the clouds own us. Throughout the world's languages, control is commonly associated with higher animacy.
Yes, as for us, a son of the wilderness cannot hold to just one place. Us, it's the clouds that own us, it's they that we go under, and the vegetation, we aren't like the people of the towns. There where staple foods are excellent for our animals is where we go. One day they toss us to the west, one day to the north, one day to the south. But it doesn't prevent our desire for the land which is what we know, it keeps us together with our flocks. (Heath 2005:18-21)
Quite coincidentally, I came across a clearer example on the other side of the world shortly afterwards. Omaha is a Native American language of the Siouan family, still spoken by a few elders in Nebraska. It has one of the most complicated systems of classificatory definite articles that I've ever seen: in particular, there are four articles normally used for inanimates, and several normally used for animates, depending on number, position, and whether they're moving, described in detail in Eschenberg (2005). As part of their efforts to revive the language, the Omaha Nation commissioned an iPad/iPhone app, effectively a small phrasebook/lexicon with audio and pictures. This happily includes a few minimal pairs, of which the most interesting for this post is, under "Weather":
nãží-kʰ(e) ubðĩ́bðã xtáaðe. "I like the smell of rain." (-kʰe: inanimate horizontal article. Transcribed differently in the app, but listen to the audio.)This is systematic in Omaha, as noted by Eschenberg (2005:71-73); nouns such as "winter", "sun", and "snow" can (but need not) occur with animate as well as inanimate articles, and Eschenberg explicitly ties this to the fact that these entities have great power over people's lives and are not themselves readily controllable.
nãží-akʰa ðištã́. "The rain has stopped." (-akʰa: animate singular "proximal" article)
So is there any English parallel? You certainly wouldn't say "The rain, s/he stopped" in standard English. One possibility comes to mind, however: the curious habit of giving human names to hurricanes. Within weather, hurricanes are about the most powerful recurrent objects we are capable of perceiving at a human scale. And - what do you know - it turns out that some people do accept animate pronouns for named storms, strange though it sounds to me:
"This makes Patricia a 'Category Five' hurricane as she has sustained winds of over 157 mph." (ITV, 23 October 2015)Obvious follow-up question: should global warming be treated as animate?
"Sadly, Patricia is not expected to weaken by the time she reaches Mexico and will hit when she’s a Category 5 hurricane." (Hollywood Life)