Conversing with objects to get chores done sounds like an amazing technical breakthrough that will not only make life easier, but change our relationship with the inanimate. Mechanical things will be enhanced with sunny personalities that are responsive and helpful, and the line between living and non-living will no doubt become blurred. We'll have to acquire a whole new vocabulary to describe our interaction with artificially intelligent devices.
In the language of Mi'kmaq natives, all nouns are classified as either animate or inanimate. Here are some examples:
deer - lentug
mountain - gmtn
raspberry - gmu'jmin
maple tree - snawei
eel - gat
smoking pipe - tmaqan
snowshoe - lasquaw
star - gloqowej
sun - na'qu'set
moon - tepgunset
church - a's'tuo'guom
sugar - sismo'quon
blanket - a's'un
tobacco - tmawei
rock - guntew
canoe - gwitin
water - samqwan
river - sipu
basket - ligpenigen
The classification of a noun as either animate or inanimate does not always appear to be logical, or follow conventional concepts of living and non-living. Stephanie Inglis, professor of aboriginal languages at Cape Breton University gives a clearer explanation.
"A mountain is intrinsically connected to a larger essence. A rock has become separated off from the whole - it is "less connected."... In the Mi'kmaw language there is an underlying semantic theme based on a dichotomy of "connectedness" or "belonging to a greater wholeness" or "oneness" versus "lack of connection" or "disconnection."
The distinction is also re-defined by Dr. Marie Battiste, a Mi'kmaq professor from Cape Breton, Nova Scotia.
"The objects around us with which we have an intimate relationship are animate and the things with which we don't have a relationship are inanimate. It has nothing to do with being alive or dead."
Talking to an object was a common practice for Native Americans; after all, every creature or thing was imbued with a vital spirit or manitou. One could improve outcomes by using positive words.
An account of a native guide in Maine who spoke to tree bark as he fashioned it into fishing line proves the effectiveness of verbal persuasion.
"One old man with whom I traveled had the beguiling habit of singing songs to the pulling of the bark because he thought the bark would come off stronger and freer on account of it. Some of the strips not more than two fingers in width and almost as thin as paper held our combined weight when we tried to swing from them. "See what my song can do, boy! said he." - Frank Speck, "Penobscot Man" 1940
I sometimes talk to my vacuum cleaner, sewing machine, computer and coffee-maker, with mixed results. Perhaps, as the experts predict, there will come a day when the things at home are all connected, controlled and animated by software that makes them obedient and highly efficient. Until then, I'll rely on pleading, occasional coarse language and the magic of a restart button.
N.B. Here's a link to an excellent dictionary of the Mi'kmaq language that includes audio clips of native speakers pronouncing complex sentences. Enter an English word in the search box and you'll be given the Mi'kmaq equivalent.