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Sound and Sentiment:

This is certainly not a systematized or abstract complex, and speakers may not know why x is animate when y is inanimate, but it does arise from a broader culture in which one might speak with animate persons but only about inanimate objects. The possibility that gifts might be given to and received from those identified as animate persons is one indication of a “relational epistemology”. Irving Hallowell’s (1960) discussion of Ojibwe ontology includes an important discussion with an unnamed “old man” about whether all rocks are alive and, since he avers that not all rocks are alive, how one might know which ones are. Contrary to the theories of Piaget (1933) and Guthrie (1993), this depends on more than the projection of personality or human-likeness onto allegedly inanimate objects. It is not just that some rocks “look human” (e.g., appearing to have a mouth), or that some are said to have moved of their own volition, but that some humans relate to some rocks in ways that indicate the recognition of life.