Osage language

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Wazhazhe ie
Native to United States
Region Oklahoma
Ethnicity Osage people
Extinct 2005, with the death of Lucille Roubedeaux[citation needed]
Latin, Osage
Language codes
ISO 639-2 osa
ISO 639-3 osa
Linguist list
qlc Kansa-Osage
Glottolog osag1243[1]
Oklahoma Indian Languages.png
Map showing the distribution of Oklahoma Indian Languages

Osage /ˈs/[2] is a Siouan language spoken by the Osage people of Oklahoma. The last native speaker, Lucille Roubedeaux, died in 2005.[3][not in citation given]

Osage has an inventory of sounds very similar to that of Dakota, plus vowel length, preaspirated obstruents, and an interdental fricative (like "th" in English "then"). In contrast to Dakota, phonemically aspirated obstruents appear phonetically as affricates, and the high back vowel *u has been fronted to [y].

Recently, a distinctive alphabet for Osage has been promulgated.[4]

Language revitalization

As of 2006, about 15-20 elders were second language speakers of Osage. The Osage Language Program, created in 2003, provides audio and video learning materials on its website.[5] The 2nd Annual Dhegiha Gathering in 2012 brought Osage, Kaw, Quapaw, Ponca and Omoha speakers together to share best practices in language revitalization.[6] In early 2015, Osage Nation Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear announced he would make Osage language immersion a priority.[7]


Osage phonology is quite similar to that of Kansa. However, it preserves many historical alternations that have been leveled out in Kansa; for example, Kansa *u has merged with *i, whereas it's still largely distinct in Osage.


Basic vowels

Osage has five plain vowels:

Front Front Central Back
i y ~ ʉ
e o
ə ~ ɑ

These are written ⟨i u e o a⟩.

  • /i/ is a high front vowel: like English i in ski.
  • /u/ is a high non-back rounded vowel, like California or New Zealand English u in dude.
  • /e/ is a half-open front vowel: like English e in get.
  • /o/ is a mid-back rounded vowel: like English o in bolt.
  • /ɑ/ is an open back vowel: like English a in bra.

/u/ varies between central and front, [ʉ ~ y], and frequently unrounds to /i/. It is especially far front [y] following a velar obstruent and when it is near a front vowel with no intervening obstruent. It most commonly conflates with /i/ following ð and n.

Usually in fast speech, the /a/ is pronounced [ə].[8] This assimilation occurs after a stressed syllable, or at the end of a word. For example: céska [tsɛ́skə] ‘cow’, tóa [tóe] ‘this one’.

Nasalized vowels

There are three vowels that carry this feature: [ɑ̃] [ĩ] [õ]. It is quite common for nasalized [ɑ̃] to become a nasal [õ] and vice versa. Non-nasalized vowels can be heard as nasalized as well. In general, vowels tend to become nasalized adjacent to another nasal vowel or consonant when there is no intervening obstruent. On the other hand, final nasal vowels tend to become oral. However, nasal vowels are always short, regardless of their position. Examples: [ʃímĩʒɛ] ‘girl’ and [paˑɣõ] ‘mountain’

Vowel clusters and long vowels

According to Hans Wolff [9] (65), common Osage vowel clusters are:

  • iu [iü] for example: niuʒõ ‘Neosho River’
  • íe [íɛ]~[íi] for example: wíe ‘I’
  • íĩ [íĩ] for example: kasíĩte ‘tomorrow’
  • iuĩ [üĩ] for example: ékiuĩka ‘don’t’
  • éa [ɛ́a]~[ɛ́ə] for example: cʼéaðe ‘I killed him’
  • [ɛ̃] for eample: hówaĩke ‘where?’
  • óa [óə] for example: tóa ‘this one’.

Vowel length is important in Osage, but it is hard to perceive and has a good deal of variation. For example, long vowels are often reduced to short ones when they are not accented.[10] Quintero took long vowels to be the underlying form in such situations. There is not enough information to specify exactly how the accent system works in Osage, and there is still uncertainty about Osage vowel length.

Oral vowels are long before non-stop consonants and in final stressed position. When they are unstressed in final position, they are always short.

Lengthening of short vowels often occurs in questions.[10]

Example: /ʃkó̃ʃta/ ‘you want’ becomes [ʃkó̃õʃta]?

Long vowels also arise when ð is omitted between identical vowels.[10]

Example: ðakʼéwaða ‘be kind to them’ may become ðakʼéwaa.

When e(e) changes to a(a), an immediately preceding c is often replaced by t (thought not always)[11]

Example: océ 'look for, hunt for' becomes otá 'look for it!'


The vowel sequences /aĩ/ /eĩ/ /oĩ/ and /ai/ are almost certainly diphthongs. The Osage alphabet has letters to represent each of the diphthongs (See the Osage Alphabet). Seeing that these four sounds have single unique letters in the orthography system of the language emphasizes how frequent and important they are in the phonology.


There are in Osage seventeen consonant phonemes,[citation needed] nine of which are voiceless and eight are voiced. However, Osage has a unique system of sounds, which to English speakers might seem very similar but are actually quite distinctive to an Osage native speaker or listener. This system is known as the stop series, or the stop sequence. (See below)[the table does not match the description]

Bilabial Dentalveolar Postalveolar Velar Glottal
Nasals m n
Stops Preaspirated (fortis) ʰp~pː ʰt~tː, ʰts~tːs ~ ʰtʃ~tːʃ ʰk~kː
Tenuis (lenis) p t~ts[citation needed][12] ~ tʃ k (ʔ)
Aspirated px~pʃ tx~tsʰ kx~kʃ
Ejective tsʼ
Voiced br
Fricatives[citation needed][13] s~z ʃ~ʒ x~ɣ h
Approximants ð, l w

Stop series

The stop series is a vital part of Osage phonology. The series can be grouped according to five categories:

  • Voiceless preaspirated or fortis: which may be pronounced as geminates or preaspirated. As in other Siouan languages they sometimes derive from h-C sequences, but not always.
  • Voiceless plain or lenis: which are tenuis, and often lightly voiced.
  • Postaspirated: which never appear as a surface form.[14]
  • Ejective /p’/, /c’/, /k’/. They cannot appear as the second member of a consonant cluster. Historical *t’ is /c’/ in Osage.[15]
  • Voiced: with b being the only member in this category. The only environment this sound may appear in is in the cluster [br]. The cluster itself generally appears in the first verb form, otherwise it is somewhat infrequent.[14](see historical phonology section).

The ejective, fortis, and lenis series of the alphabet are not distinguished in Osage orthography.

Listed below is some features and phonological alternations of Osage:

  • [px], [tx], [kx] occur before back vowels, [pʃ], [tsʰ], [kʃ] (usually) before the other vowels.[16]
  • The voiceless unaspirated affricate /ts/ has two allophones: [tʃ] after [ʃ]; elsewhere it is [ts].[9]
/ts/ → [tʃ]/_[ʃ]
íðotse 'be open'
ihtṍtse 'son-in-law'
ðekṍõce 'now'
[mɑ̃ʃtʃĩ́kɛ] 'rabbit'
[ʃtʃɛ́] 'you went'
  • The glottal stop [ʔ] appears in clusters only after p, c, k, and it is not considered a true consonant of Osage. It is best thought of as a phonetic device used occasionally at utterance level, and it is typically to separate vowels that would otherwise contract.[17]
  • /x/ has two allophones, [x] and [ɣ]. [ɣ] occurs between vowels, elsewhere it is [x].
/x/ → [ɣ]/V__V
[hóxpe] 'cough'
[hpéɣe] 'gourd'
[nɑ̃́ɑ̃ɣe] 'spirit'
[hkáɣe] 'crow'
  • The phoneme /h/ is always voiceless.
  • /ð/ usually has a single allophone [ð], but in the Hominy dialect it has two allophones: [d] initially before /a/ and [ð] elsewhere.[9]
/ð/ → [d]/#__a
ðɑ̃lĩ [dɑ̃dlĩ] 'good'
ðɑ̃brĩ [dɑ̃bəðĩ] 'three'
ðĩe [ðĩɛ] 'you'
cʼéðe [tsʼɛˑðɛ] 'he killed it'
  • The /br/ cluster also depends on dialect. It is sometimes pronounced [bəl] or [bər].[9]
  • In some instances, due to morphologically complex formations, [r] is an allophone of /ð/[14]
brĩiʃtɑ̃ 'I'm finished'
abrĩ 'I have'
waabrṍ 'I am unable'

The dentalveolar obstruents are often fricated: the ejective always (though it has other sources as well), and the other series before the front vowels /i ĩ e u/. Exceptions occur due to compounding and other derivational processes. For example, from hką́ą́ce 'fruit' and oolá 'put in' is hkąącóla 'pie'. (The fricated allophone is written c.)

Č, hč are rare, and only found in diminutives: č only in two words, čóopa 'a little', čáahpa 'squat', and for hc in endearment forms of kin terms like wihčóšpa 'my grandchild'. In Hominy, šc is pronounced šč.

Consonant clusters

Osage has a simple expanded CV syllabic template: (C(C)) V (V).[18] All consonants occur initially and medially; they never occur in final position. Consonant clusters of the type CC only occur in initial and medial positions. Furthermore, only voiceless consonants form clusters, with the exception of [br].[9] The initial clusters are [pʃ] [kʃ] [ts’] [st] [sts] [sk] [ʃt] [ʃk] [br], excluding aspirated stops.

pʃĩta 'I'll come (to your house)'
kʃí 'he reached home'
ʰtséka 'crazy'
stúʒa 'you wash it'
stséce 'long'
skɑ̃ 'white'
ʃtátɑ̃ 'you drank it'
ʃkṍʃta 'you wanted it'
bráze ‘torn’

Medial clusters may be divided into two groups:

  • Cluster whose first C is p,t,c, or k
tapʼõkʼe 'he hit it'
wécʼa 'snake'
nɑ̃ḱṍ 'he heard it'
aṍpha 'I understand it'
áthɑ̃ 'he kicked it'
áððikhɑ̃ 'he lay down'
épʃe 'I spoke'
ðacpé 'to eat'
nĩ́kʃe 'you are here'
nã́kwĩ 'both, we two'
  • Cluster whose first C is s, ʃ, x, or h
ĩ́spe 'ax'
laská 'flower'
ókisce 'half'
ðaʃtú 'to bite'
paʃpú 'to chip'
iʃtá 'eyes'
walúʃks 'bug'
mɑ̃ʃcĩ́ke 'rabbit'
mɑ̃xpú 'clouds'
ðaxtáke 'to bite'
mõĩ́xka 'soil/dirt'
wĩ́xci 'one'

Historical phonology

The historically aspirated series *pʰ *tʰ *kʰ is seldom realized with aspiration today. Before back vowels they are [px tx kx], and before front vowels [pʃ tsʰ kʃ] (written pš ch kš). Some speakers from Hominy assimilate tx to [tkx] or [kx].

Đ, n, r all derive from historic *r, and l from *kr and *xr. The latter is a recent phenomenon; in the 1930s words with modern l were transcribed xth and gth. Historically *r became ð before oral vowels and n before nasal vowels, but since the nasalization has often been lost, there are minimal pairs and /l, n/ are now separate phonemes. Nonetheless, intervocalic ð is optionally pronounced [n] in many words. It is also sometimes strongly palatalized intervocalically, to the point of becoming [j].

In words with l, this is sometimes pronounced [hl] or [dl]. The former derives from historic *xl, the latter from *kð and *gð; these sequences have largely merged with simple *l. This is productive; ð in verbs may become l when prefixed with k.

The r is apparently an approximant like English [ɹ]. Br is most common in first-person forms of verbs beginning with ð, where the 1sg agent prefix w(a)- assimilates to [b] before the ð, and indeed this was written bth in the 1930s. However, in rarer cases the origin of br is opaque.


  1. Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Osage". Glottolog. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. "Osage". Oxford English Dictionary (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press. September 2005.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  3. [1]
  4. Osage alphabet.
  5. "Osage Nation Language Welcome Page". Osage Nation. Retrieved 2012-09-22.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. "Dhegiha Gathering Agenda, 2012" (PDF). Retrieved 2012-09-22.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. HorseChief-Hamilton, Geneva (2015-03-02). "Fluent Osage Speakers are a Priority for Osage Nation". Indian Country Today Media Network.com. Retrieved 2015-10-05.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. Quintero, 2009, p.xv
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 9.4 Lua error in Module:Citation/CS1/Identifiers at line 47: attempt to index field 'wikibase' (a nil value).
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 Quintero, 2009, p.xvi
  11. Quintero, 2009, p.xvii
  12. are these distinctive?
  13. is voicing distinctive?
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 Quintero, 2004, p.19
  15. Quintero, 2004, p.24
  16. Quintero, 2004, p.16
  17. Quintero, 2009, p.xviii
  18. Quintero, 2004, p.4
  • Quintero, Carolyn. The Osage Language. Lincoln, University of Nebraska Press, 2004. ISBN 0-8032-3803-7.
  • Quintero, Carolyn. Osage Dictionary. Norman, University of Oklahoma Press, 2009. ISBN 978-0-8061-3844-2.
  • Wolff, Hans. "Osage I: Phonemes and Historical Phonology". International Journal of American Linguistics 18.2 (1952): 63-68.

External links