𐓏𐒰𐓓𐒰𐓓𐒷 𐒻𐒷‎, Wažáže ie
Native toUnited States
EthnicityOsage people
Extinct2005, with the death of Lucille Robedeaux
RevivalAs of 2009, 15-20 L2 speakers, ongoing revival program
Latin (Osage alphabet), Osage script
Language codes
ISO 639-2osa
ISO 639-3osa
qlc Kansa-Osage
Map showing the distribution of Oklahoma Indian Languages
Osage is classified as Vulnerable by the UNESCO Atlas of the World's Languages in Danger

Osage (/ˈs, ˈs/;[1] Osage: 𐓏𐒰𐓓𐒰𐓓𐒷 𐒻𐒷Wažáže ie) is a Siouan language that is spoken by the Osage people of the U.S. state of Oklahoma. Their original territory was in present-day Missouri and Kansas but they were gradually pushed west by European-American pressure and treaties.

Osage has an inventory of sounds very similar to that of Dakota, also a Siouan language, 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].

Osage is written primarily with two systems: one using the Latin script with diacritics, and another derived Osage script created in 2006.[2] Osage is among the few indigenous languages in the United States that has developed its own writing system.

Language revitalization

As of 2009, 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.[3] The 2nd Annual Dhegiha Gathering in 2012 brought Osage, Kaw, Quapaw, Ponca and Omaha speakers together to share best practices in language revitalization.[4] In early 2015, Osage Nation Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear announced he would make Osage language immersion a priority.[5]


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


Basic vowels

Osage has five plain vowels:

Front Central Back
Unrounded Rounded
Close i y ~ ʉ
Mid ɛ o
Open ə ~ ɑ

These are written ⟨i u e o a⟩.

/u/ varies between central and front, ~ 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, unstressed /a/ is pronounced [ə].[6] This assimilation occurs after a stressed syllable, or at the end of a word. For example: céska [tsɛ́skə] 'cow', tóa [tóə] '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 [7] (65), common Osage vowel clusters are:

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.[8] 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.[8]

Example: /ʃkó̃ʃta/ 'you want' becomes [ʃkó̃õʃta]?

Long vowels also arise when ð is omitted between identical vowels.[8]

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)[9]

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


The vowel sequences /aĩ/ /eĩ/ /oĩ/ and /ai/ are almost certainly diphthongs.[citation needed] The Osage script has letters to represent each of the diphthongs.


There are thirty-one consonant phonemes in Osage,[10] twenty-two of which are voiceless and nine are voiced. However, Osage has a rich system of stop sounds, known as the stop series, or the stop sequence. (See below)

Bilabial Dentalveolar Postalveolar Velar Glottal
Nasals m n
Stops Preaspirated (fortis) ʰp~ ʰt~, ʰts~tːs, ʰtʃ~tːʃ ʰk~
Tenuis (lenis) p t, ts, k (ʔ)
Aspirated px~ tx~tsʰ kx~
Ejective tsʼ
Voiced br
Fricatives s, z ʃ, ʒ x, ɣ h
Approximants ð, l, (r) w

Stop series

The stop series can be grouped according to five categories:

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:

/ts/ [tʃ]/_[ʃ]
íðotse 'be open'
ihtṍtse 'son-in-law'
ðekṍõce 'now'
[mɑ̃ʃtʃĩ́kɛ] 'rabbit'
[ʃtʃɛ́] 'you went'
/x/ [ɣ]/V__V
[hóxpe] 'cough'
[hpéɣe] 'gourd'
[nɑ̃́ɑ̃ɣe] 'spirit'
[hkáɣe] 'crow'
/ð/ [d]/#__a
ðɑ̃lĩ [dɑ̃dlĩ] 'good'
ðɑ̃brĩ [dɑ̃bəðĩ] 'three'
ðĩe [ðĩɛ] 'you'
cʼéðe [tsʼɛˑðɛ] 'he killed it'
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).[14] 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].[7] The initial clusters are [pʃ] [kʃ] [tsʼ] [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'
stsétse 'long'
skɑ̃ 'white'
ʃtátɑ̃ 'you drank it'
ʃkṍʃta 'you wanted it'
bráze 'torn'

Medial clusters may be divided into two groups:

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'
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. ^ "Osage". Oxford English Dictionary (Online ed.). Oxford University Press. (Subscription or participating institution membership required.)
  2. ^ "Osage". Atlas of Endangered Alphabets. 29 November 2018. Retrieved 26 October 2021.
  3. ^ "Osage Nation Language Welcome Page". Osage Nation. Archived from the original on 2012-10-18. Retrieved 2012-09-22.
  4. ^ "Dhegiha Gathering Agenda, 2012" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2013-06-06. Retrieved 2012-09-22.
  5. ^ HorseChief-Hamilton, Geneva (2015-03-02). "Fluent Osage Speakers are a Priority for Osage Nation". Indian Country Today Media Network.com. Archived from the original on 2015-05-12. Retrieved 2015-10-05.
  6. ^ Quintero, 2009, p.xv
  7. ^ a b c d e Wolff, Hans (April 1952). "Osage I: Phonemes and Historical Phonology". International Journal of American Linguistics. 18 (2): 63–68. doi:10.1086/464151. S2CID 145019201.
  8. ^ a b c Quintero, 2009, p.xvi
  9. ^ Quintero, 2009, p.xvii
  10. ^ a b Quintero, 2004, p.16
  11. ^ a b c Quintero, 2004, p.19
  12. ^ Quintero, 2004, p.24
  13. ^ Quintero, 2009, p.xviii
  14. ^ Quintero, 2004, p.4