Osage Language

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The Osage Language

Language is a big part of culture. Some things can be extremely difficult to think or express in a different language. Language often makes authentic culture possible because the ideas behind behavior may only be comfortably expressed in the language of that culture. We hope you'll enjoy the focus of this NCOA section on language; we have a difficult time because there aren't many fluent Osage speakers left and because there are some special problems, or let's say challenges, that make the study of Osage difficult. Besides the lack of fluent speakers, there are different dialects between the different Osage districts; people from Hominy may speak a little bit differently from people from Greyhorse. There are also problems with memory; if no one in your family has spoken Osage since the elders who passed away in the mid 70s, you haven't heard it spoken on a regular basis in 25 years. Even if Osage is your first language, this is a difficult problem to overcome. Be patient with our elders when asking questions about language; it's difficult to pull those memories up.

Anthropologists have a useful term, "fan of reference," which means that different people of the same tribe may have different versions of stories, myths, and language. The Eagle clan version of the Osage creation story is slightly different from the version of the Buffalo clan (different things are emphasized). So too, different Osage speakers may have been taught different words or different pronunciations of the same word. We can't say anyone is wrong; nothing is more correct than what your father or mother taught you. That is what you know and should follow. We are a sophisticated people and can keep all this in mind and make our own decisions about how we and our families should be and operate and speak. Below is a list of Osage words; they come from several elders and may be slightly different from what you have heard. We present them as a beginning. Also, Carolyn Quintero has put together an Osage grammar book (and is soon to finish a dictionary) which will be published this year by the University of Nebraska Press. All of the efforts to preserve our Osage language are valuable and all can add to our total knowledge. It is a challenge, but other tribes have met the challenge and so can we.

Osage Words & Phrases

(Spellings may vary)

Haway - Greetings, hello

Havay - (feminine) "

da han - good

Da heh ninksha - How are you?

Da han ba gi - How is your health?

Way da han - I'm good

_______ ee jah jeh le - I am ______(name)

Kakona - ready

gash-kon - let's go

Tha tse - You made it! (courtesy)

gue-they - give me, bring me

ni-a-they - give me water

Wa non bre gue they - Come and eat

Ta ta shon ta na - What do you want?

way ah he tse - a long way

tha-le - good

Tha-le oh - It's good that way

Eh ta tha-le - That's great

E wi kon ga na - I want you to help me

Hohway - Yes (I acknowledge what you're saying)

Hon ka zhi - No

mon zha ska - money

On ca li pu - I'm going now, see you, time for me to go

Wi jing kay - uncle

Wi josh pa - uncle, older brother (familiar)

Wi thun kay - sister

Shi they - older brother

Wazhazhe - Osage

Wazhazhe sanee - I address you (Osages) (formal)

Wa do bash ki sanee - I address all you people, everyone (formal)

Whach pa li - pitiful, poor

Wazhazhe whach pa li bre -
We are pitiful people (humble) (we know little and have no one to teach us)

dan ska - thing (that thing)

bi shi - bad

bi shi wa le - very bad

ni - water

ni zhu - rain

Ni zhu ka - It's raining

Oh tha tha - ouch

wa le - great

mon she - hot

mon she wa le - very hot

Last updated: April 30, 2003
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