Osage Language Stays Alive

Contributing Writer


Dr. Carolyn Quintero is a linguist who holds a Ph. D. from the University of Massachusetts. She created a system to write the language of the Osage Indians and published books about it. Her last achievement is a dictionary of the Osage language, which is almost ready to be published. Before, two other books by Dr. Quintero were issued: Osage Grammar and First Course in Osage. And both have been actively used in church groups and in schools of Osage Indians.

Osage Grammar is approximately 450 pages and includes thousands of sentences. The First Course in Osage consists of 41 lessons. Carolyn has done a tremendous job trying to preserve a record of what could be the dying language of the Osage tribe.

It is interesting that 25 years ago, Quintero was a linguist studying about European languages such as French, Spanish, Italian, German, Russian, Asian and African languages plus many others. An idea to study this Indian language came to her in the early 1980s. She found that no systematic studies were made of Osage. But Carolyn grew up in an Osage county of Oklahoma, her friend’s grandmother spoke broken Osage, and Dr. Quintero knew many Osages since her childhood. She even remembers those times when Osage men were wearing blankets. So Carolyn asked advice of other linguists and decided to interview Osages in 1982.

Dr. Quintero says, “I interviewed 12 people, and only a few people spoke it well enough. But even they were rusty and did not remember how to say much of it. I never studied Indian languages before and did not know what to expect.” After years of precise research, Carolyn made a discovery that amazed her as a linguist. “In Osage, there are marks for nouns which describe what position or configuration a subject has. For example, if an Osage wants to take grapes, he will not simply say “give me the grapes,” but “give me the grapes standing or scattered,” etc. So different markers exist if an item lies, stands, sits or moves. No speakers could explain that to me,” Dr. Quintero adds.

Osage is a unique and original Indian language. It is similar to the Omaha, Ponca, Kansa, Kaw and Quapaw Indian languages the way Italian is related to French, but remains a separate language.

The Osage tribe is trying to revive the native language; they are developing an orthography.

There are about 20,000 Osages in Green Country and in California and they are working on a constitution where they will define better who can be called an Osage. But as Carolyn says, there are only two people who can use the Osage language actively now as speakers from childhood.

Dr. Quintero was happy to give a short lesson of Osage for GTR Newspapers readers. House is hci, and you pronounce it as “htsi”. Iina is a mother. Haama hkobra, eekima hta mikse means “I will do whatever I want”. This is a phrase that an Osage speaker told to Carolyn when she began to interview her many years ago.

Many Indian languages are still not recorded in the USA. So the research of Carolyn Quintero is a great contribution into the Native American culture.

In 1984, Dr. Quintero opened the Inter Lingua company in Tulsa, located on 15th Street, an excellent source for providing translation and interpretations from and into many languages of the world. She also spends time in Big Spring, Texas, now. “It is quiet there, so I can work on Osage without a problem,” she says as well as continuing to run a “virtual” office of Inter Lingua via telecommunications.

Updated 05-31-2005

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