Applications of Indigenous Presence: The Osage Orthography Amplifying Traditional Language Resurgence

Author:Jake Barrett-Mills Time:2020-01-13 Click:

Abstract: It is generally accepted that languages underpin communal and national identities the world over. This importance holds particularly true for subjugated peoples, and few have been so systematically dispossessed as the Indigenous peoples of the Americas. This essay argues that the revitalization and re-vision of Indigenous languages deploys a potent assertion of Indigenous sovereignty by these diverse communities. Following an outline of the suffocation of Native voices with relation to the Diné Code Talkers of World War II, I explore the capacity of Indigenous languages to generate, emerge from, and nourish different worldviews to those that inhere in the English language. I suggest that a modified Bakhtinian “dialogical” appraisal, in co-generation with the Vizenorean concept of “cosmototemics,” can be adopted in order to approach an understanding of the importance of language to Indigenous peoples—specifically here the Osage people of Oklahoma—and to heterogeneous Indigenous sovereignties. Osage is part of an oral tradition of storytelling that is resistant to semiotic closure and not neatly replicable in written (con)text. This tradition is always re-creative, and often hobbled when penned. The new Osage orthography, developed by Herman “Mogri” Lookout and his team in 2004, is a political rejection of cognitive conquest; a dialogic sphere of cosmototemics serving to re-create the Osage language in a form that promises to thrive anew. In 2016, the Osage orthography was accepted into Unicode, allowing the re-created language to be rendered on computers and handheld devices. This move invites a new generation of Osage and non-Osage people to engage with the re-creation of the dialect, a revivification of the language that thrusts it into global conversation. In conjunction with the recently-released53C(Wahzhazhe) Osage language-learning app, the Osage orthography amplifies a sovereign rejection of assimilation in favor of vibrant Indigenous presence.

Keywords: orthography, language revitalization, Indigenous sovereignty, Osage, technology and tradition

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