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Osage Orthography Included In Unicode 9.0, Language Department Developing App
by Shannon Shaw Duty - Osage News
The Osage Language Department will be developing an app for smartphones and tablets now that the language is Unicode standard. Graphic by Tara Madden - Osage News

The latest languages released by Unicode version 9.0 were announced last week and the Osage orthography is included. The historic achievement has been something the Osage language department has been striving toward since they filed their application in mid-2014. The Unicode Consortium accepted it in late 2014.

"What it does is it gets us into technology … but it's not done yet, we still have a long ways to go," said Herman Lookout, the Osage language department's founder. "One of the things I like about our font is it's part English. In a way it's making it easy for us to adapt to this world, it's also dedicated to Osage sounds, but it was based off of the English alphabet, which allows us to assimilate ourselves into this technical world of abbreviations."

"We're kind of ahead of the game a little bit, its still going to take us some time but we'll adapt … we could talk all day about what this has done and what we can do with it."

According to Mark Pearson, web specialist for the language department, the 36-character orthography is now part of the international standard for symbols and can be accessed from anywhere in the world, on any operating system once released.

The Osage orthography has not been recognized fully by major operating systems because it wasn't in Unicode standard. When typed it would appear as boxes instead of the orthography. The old font that was utilized prior to the Unicode standard would only work with some software, now it can be recognized by all software.

The 36-character Osage language, developed by Lookout and his team in 2004, has changed little since it was first created. Now that the language is in the Unicode standard, it is now easier for the fonts to be utilized in third party software as well as app development – allowing Osages to communicate with each other on their smartphones and tablets.

"Everyone writes the same, our language is structured now and there's nothing like something that's structured. We might even get spellcheck on the language. It will help people talk, and we'll have to succumb to the idea that technology is the best way to reach our people," Lookout said. "Our people are scattered, and when people call in from out of state we can tell them about a new program we have and they can learn. It's a big step to be able to teach people with technology."

Pearson said the reason why the language department has not developed an app until now is because most app developers would have more difficulty working with the old non-Unicode standard font.

According to the Language department's Program Coordinator, Danielle Wood, the Osage language department will have the funds in the 2017 fiscal year budget to create an app with Thornton Media, Inc., a Las Vegas, Nev.-based firm that develops "Language Tools for Indian Country," according to their website.

The exact timeline on when Osages will be able to access the orthography on their computers depends on two events:

  • The creation of an Osage language keyboard for Apple and Microsoft operating systems
  • The acceptance of the new Unicode standard Osage fonts by software giants such as Apple, Microsoft, Android or iOS

Pearson said until Microsoft and Apple update their operating systems with the latest Unicode 9.0 release, Osages will have to download the new keyboard layout and font package. A timeline when Microsoft and Apple will release an update including Unicode 9.0 is unknown at this time.

Until Unicode 9.0 is released by Microsoft and Apple, the language department will work on developing the keyboards for both operating systems.

A nine-person committee was named on Tuesday to develop the keyboards. The committee consists of both Osage language teachers and Osage graphic designers: Jacqueline Delong, Olivia Gray, Alaina Maker, Tracey Moore, Cameron Pratt, Ryan Red Corn, TJ Red Corn, Addie Roanhorse and David Webb.

Osage dictionary
With the Osage language now in the Unicode standard, the language is set and cannot be changed. In a meeting on Tuesday that included Osage language staff, Osage education staff and Chief Standing Bear's staff, it was concluded that all signage and teaching materials will need to be updated to the new Unicode standard fonts for consistency.

Assistant Principal Chief Raymond Red Corn suggested a dictionary of the official Osage language be developed with the new Unicode standard fonts. Pratt said the curriculum committee, that consists of Cameron Pratt, Janice Carpenter and Stephanie Rapp, has been working to standardize the language. He said there is software that can convert their existing database to the new Unicode font.

Lookout said past Principal Chief Scott BigHorse signed the documents approving the application to Unicode. The Fourth Osage Nation Congress passed a resolution last year (sponsored by Congresswoman Angela Pratt) making the Osage orthography the official Osage language.

Lookout, 75, started the Osage Language Department in 2003, when then-Osage Tribal Councilman Jerry Shaw suggested he start a language program. Shaw made sure Lookout had the funding and the people to start the program, according to a 2007 Osage News article.

Prior to 2003, Lookout had been teaching Osage language classes independently at Wakon Iron Hall in the Pawhuska Indian Village, having classes once a week with a total of five students. Lookout credits the beginning of the Osage language program to Shaw, who is a professor at Wichita State University in Wichita, Kans.

Once the program started, it grew quickly. The language entered the local high schools by 2007 with more than 500 students enrolled in classes across Oklahoma.

What began in Wakon Iron Hall moved to its current location in downtown Pawhuska. The language center has four classrooms, a media center, a conference room, a recording studio and seven offices for staff. The building has a two-story mural of a straight dancer on the side, done by Osage artist and devoted language student Ryan Red Corn. The Osage orthography is throughout the mural.

The language program offers courses for children, adult beginners and advanced, as well as a popular online course.

Lookout grew up learning Osage by listening to his parents and grandparents, he has said. He took for granted the language would always be spoken. He and his staff have developed the orthography and language database by listening to recordings of elders from the 1950s, 60s and 70s. They developed the orthography to blend the sounds needed that couldn't be obtained by using the English alphabet. The result was an easier way to learn Osage.

For more information about Osage language classes, call (918) 287-5505. To sign up for online classes, visit:

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Welcome to the Osage Nation Language’s Department online course hub. We currently offer two classes:
Osage Beginner 1A: Introduction to the Osage Orthography
Osage Beginner 1B: Basic Thought Structure
Both courses are self-paced and can be completed online. These classes are offered to you by the Osage Nation Language Department free of charge.

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