Robert L. Rankin

University of Kansas

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The Ofo Language of Louisiana: Philological Recovery of Grammar and Typology

In 1908, while working with the Tunica Indian tribe near Marksville, LA, the noted Smithsonian ethnographer, John R. Swanton, encountered a single individual who could recall material in the Ofo language. Ofo was thought to be a Muskogean dialect because of the existence of the consonant f in the one word of it Swanton had learned from the Tunica chief. Upon eliciting a vocabulary of around six hundred words from the single speaker, Swanton was surprised to discover that Ofo was a Siouan language related to Dakota, Mandan, Crow and other well-known languages of the plains as well as to the Biloxi language of Mississippi and the Tutelo language of Virginia (Swanton 1909). Swanton thus “obtained the only specimens of the language in existence” from Rosa Pierrette, “the sole Indian acquainted with the Ofo language.” This vocabulary was published in Dorsey and Swanton (1912).

Apart from a few papers on Ofo phonology, little has been written about the language since 1912. A closer look at Swanton’s vocabulary, however, reveals that many of the words he recorded have inflected forms or occur in short phrasal constructions. Applying the techniques of philology to these data, it is possible to recover quite a lot of Ofo morphology and syntax in at least some detail, enabling the linguist who is conversant with the structures of related Siouan languages to characterize Ofo typologically and compare it with its sisters.

The author, writing from the perspective of three decades of field and analytical work with related Siouan languages, undertakes to survey Ofo treatment of a number of morphosyntactic features including noun possession classes, deixis, pronominals and pronoun roles, verb conjugation classes, person, number, aspect and mood inflection, locatives and instrumentals, dative, reflexive and reciprocal, causatives, active-stative case alignment, motion verbs, question formation, and basic word order. The available 600 word vocabulary provides useful information on all of these features: using the techniques of comparative linguistics and philology, a great deal more can be said about Ofo, thanks to Swanton’s original, careful work.

Dorsey, J. Owen, and John R. Swanton. 1912. A Dictionary of the Biloxi and Ofo Languages. Bureau of American Ethnology
    Bulletin 47. Washington, D. C.: Government Printing Office; also the computer file of the published Ofo dictionary distributed by
    the Siouan Archive at the University of Colorado.
Swanton, John R. 1909. A New Siouan Dialect. Putnam Anniversary Volume: Anthropological Essays Presented to Frederic Ward
    Putnam in Honor of His Seventieth Birthday, pp. 477?86. New York: G. E. Stechert.