January 19, 1998

Dear Recipient:

Enclosed is a set of one or more PC diskettes containing either a set of text files representing the James Dorsey Omaha and Ponca texts or one or more self-extracting archives containing the same material. The material is from Dorsey 1890 (The ¢egiha Language, Parts I and II, Contributions to North American Ethnography, Vol. VI) and Dorsey 1891 (Ponka and Omaha Letters, Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin 11).

The Dorsey material was originally published in the Dorsey orthography, or at least in the version he used in print with the Bureau of American Ethnography. He used several other orthographies in print elsewhere and in his field notes and manuscripts, making working with them somewhat complex, though not overwhelmingly so. A specialist gets used to the variations in orthography quickly. Still, the many orthographies used with OP have been a barrier to accessibility for speakers of the language. If they know any existing scheme for writing the language, students tend (among the Omaha, anyway) to be familiar with the La Flesche Orthography. Actually, this is only the last of a series of orthographies used by La Flesche, and it is widely known only in a somewhat simplified version used in Fletcher & La Flesche. This version omits the dots under tense p, t, and k, which unfortunately makes tense p, t, and k look the same as aspirate p, t, and k.

The Dorsey texts included here were keyed in the early 1970s for the University of Colorado, Department of Linguistics Siouan Archives Project, under Dr. David Rood and Dr. Allan Taylor. They were keypunched in a special encoding developed for this Project. It used multi-letter sequences to represent upper and lower case characters, and to record all the non-Latin characters and diacritics used in the various sources. This was necessary because in those pre-ASCII days most computers had only a 64 character set, lacking refinements like lower case and a full complement of punctuation characters, let alone special characters and diacritics. For example, a was coded A, A was coded +A, á was coded a*, and so on. The student keypunchers were not always perfect. They introduced some typos as they keyed the material. For that matter, neither were the original publishers. I've found that some of the errors present were copied faithfully from the original. In fact, even Dorsey wasn't perfect, or at least not his method of recording by hand and asking speakers to repeat when he got behind sometimes led to two versions of a sentence being sutured together ungrammatically. The version of Dorsey 1890 file on which the enclosed is based has been cleaned up some with respect to typos, but it may still have keypunching and printing errors.

The text consists only of the titles, the OP text and the interlinear English translation. The free translations and the notes (often very useful) are not included., because these were never keyed. Each unit of text is identified as to its source in the book—page and line. The first few texts were unfortunately identified instead as to page and sentence. This practice was quickly dropped, since the published text already has line numbers and these are a much more natural scheme of indexing, though for linguistic purposes the sentences are more natural divisions. The first text is missing. I gather that the card deck was lent to a programmer who never returned it. I've been meaning to rekey it and convert the by-sentence references to by-line ones in the next few texts, but I've never gotten to these steps.

What I've done to the texts as I'm supplying them to you is to convert them from the Siouan Archives representation of the Dorsey Orthography to a more or less ANSI (Windows) representation of the LaFlesche Orthography. This means that I've eliminated Dorsey's not entirely successful attempts to distinguish tense and aspirated stops, and also his successful attempt to distinguish x and gh (the voiced equivalent of x). While making these distinctions helps explain a few points of grammar, and definitely assists the student in pronouncing the material, including them tends to force various orthographic expedients that the English-oriented sensibilities of modern Americans, Native or otherwise, sometimes find objectionable, e.g., th representing aspirated t, not ð. Making the distinction also forces a more or less equally severe departure from the LaFlesche Orthography, which Omahas accustomed to the Fletcher variant of the LaFlesche Orthography also object to. However, anyone working with a native speaker instructor should be able to avoid the mispronunciations resulting from not know if 'te' is tense t tte 'buffalo' or aspirate t the 'the vertical inanimate', etc. Anyway, in this version I've suppressed these distinctions, though it really bothers me to do so. I do intend eventually to produce a Windows version of the file in the Dorsey Orthography and another in modern Siouanist orthography, though, for specialists and students who need the pronunciation assistance. If desired, the original Siouan Archives format of the file can be made available.

I did draw the line at merging s and z as çla;, since that is a high frequency distinction and nobody seems bothered by retaining it. I used ' to represent glottal stop as in wa'u 'woman' and ejection as in t'e 'dead', in keeping with the LaFlesche tradition. Nasalization is marked with n-tilde, instead of Dorsey's various expedients. Dosey and LaFlesche wrote accent with a ˊ following the vowel. I could have used á, etc., but I elected not to, to make it simpler to delete accents if desired. That might be desirable to make the texts easier to search with a text editor or word processor.

Bear in mind that the deficiencies of both the Dorsey and LaFlesche orthographies are such that I cannot guarantee to mark nasality or glottal stops precisely as LaFlesche would have done it. (In fact, it occurs to me that I may have programmed things so that na 'by fire' and na<raised n> 'by foot' have been merged as na<raised n>. I'll fix that next time! In the mean time, note that the first of these is accented, and precedes the pronouns, while the latter is not, and follows.)

The texts have been divided into individual files by an automatic process. I think I've caught all glitches, but you may find that one text has been split up, or several glued together. Let me know if this has happened, and I'll fix later editions. The texts are supplied in Windows text format in the standard Windows ANSI character set.

As far as I know, there are no restrictions on the use of this material. Certainly none for research purposes. Before printing anything for national distribution as opposed to local use it would certainly be polite to contact the National Anthropological Archives of the Smithsonian Institution (the successor of the Bureau of American Ethnology). Dr. Rood would also be very interested in knowing how the material was being put to use, as would I. I can't imagine anyone would have any objection to most of the material being used, even for publication for profit, and as the materials are substantially modified there could hardly be any infringement of copyright. I don't place any restrictions on the material, myself.

Morally, of course, the Omaha and Ponca people have some sort of interest to this material, though much it is also the general heritage of Plains and Midwestern native peoples. Some of these stories are told also in other tribes, and a few, from internal details, would have to have originated in other groups. Probably many of the traditional stories are so old that they antedate the modern groups entirely.

One would want to think carefully before publishing or even circulating locally the private letters, though clearly Dorsey himself exercised little compunction in the matter. This material was mostly in the nature of family or business correspondence, though some of it is public or political in nature, and none of it that I recall seems of a such a nature that it should be kept secret. I am not sure that my recollection or opinion in this is to be relied upon. The letters were often plainly dictated in some public place, and always with the knowledge that numerous people would have to read them as they were transmitted to the addressees. Still, I do not know if Dorsey made it clear to the authors that he intended to publish the letters. One might argue that it was obvious, since he openly collected other material for this purpose, and in several cases the letters were actually intended for publication (in translation) in newspapers, etc. In any event, due to Dorsey's publication, the cat has been out of the bag for many years. All of the letters are of potential tribal and family historical interest. The principals are deceased for many years, but their descendants must be in most identifiable to members of the community.

Apart from publication, informal or formal, there are a number of uses to which this material can be put. I find that searching them with an editor or other tool provides the equivalent of a dictionary. It's pretty easy to search the English text to locate OP forms, provided you keep in mind that the usage is somewhat old fashioned and stilted. For example 'to remove' means ‘to move camp'. Searching the OP side is rather harder. You'll do better in a version of the text with accent marks suppressed, unless you're good at predicting where they'll be. It's easier to search for the root of the word or a major syllable of it, or a particular prefix sequence of interest, rather than an entire form, even if you are really good at conjugating OP verbs. When all is said and done, it takes practice and a knowledge of how to inflect and derive verbs to do well at OP to English lookups. The more you do it, the better you'll get.

If you do get moderately good at this, you can also use the texts as a grammar, looking up how to conjugate or derive a verb. Simply working through the texts, starting with a basic knowledge of Siouan grammar, you can teach yourself quite a bit about OP. I recommend both (a) reading the texts systematically, line by line, and (b) looking for multiple examples of particular words and constructions in which you are interested. You need to alternate between these approaches, as both kinds of progress are needed.

You can also use the texts as a source for sentence examples in a dictionary or grammar. This comes about naturally as you study them for lexical and grammatical information. Keep in mind that Dorsey's conventions on where to put sentence boundaries or word boundaries are not necessarily consistent or well-informed. This is an area in which modern Siouanists are somewhat bemused, too.

Let me know if you have any problems with the disk(s) or contents. I can be reached at the addresses below.


John E. Koontz

561 Lincoln Ave.
Louisville, CO 80027

Dr. David Rood
Department of Linguistics
University of Colorado
Boulder, CO 80309