Positional properties in Osage

In Osage, the distinction between standing, sitting, lying and moving objects is fundamental. This "positional configuration" (Quintero 2004) is inherent to objects, such that for example a dish will always "sit" on the table surface. Speakers must always use speech elements consistently with the according inherent positional properties of an object, otherwise "(…) a wrong choice of positional article results in a distorted mental image. A dish 'lying' on the table would be a dish stretched or flattened into some unnatural shape because dishes inherently sit" (Quintero 2004: 370). This doesn't refer to animals and humans, as those can take different positions. But even for them their respective position at the reference time of the utterance is marked accordingly as sitting, standing, lying or moving. Positional properties of an object, animal or person are reflected by a very complex and rich system including the following speech elements:

  • Continuative aspect markers (or positional auxiliaries for the 1st/2nd and 3rd person (17 distinct auxiliaries by person, number and position)
  • Positional articles (7 articles distinguishing position and shape and arrangement)
  • Specific positional plural articles (3 articles distinguishing collective shape and thus position)
  • Configurational postpositions (4 postpositions, related to the according articles)
  • Other locative postpositions (8 postpositions specifying movement in distinct directions and positions relative to the speaker)
  • An indefinite pronoun, often modified by a positional article

Marking for position is mandatory if one or more of the these elements is used; the speaker then must make the right choice to mark the positional properties of the object or person in question. The plural articles take the arrangement of several objects as a whole into consideration, for example apples in a pile or sticks in a bundle. The according elements marking positional properties also transmit basic information about the approximate shape of the object: a sitting object must be roundish, while a standing or lying object (inanimate) cannot be roundish. An apple on a surface is round and thus sits on the surface. But a pile of apples viewed as a whole, stands.

(1)   waðílɑɑ mikšé
      think   1sg.CONT.SIT
      'I am sitting here thinking'
      (lit: 'sitting roundish I thinking')

Example (1) is an interesting special case which shows how the meaning of the auxiliary (here: mikšé) can slip in directly, although in principle independent from the semantics of the verb. In (1) the verb is not marked for 1st person singular. The number and person, as well as the sitting state of the animate subject are not signaled by markers on the verb, but are signaled by the aspect marker instead. Another special case is featuring stasis (standing) continuative aspect ãkatxá̃:

(2)  hpó̃hka ãkítãke hta ãkatxái
     hpó̃hka ãk -ki -tãké  hta ãkatxá̃      -ðe
     Ponca  A1P-DAT-fight FUT 1pl.CONT.STA-DECL
     'We're going to fight the Poncas.' (lit. 'We are standing ready to fight the Poncas.')

Used like in (2), according to Quintero ãkatxá̃ can also mean 'standing ready', 'action is imminent'. Example (3) features the same auxiliary ãkatxá̃ (continuative aspect, standing, 1st person plural), but unlike (2) without the connotation of action pondered or imminent:

(3)  wáazõ ãkákxai
     waa-ki -zõ    ãkátxá̃      -ðe
     U1P-DAT-enjoy 1pl.CONT.STA-DECL
     'we're having a good time' (lit. 'to us standing enjoying')

Movement (kinesis) continuative aspect

The following examples reveal the aspectual function of the 'move' positional auxiliary.

(4)  awáachi ãhé
     Wa -waa -chí   ãðihé
     A1S-PREV-dance 1sg.CONT.MOV
     'I am dancing'
(5)  awáachié
     Wa -waa -chí  -ðe
    'I danced'

Embedded aspect markers

(6) táatã ékižõ ðaišé aha wéeãna mĩkšé
    táatã é   -ki  -Ya -õ  ðaišé        aha      wée -Wa -na       mĩkšé
    thing PREV-PREV-A2S-do 2sg.CONT.MOV whenever PREV-A1S-grateful 1sg.CONT.SIT
    'whatever you're doing, I'm grateful'
    (lit. 'whenever you do something [kinesis], I'm grateful [sitting]')

This is an example showing the use of positional/aspect auxiliaries to signal that the 2sg character moves around continuously and the fact that the speaker, the 1sg character is sitting, without actually employing verbs depicting the movement/sitting stance of the characters.

[Examples and Information from Quintero (2004)]