Ofo language

The Ofo language was a language spoken by the Ofo people, also called the Mosopelea, in what is now Ohio, along the Ohio River, until about 1673. The tribe moved south along the Mississippi River to Mississippi, near the Natchez people, and then to Louisiana, settling near the Tunica.

Native toUnited States
EthnicityOfo people
Extinctearly 20th century
Language codes
ISO 639-3ofo
Ofo lang.png
Distribution of Ofo language

In the 18th century, the Mosopelea were known under the names Oufé and Offogoula.[1] On the basis of the presence of the phoneme /f/ in these names, early linguists once suspected that Ofo was a Muskogean language. However, anthropologist John R. Swanton met an elder Ofo speaker, Rosa Pierrette, in 1908 while he was conducting fieldwork among the Tunica. From her information, he was then able to confirm that the language was Siouan and was similar to Biloxi. Pierrette had spoken Ofo as a child, but Swanton says she told him that the rest of her tribe "had killed each other off" when she was 17.[2]


Ofo follows a process similar to Grassmann's Law, with /h/ counting as an aspirated consonant: /oskʰa/ 'crane' + /afʰã/ 'white' > /oskəfʰa/ 'white egret' and /apʰeti/ 'fire' + either /təsʰihi/ 'to burn' or /təsʰihi/ 'to breathe' > /apesʰihi/ 'smoke'.[3]

The inventory is as follows:[4]

Labial Dental Palatal Velar Glottal
Plosive tenuis p t t͡ʃ k
aspirated t͡ʃʰ
Fricative tenuis f s ʃ x h
Sonorant w l j
b[clarification needed] d[clarification needed]
Nasal m n


Front Central Back
High i, iː
ĩ, ĩː
u, uː
ũ, ũː
Mid e, eː ə o, oː
Low a, aː
ã, ãː

All vowels, including /ə/, may bear stress.


Ofo is considered to be a mildly polysynthetic language.[4]


Ofo distinguishes between alienable and inalienable possession by the use of a prefix for first-, second-, and third-person singular as well as first-person dual. That can be abbreviated to 1sg, 2sg, 3sg, and 1du, respectively. The alienable possessions include the following: 1sg {ba-, aba-}, 2sg {č-, ača-}, 3sg {}, 1du {ã-}. The inalienable possessions include the following: 1sg {mi-}, 2sg {čĩ-}, 3sg {ĩ-}, 1du {ã-}.


Ofo uses the enclitic suffix -ni, to demonstrate negation. That enclitic is usually after the predicate.


Ofo uses the enclitic suffix -tu to pluralize the subject, the object, or both.

Instrumental prefixesEdit

Instrumental prefixes describe the manner in which an action is carried out. Some instrumental prefixes are below:

  • atə- 'by extreme temperature'
  • tu-, du- 'by pulling/hand'
  • ta- 'by mouth'
  • pa- 'by pushing'
  • la- 'by foot'
  • ka- 'by striking'
  • pú- 'by pressure'
  • po- 'by blowing/shooting'


Ofo pronouns
"mí̃ti, mí̃*te" 'I, me' "čí̃*ti" 'you'
"í̃*ti" 'he' "á̃ti, á̃*ti" 'we'


Ofo appears to have no grammatical gender.

Space, time, and modalityEdit

Irrealis mood consists of the suffix -abe. It is the equivalent to the future in English:

  • óktat-,abe, 'he will kill you'
  • tcóktat-abĕ, 'you will work'
  • atcikthé-be, 'I will kill you'

Continuative aspect is formed using the word nóñki.

Iterative aspect is created by reduplication:

  • è-te-te, 'sick, keep on suffering'
  • šni-šni-we, 'itch, keep on itching'
  • tó-fku-fku-pi, 'wink, blink, keep on winking or blinking'


The documentation of Ofo does not provide enough information to develop a complete syntax of the language. However, structures also found in related languages have been found.[4]

Ofo appears to have a head-dependent ordering in sentences, which gives it an object-verb word order. The order of verbs may be described as being clause-final. Many cases appear to support that. An example can be seen below:





b-aphú̂ska a-tci-tp-ábe

my-fist I-you-hit-IRR

'I will hit you with my fist'


Only some forms are known because of a lack of documentation.

Dative case appears in Ofo and can be interpreted as resembling an accusative pronoun in English.





tcilétci ó̃tcĭku

your.tongue me.you.give

'hold your tongue!'




me.you.put on

athé ãtcókpe

dress {me.you.put on}

'you help me dress'

Complements and causativesEdit

There is no information in the Ofo data to support Ofo having explicit complement clauses. However, it is apparent that embedded clauses precede the main clause.





détõ-ni á-kiu-bĕ

(he).go-COND I-come-IRR

'if he goes, I will come'

The causative is marked by the enclitic -we.





'to teach'


A Dictionary of the Biloxi and Ofo Languages
  • Hodge, Frederick Webb (1911). Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution.
  • Holmer, Nils, M., "An Ofo Phonetic Law," International Journal of American Linguistics, 1, no. 1, 1947.
  • Moseley, Christopher and R. E. Asher, ed. Atlas of the Worlds Languages (New York:Routelege, 1994) Map 5
  • Dorsey, J. Owen, and John R. Swanton. 1912. "A Dictionary of the Biloxi and Ofo Languages." Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin 47. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office.
  • Swanton, John R., ca. 1908. Ofo-English dictionary, Typed and Autographed Document, 613 cards. National Anthropological Archives, 2455-OFO, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC.
  • Swanton, John R. 1909. A New Siouan Dialect. "Putnam Anniversary Volume: Anthropological Essays Presented to Prederic Ward Putnam in Honor of His Seventieth Birthday," pp. 477–86. New York: G. E. Stechert.


  1. ^ Frederick Webb Hodge, Handbook of American Indians, p. 109.
  2. ^ Swanton, John Reed (1909). A new Siouan dialect. Cedar Rapids, Iowa: The Torch Press. p. 483.
  3. ^ de Reuse, Willem J. (1981). "Grassmann's Law in Ofo". International Journal of American Linguistics. 47 (3): 243–244. doi:10.1086/465693. S2CID 224809424.
  4. ^ a b c Rankin, Robert. "The Ofo Language of Louisiana: Philological Recovery of Grammar and Typology". LAVIS III: Language Variety in the South: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives. University of Alabama, 2004. PDF file.

External linksEdit