Published on June 9, 2012 by Amy
The Choctaw language is an essential element of the Tribal culture, tradition and identity. The language links modern Choctaws to their ancestors, offering a common vocabulary and way of looking at the world. Many of today’s Choctaw adults and elders learned to speak Choctaw before they learned English. Many grew up with grandparents and other relatives who spoke Choctaw most of the time. Their earliest memories are likely to include stories in Choctaw, the sound of Choctaw hymns, and the cadences of Choctaw speech and laughter as the family gathered in the evening to discuss the day’s events.
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As part of daily life on the Reservation, the Choctaw language may be heard in Tribal schools and administrative offices. It is in the Choctaw communities and homes, though, where the language is most deeply rooted. While they encourage their children to hone their communications skills in English, most Choctaw parents also make sure that their sons and daughters speak Choctaw as well.
The Choctaws did not have a written language until Cryus Byington, a Christian missionary from Massachusetts, started to develop a system in the early 19th century. His works, after nearly fifty years of diligent research, cumulated with the Choctaw Definer (1852), Grammar of the Choctaw Language (1870), and a Choctaw Dictionary (1912). Byington’s work is considered one of the most thorough and complete lexicons for an American Indian language.
Hatak nan aiokpvchi achukma hosh ahanta ka ho pesa; chuka achukma kia ikbit talaikmvt, osapa holihta achukma ikbit talali hoke: toksvli kvllot ik ahanta kia, ohoyo, vlla aiena nan vpa im asha achukma chi, ahnikmvt im achukma hoke. (Excerpt from Chahta Holisso Ai Isht Ia Vmmona, written in the early 1800s).