Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma

The Great Seal of the Choctaw Nation

Language is far more than words. Language is the all-encompassing symbol of a way of life. A key to a culture. Communication is the gateway to understanding and to successful living among people of different cultures.

These two concepts make Todd Downing’s Chahta Anompa a significant work.

Greater understanding of the Choctaw’s history and his way of life, past and present, can be an enriching experience for individuals, and for the whole of society.

The Choctaw language can also be an immeasurably effective tool, in the most practical sense. Because of past Indian education policies, which made “Speak English!” the basis of language study, many Choctaws themselves do not know their tribal language. Their relationships with fellow tribesmen whose first – or only – language is Choctaw are handicapped by language difficulties. This situation comes at a time when many First Americans need better understanding of a society which is their own but from which they are too often alienated.

As for non-Indians endeavoring to learn more about the tribe, which gave Oklahoma its name, their study can be a rewarding venture. More important, the linguistic study can be a pathway to communication with people who like other tribes, face problems in today’s world. Their problems, however, are no greater than their resources, largely untapped, which can enrich America.

Vitally interested in recovering and preserving this country’s Indian heritage, particularly as a means of improving Indian education, the Muskogee area office of the U. S. Bureau of Indian Affairs is responsible for the publication of Chahta Anompa. The office’s education personnel believe that the work can be an important education tool and can lead to similar projects among other tribes.

Professor downing, the author, is a widely respected linguist, history scholar, and language teacher. A Choctaw himself, he is now devoting much of his time to in-depth study of his tribe’s culture, with emphasis on language.

Professor Downing is also teaching Southeastern State College’s first courses in Choctaw. His teaching is a development of the Choctaw Bilingual Education Program. Supported by the U. S. Office of Education, the program is a joint operation of McCurtain County Public Schools and Southeastern State.

Mary M. Frye
Durant, Oklahoma

September 1971

Chapta Pokkoli
Lesson Ten

“Cannot all Choctaw nouns be treated as verbs?” Cyrus Byington asked in the manuscript of his Choctaw Grammar. “The root may be considered as in the infinitive mood: as hattak, to be a man: hattak’ (with the last syllable accented), it is a man: hattak okmat, if a man. “His Editor, Dr. Brinton, cited German and French authorities on the Aztec and Algonquin languages and arrived at the conclusion that “the primitive expressions in these languages are concrete, not abstract-nouns, therefore, not verbs.”

This is an argument into which we need not enter. In either case-whether verbs became used as nouns or vice versa-the result is of great help to the student in building up a vocabulary in Choctaw. If you learn one word, you can easily learn a group of words formed from it.

This pisa for example. It may be used either as a verb meaning “to see” or as a noun meaning what is seen or the person who sees. And it may be combined with other words to express a variety of things.

Holisso pisa may mean to read or study (books) or to attend school. Or it may mean a person who reads or studies, a scholar, a pupil, a student. The place where he reads or studies, the school, is holisso apisa. The Schoolhouse is holisso apisa chokka. Pisachi may mean to teach or a teacher (Literally the meaning is to cause to see, the suffix –chi signifying to cause.) Holisso holhtina nanna okla pisa may be translated simply as a class-that is, pupils counted together as one group of people.

Ikbi is another word (verb? Noun?) which has many uses. It may mean to make-or one who makes, a maker or creator. Holisso ikbi may mean to make, print or publish a book-or the author of a book, a printer, and an editor. Chokka ikbi may mean either to build a house or a carpenter. Nan ikbi is either to make things or a manufacturer. Hina ikbi (or Hinikbi) is to make or open up a road, path or furrow-or a road maker, a plowman, and a pioneer.

Impa used as a verb means to eat. Used as a noun, it may mean one who eats or what is eaten, food or a meal. Impachi is to cause to eat, to feed, to entertain at a meal-or a person who performs this action. Impa chito is a feast, a banquet. Impa iskitini is a snack, a bite, lunch. Ikimpo is to fast or one who fasts.

Ishko means to drink or a drink or a drinker.

This multiplicity of uses of a single Choctaw word will make up to the student for the fact that there is seldom any word in English with which he can associate it in order to help him remember it. Pisa, ikbi, and ishko- you simply have to learn them.

“Nan ikhana in kana sia mak osh sa hohchifo han takalichi lishke.” “I respectfully subscribe myself a friend of learning.” So wrote the Reverend Allen in Boggy Depot on March 25, 1880, upon completion of his Chahta Leksikon. I can find not better words with which to bring to a close this attempt to present the bare rudiments of the Choctaw language. T.D.

One more pronoun should be mentioned. This is the second person plural imperative ho- (ho-before a consonant) used to express a command or a request.

Oh-apila. Help him.
Ho-miniti. Come on.

Takbanli Nan Anoli

Choctaw belongs to the Muskogean stock of American Indian languages. It is related to the Chickasaw, Creek and Seminole but not the Cherokee, which is an Iroquoian tongue.

Unfortunately we Choctaws never had a Sequoyah to devise an alphabet for us, so in writing our language the English alphabet must be used. And in a few cases writers, editors and printers have not been in agreement, as to which letters should be taken as representing Choctaw sounds. This lack of uniformity may be a bit confusing to the student at first, especially when he consults various Choctaw wordbooks, but he will soon see that there is no great difficulty involved here.

The pioneer in the study of the Choctaw language was Cyrus Byington, a graduate of the theological school at Andover, Massachusetts, who in the winter 1820 arrived in Mississippi to take part in the missionary work of the Presbyterian Cyrus Kingsbury. (Was there ever a people more readily converted to Christianity than the Choctaws? They had requested that missionaries come into their nation and establish churches and schools.) Among the manuscripts left by Byington at his death in 1868 were a Choctaw grammar and a Choctaw-English, English-Choctaw dictionary. This grammar was published in the Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, Philadelphia, in 1870. The dictionary was issued in 1915 as Bulletin 46 of the Bureau of American Ethnology, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. Both are virtually unobtainable today.

Another valuable work was the Chahta Leksikon of Allen Wright, D. D., the brilliant and versatile Choctaw who was as active in the religious and educational life of the Choctaw Nation as he was in the field of politics. This volume, consisting of only a Choctaw-English vocabulary, appeared in its first edition in 1880. In a preface to the second edition, published by the M. E. Church, south, in 1904, the Editor, T. L. Mellon, expresses regret that he has not succeeded in reducing the number of letters, which the Reverend Wright used in spelling Choctaw words. “But these letters have been too long in use, “he writes, “and appear in all Choctaw literature.”

A scholar of today, however, has been more determined in this matter than Editor Mellon. Thurston Dale Nicklas of the University of Kansas has made a considerable reduction in the number of letters required in the writing of Choctaw. His Choctaw Orthography is being used in the Choctaw Bilingual Education Program being carried on in Oklahoma by Southeastern State College and the McCurtain County Superintendent of Schools, with the support of the Office of Education, U. S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare. Consequently in the lessons, which follow, we have adopted the usage of Mr. Nicklas. If once in a while we mention the fact that certain words have slightly different spellings in the dictionaries of Byington and Wright, this will be done only for the benefit of students who may have occasion to read Choctaw as printed in books and newspapers of an earlier day.

Chapta Achafa
Lesson One

Does the word CHAPTA above look familiar? It is the English CHAPTER in the spelling first used by the missionaries who translated the Bible into Choctaw. They translated the name Mary as Meli, Mark as Mak, Peter as Peta. Why? Because the sound of the letter ‘r’ does not exist in Choctaw.

We use 18 letters in writing Choctaw. They are: a, b, ch, (one sound), f, h, I, k, l, lh, (one sound), m, n, o, p, s, sh (one sound), t, w, y.

The three basic vowels – a, I, o – may be short or long or nasalized. The difference between a short and a long vowel is not so much in the sound itself as in the length of time it is held in pronunciation. When a vowel is long it is held twice as long as when it is short.

The vowel a is pronounced either like the a in the English word father or like the a in the word sofa.
The vowel I is pronounced either like the I in the word machine or like the i in the word big.
The vowel o is pronounced either like the o in the word go or like the u in the words put or rude.
Here are some Choctaw words with short vowels:

  • Chahta – Choctaw
  • iti – tree
  • Hattak – man
  • oka – water
  • Hoshi – bird
  • nipi – meat
    In the following words the next to the last vowel is long:
  • Achi, - to say
  • nowa -, to walk
  • Banaha – shuck bread
  • toli – ball game
  • Niya – fat
  • waya – to grow

In Choctaw, as in French, the consonants m and n have had a strong effect on a vowel preceding them in the same syllable. As a rule, the vowel has become nasalized and the m or n has lost its sound, leaving the vowel long. The pronunciation of the vowels is similar to that of the vowels in the English words sing and song, but in Choctaw the nasal sound is softer.

Byington and Wright used different devices to indicate the nasalization of a vowel. The former wrote a small raised n after the vowel. The latter underlined the vowel. We are following the rules formulated by Nicklas:

Spell a nasal vowel as an, in, on except in the following cases:

  1. Before the consonants b or p write am, im, om, omba, rain. Impa, to eat.
  2. Before the consonant m write am, im, om. Momm, all, still.
  3. Before the consonant n write an, in, on. Onna, to be arriving there.

  4. In our Foreword we mentioned the elimination in modern Choctaw of certain letters, which formerly were in general use. An important example is the italicized v sound in Choctaw. But when John R. Swanton edited the manuscript of Byington’s dictionary for publication by the Bureau of American Ethnology, he changed this v to an a with a dot under it. Allen Wright stuck by Byington’s original use, however, and the printing of v became standard practice in the Choctaw Nation. The word for town appeared tvmvha. In accordance with Thurston Dale Nicklas’s system of orthography, we are writing this word tamaha.

Chapta Chakkali
Lesson Nine
“Katah hosh chikbi tok on?” is the first question in the first chapter of the Katikisma. “Who made you?”
“Chihowa yak osh sakbi tok oke” is the response. “God made me.”
“Chihowa hat pi pisa hon?” “Does God see us?”
“Chihowa hat pi pisa hoke.” “God does see us.”

Here we have in Choctaw and in English examples of personal pronouns used as direct objects of verbs. Chikbi is the contracted form of chi ikbi. Sakbi is the contracted form of sa-ikbi. In both examples, you will notice, the object pronoun is placed before the verb, not after it as in English.

Below is a list of the direct object personal pronouns in Choctaw:

  • Sa- me
  • Chi- you (singular)
  • Him, her, it not expressed
  • Pi- us
  • Hapi- us
  • Hachi- you (plural)
  • them, not expressed

The first person singular sa-changes to si-before the vowels a or o.

In addition there are the reflexive pronoun ili- and the reciprocal pronoun itti-.

This last, which we mentioned in Lesson Seven, requires some comment. Itti- does have the reciprocal use, as in the English sentence “The boys hit each other.” But it also is frequently used with the meaning of together, in company with each other. “The boys shout together, in unison” When you hear it used in Choctaw, you will have to judge by the context which meaning it has.

The indirect object pronouns are:

  • Am- (to) me
  • Chim- (to) you (singular)
  • Im- (to) him, her
  • Pim- (to) us
  • Hapim- (to) us
  • Hachim- (to) you (Plural)
  • Im- (to) them

The first of these, am-, changes to sam-when it does not begin a word.

The reflexive form is ilim-. The reciprocal form is ittim-.

Towa hon ampila. He throws the ball to me. He throws me the ball.

Towa hon iksampilo. He does not throw the ball to me. He does not throw me the ball.

Students who know their English grammar will point out that in the sentence “He throws me the ball” the word me is the indirect object but that in “He throws the ball to me” the last two words constitute a prepositional phrase. The meaning of the two sentences is the same, however, and they are expressed in the same way in Choctaw.

Here are some common verbs, which you may use for practice:

  • Achi, to say, speak
  • Anoli, to tell
  • Apila, to help
  • Atobbi, to pay
  • Banna, to want
  • Binili, to sit down
  • Chompa, to buy
  • haklo, to hear
  • maka, to say
  • hotihno, to count
  • minti, to come
  • ikbi, to make
  • ikhana, to know
  • impa, to eat
  • ishko, to drink
  • issa, to cease, go away
  • nowa, to walk
  • omba, to rain
  • panaklo, to ask (a question)
  • pila, to throw

In exceptions (2) and (3) the underlining of the m and n is necessary to show that double consonants are not being used. Note that in Okla homma, Red People, the adjective homma has a double m without any nasalization of the preceding vowel.

The consonants – b, ch, f, h, k, l, lh, m, n, p, s, sh, t, w, y – have, with two exceptions, practically the same sounds that they have in English.

The more important of these two exceptions is the sound of lh, which is not heard in English. To make this sound, pronounce an l but instead of giving it a humming sound, as in English, blow air out around the side or sides of the tongue. Ilhpak, food. Olhti, district. Lhamko, strong.

The Choctaw f has a sound only slightly different from the English f. In pronouncing this in English, the lower lip is brought up against the upper teeth. In Choctaw, it is brought up against the upper lip. Fala, blackbird. Fani, squirrel. Ofi, dog.

These instructions for pronouncing lh and f cannot be called hard and fast rules. Nowadays in many parts of the Choctaw Nation you hear lh pronounced like the th in the English word think. And you hear f pronounced exactly as in English. Such changes are inevitable, but our advice is to use the original Choctaw pronunciation. If it was good enough for Pushmataha, it should be good enough for us.


FOR PRACTICE IN PRONUNCIATION, READ ALOUD THE Lord’s Prayer in Choctaw. Here is the translation given in Katikisma, the Catechism prepared for publication by a group of scholars, which included Choctaw Chief Victor M. Locke and Peter J. Hudson, who was connected with the Oklahoma Historical Society for many years. No changes have been made except to modernize some of the spellings.

“Pinki aba Ish ahanta ma! Chi hohchifo hat holitopashke; Ish apelhichika yat alashke, nana Ish ai ahni kat, aba-yakni yan kaniohmi kan chiyohmi hosh, yakni-pakna yan ai alhtahashke. Himak nitak ilhpak pim aialhpesa kak on Ish pipetashke; mikmat pishno yat, kana hat na pim ashachi tok an, il in kashoffi chatok an chiyohmi hon, pim aiashachika putta kan, Ish pin kashofashke; mikmat anok-plika yokan, ik ia chik pim ai ahno hosh amba nan-okpolo an Ish pi a lhakofihinchashke. Amen.”

Chapta Toklo
Lesson Two

If you wish to come to an understanding with a man, do not start by arguing about points you disagree. Fix your attention on what you and he have in common.

While this rule may be applied to the learning of a second language, it is difficult to follow it in the case of a language as dissimilar to English as Choctaw. Therefore we are taking up here some of the marked differences between the two tongues.

I. Number
In English it is thought necessary to distinguish between singular and plural nouns. Boy, boys, Man, men.
In Choctaw, as a rule, a noun has the same form for both the singular and the plural. Hattak, unmodified, may be translated as either man or men.
Sometimes, however, the speaker may wish to make it clear whether he means a single individual or more than one. In such a case, he adds a numeral adjective to the noun. Hattak achafa is one man. Hattak toklo, two men. Hattak lawa, many men. Hattak momma, all men.
II. Gender
In Choctaw it is usually not necessary to think of a noun as being masculine, feminine or neuter. Only a few nouns—such as hattak and ohoyo, woman – denote sex. A distinction between male and female may be made, however, by adding the words nakni, male, and tek, female. Thus, alla is a child of either sex. But alla nakni is a boy, while alla tek is a girl.
III. Case
In English, the only inflection of nouns for case that has been retained is in the possessive – the man’s house. Whether a noun is used in the nominative case, as subject of a verb, or in the objective case, as object of a verb, it remains unchanged. The man sees. I seethe man.
In Choctaw, the case of nouns must be kept constantly in mind, as there are numerous articles whose endings depend upon the case of the noun, which they modify. Hattak at pisa, the man sees. Hattak an pisali, I see the man. Hattak osh pisa, a man sees. Hattak on pisali, I see a man. Hattak inchokka (in-chokka), the man’s house (literally, the man his house). This is an extremely important difference between English and Choctaw.
IV. Verbs and Subject Personal Pronouns
Note that in the preceding section we used pisali to mean “I see.” Pisa is the verb. The subject personal pronoun is the attached –li.
“You see,” the second person singular is ish-pisa, with the subject pronoun ish- usually connected with the verb by a hyphen. (If the verb had begun with the consonant s, the ish- would have become is-.)
In the third person singular and the third person plural no subject pronoun is used. If pisa were spoken or written alone, the subject might be he or she or they. The student may find this confusing sometimes.
In the first person plural, Choctaw has two ways of saying “We see.” One, called the paucal or the definite or the exclusive plural, is I-pisa. (If the verb had begun with a vowel, il- would have been used instead of I-.) the

Chapta Ontochina
Lesson Eight

“Pinchokka an atoklant I-pisa achin himma kiyo! We shall never see our homes again!” This was the cry of the Choctaws when they heard that agents of President Andrew Jackson had induced some of their leaders to sign the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek—only twenty years after Tecumseh warned them that unless the Indian nations banded together against the United States they would all lose their homelands.

“I-pisa achin” (the words are run together in pronunciation as if the spelling were I-pi-sa-chin) is the future tense of the verb pisa, to see. This tense is simpler in Choctaw than in English. There is no need to debate over the use of “shall” or “will.” You just add achin to all forms of the verb.

This makes four tenses that we have studied: the present, the recent past, the remote past, and the future. Let’s go over them here and get them fixed in our minds.
Pisali–I see Ish-pisa –You (singular) see Pisa– He or she sees I-pisa– We (a few people) see Iho-pisa –We (more than a few) see Hash-pisa–You (plural) see Pisa–They see Remember that if the verb begins with a vowel, the subject personal pronouns for the first person plural are slightly different. For the verb achi, we would have il-achi and iloh-achi. Another point. For conversational purposes at the beginning, do not try to make a distinction between the English simple present, emphatic present and present progressive. Pisali above might be translated either “I see” or “I do see” or “I am seeing.” By all means do not use a separate verb for “do” and “am.”
PAST TENSES RECENT REMOTE Pisali tok I saw Pisalit tok Ish-pisa tok You saw Ish-pisat tok Pisa tok He, she saw Pisat tok I-pisa tok We saw I-pisat tok Iho-pisa tok We saw Iho-pisat tok Hash-pisa tok You saw Hash-pisat tok Pisa tok They saw Pisat tok FUTURE TENSE Pisali achin – I shall see Ish-pisa achin – You will see Pisa a chin – He, she will see I-pisa achin – We shall see Iho-pisa achin – We shall see Hash-pisa achin – You shall Pisa achin – They will see see

The Choctaw conjunctions most frequently used here are: Mik mat or mikmat (shortened form of yohmik mat) Micha (shortened form of yohmi-cha) Ak mat Anonti In addition to using one or another of these conjunctions between nouns, as in English, Choctaws often place a word after the last of the connected nouns. This may be the word aina or ayina (old form, aiena), or it may be a numeral summing up how many nouns are in the series. (This would correspond to the English “John and Mary, the two of them.”) If such a word is used, it is followed by an article indicating the case of the nouns, which have been mentioned. Suppose we want to say “the Choctaws and the Chickasaws.” Which conjunction shall we use? The one, which sounds best. So we experiment a bit and say: “Chahta mik mat Chiksha aina hosh.” Or “Chahta mik mat Chiksha toklo-k at.” Or the reciprocal pronoun itti- may be prefixed to the numeral giving here “Chahta mik mat Chiksha ittitoklo-k at.” Suppose we want to say “the Choctaws and the Chickasaws and the Cherokees.” If we use a numeral here, we have “Chahta mik mat Chiksha mik mat Chilakki tochchina-k at.” Or “Chahta mik mat Chiksha mik mat Chilakki ittitochchina-k at.” In saying “the Choctaws and the Chickasaws and the Cherokees,” two different conjunctions might have been used in order to avoid repetition. For an illustration of such good style in Choctaw, we may turn to the Katikisma, where “the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost” is translated “Inki micha Ushi mikmat Shilombish Holitopa aiena.”

second, called the distinctive or inclusive plural, is iho-pisa. (If the verb had begun with vowel, iloh-would have been used instead of iho-.) Today many Choctaws use the first of these forms if they have only a few people in mind, the second if they are including a considerable number of people. But sometimes the second form is used to include the person spoken to and means “you and I,” nobody else. The second person plural is hash-pisa. (Hash- becomes has-if the following letter is s.) Observe that in all the above forms (pisali, ish-pisa, pisa, I-pisa, iho-pisa, hash-pisa, pisa) the verb pisa itself has not changed. So once you have learned the subject personal pronouns you will be able to use practically any active verb in the present tense. IV. POSITION OF ADJECTIVES Here is a comparatively simple difference between the two languages, which nevertheless accounts for the fact that English-speaking people often have difficulty in understanding Choctaw. In Choctaw, as in the Latin languages, a descriptive adjective follows the noun, which it modifies. Okla, people, is a noun. Homma, red, is an adjective. Okla homma, therefore, means red people. Three commonly used Choctaw nouns are” bok, a stream of water, whether a river or merely a creek; kali (kvlih, in Allen Wright’s spelling), a spring; tashka (tvshka, Wright’s spelling), a warrior. Adjectives are: chaha, high; chito, big; losa, black; toklo, two; inla, new, strange. With this vocabulary at his command, the student should be able to translate the following names of towns and streams in southeastern Oklahoma, as listed by Dr. Charles N. Gould in his book Oklahoma Place names: Bokchito Kullichaha Tushka Bokhoma Kullichito Tushkahoma Boklusa Kulliinla Boktuklo Kullituklo ANOMPA NAN-ISHT-AIOKPACHI

For further practice in reading Choctaw, here is the Doxology as printed in the Katikisma: “Inki, micha Ushi, mikmat Shilombish Holitopa aiena kat ik holitopa. Ammona kan yammak atok osh, himak an yammak ash inli, micha himak pilla han abiliat, ont ataha yat ik-shoshke. Amen.”

Chapta Tochchina Lesson Three “I don’t see why students have trouble with a foreign language,” said a school administrator who had never studied any language except English. “All you do in Spanish and French classes is talk Spanish and French.” This good man was not aware of the obstacles ahead of the person who sets out to learn to speak a language not his own-whether it is a European tongue such as Spanish or French or a Native American language such as Choctaw. These obstacles can be overcome, however, if the student wants to overcome them, really wants to, and if the will force himself to use strange-sounding words, to use them over and over again until they become familiar to him. Here is a start on conversation in Choctaw—ittim-anompoli, talking together, to one another. Do you speak Choctaw? Chahtah an ish-achi ho? The han shows that the noun Chahta is the object of the verb. The final hon (on after a word ending in a consonant) is an interrogative particle, simply indicating that the sentence is a question, not a statement. It is spoken with a slightly rising pitch. I speak Choctaw. Chahta han achili. I do not speak Choctaw. Chahta han ak acho. Ik, the sign of negation, becomes ak before a verb in the firs person. When either ik or ak is used, a verb ending in a or I changes this ending to o. Sometimes kiyo, not, is placed after the verb, in which case ik or ak may or may not be used also. Thus there are three ways of saying “He does not speak”: Achi kiyo. Ik acho. Ik acho kiyo. Where do you live? Katimma hon ishayansha hon? I live in Durant. Ayanshali Durant. Where does he live? Katimma hon ayansha hon? He lives in Idabel. Ayansha Idabel. The interrogatives (katimma, where; kata; who; nanta; what; katiohmi; how; how many; why) are followed by the articles, which we shall take up in the next lesson. You may be wondering which Choctaw word translates the English preposition “in.” Choctaw has few words that correspond to English prepositions. In the Choctaw sentences above, the verb is really ansha (sometimes anta) and the prefix ay (or ai-) expresses the idea of the English preposition “in.” If we used the English verb “inhabit,” we would be doing exactly what the Choctaw does. I inhabit Durant. He inhabits Idabel. What is your name? Chihohchifo mat nanta ho? Literally, “your name what?”

Lesson Seven Of all the great names in Choctaw history, the most resounding one is that of Pushmataha, Chief of the Six Towns District in Mississippi. It was a speech of his, delivered in 1811, that influenced the Choctaws to adopt the policy which they were to follow down through the years—that of peace and alliance with the United States. Tecumseh, powerful leader of the Shawnees, had come south to persuade the Muskogean nations to join the confederacy, which he was forming to resist the invasion of Indian lands by white men. On a hill outside Molasha Town the Choctaws and Chickasaws met in council to hear him. Tecumseh was a fiery orator, and unquestionably he spoke the truth as he recounted the wrongs, which the Indians had suffered at the hands of citizens of the United States. Many Choctaws and Chickasaws were in favor of joining him in a war of self-preservation. But then Pushmataha arose. “His long black locks fell back from a broad manly brow, from which shone dark, eloquent eyes full of depth and fire; his face broad and of a clear olive tint, his lips thin and compressed, all united to give an expression of firmness and intellectuality. The solemn manner and long silence that he assumed fell with unmistakable meaning upon the silent throng, upon whose faces still shone the light of the blazing council fire, reflecting no longer conflicting emotions, but one seemingly united all pervading sentiment. War and extermination to the whites.” “Omikhke!” Pushmataha spoke at last. “Anompa tilofasi ish haklo.” Attention! Listen to a few words from me.” The council listened—and then ordered Tecumseh to leave the Choctaw Nation. We have Pushmataha’s full speech only in an English version. But even reading this, with a dramatic description of the scene in Cushman’s History of the Choctaw, we can get a good idea of Choctaw oratory—its balanced phrases, its deliberateness, its sonorous dignity. “The war which you are now contemplating against the white men is a flagrant breach of justice; yea, a fearful blemish on your honor and also that of your fathers. And if you examine it carefully and judiciously you will find that it forebodes nothing but destruction to our entire race.” The Choctaw language is so well suited to speech-making that we have wondered if its abundance of little articles did not evolve from a tendency to make even everyday sentences oratorical—clear in meaning, balanced, euphonious. Of course the student cannot expect to learn to speak Choctaw oratorically in a short time. He should begin by expressing himself in short simple sentences. Instead of trying to say, “I went to town and ate,” say, “I went to town. I ate.” Tamaha iyali tok. Impali tok. The use of compound and complex sentences may be taken up gradually, because this will necessitate a study of the various conjunctions—so-called although most of them have case endings like the articles and some have verbal functions in that they indicate tense. For the time being, we are taking up only the translation of the English conjunction “and” when it connects two or more nouns.

Taking nipi, meat, as an example, we have: annipi, chinnipi innipi, pinnipi, hapinnipi, hachinnipi, innipi. As a general rule, ownership of inalienable nouns is expressed by the use of the following prefixes: Sa-, my Chi-, my i-, his or her pi-, our (if only a few people are concerned) hapi-, our (if a number of people are concerned) hachi-, your (if speaking to more than one person) i-, their

Let’s take nishkin, eye, and an example. Attaching the above prefixes, we have: sanishkin, chinishkin, inishkin, pinishkin, hapinishkin, hachinishkin, inishkin.

  Some inalienable nouns, which express kinship, may use a- instead of sa- for the first person singular.

The word for mother is never used without a prefix, It will always have one of the following forms; ashki, chishki, ishki, pishki, hhapishki, hachishki, ishki. The same rule applies to the word for father. It will always have one of these forms: anki, chinki, inki, pinki, hapinki, hachinki, inki. To a Choctaw child in the old days, which was more import: inki, his father, or ishki, his mother? His mother, decidedly, because Choctaw society was matrilineal. Descent was reckoned from the mother. A sister of one’s mother was also called ishki, and the mother’s brothers had the duty of seeing to the upbringing of her children, disciplining them and in the course of time arranging marriages for them.

The verb “to be” is usually not expressed in Choctaw My name is… … … … … … Sahohchifo mat … … … … … … This question and this answer would have been out of place among our Choctaw ancestors. A person’s name was such a personal thing that he would not speak it unless it was absolutely necessary to do so. A good wife refrained from speaking the name of her husband. At most, she would refer to him as the father of one of their children. And there was a very strict taboo against uttering the name of a dead person.

Chapta Oshta Lesson Four In what is now Winston County, Mississippi, stood the sacred mound of Nanih Waya, legendary birthplace of the Choctaw people. A picture of Nanih Waya as it was in 1918 will be found in Angie Debo’s The Rise and Fall of the Choctaw Republic, and anyone who looks at this will have little doubt that in the construction of the mound the Choctaws were influenced by the great Indian civilizations of Mexico, where long before Columbus arrived the Olmecs and the Mayas and the Toltecs were erecting pyramids to serve as bases for their temples. “Hopaki fihna kash, hattak at atoba ammona kat Nanih Waya.” Thus begins a Choctaw creation myth told by Isaac Pist Onat Abi, a Mississippi Choctaw, in the late 1900’s. The complete text appeared in Publications of the Mississippi Historical Society, Vol. IV, and is reprinted by Thurston Dale Nicklas in his Choctaw Orthography. It will serve to initiate the student into the use of the Choctaw articles, little words that are big in their importance. “A very long time ago,” a literal translation runs, “man the place-where-he-came-into-being first (was) Nanih Waya.” In “hattakat” we have the article a- with the ending –t because it is used with a noun in the nominative case. (A dash after an article indicates that the case ending can be added to it. A dash before a letter or combination of letters indicated that it can be used as a suffix.) In “atoba ammona kat” we have this same article with the prefix k- because it is separated from the noun, which it modifies, “atoba,” by an adjective, “ammona.” If the noun “hattak” had been in the objective case, the article would have had the ending –n instead of –t. “Hattak an.” Or if the contrasting article o- had been used, it would have had the ending –sh in the nominative case. “Hattak osh.” You will notice that in “hattak at” the article is not translated into English, since the noun is used in a general sense. In “atoba ammona kat” the word “kat” is translated “the.” Sometimes forms of a- become “a” or “an” in English. It is simply not possible to give a precise meaning for each of these articles. Others, with approximate meanings, are: ma- and yamma-, “that” or “those”; pa- and ilappa-, “this” or “these.” Any of these, including a-, may be used alone with the case ending required; or the suffix –o may be added to them for emphasis. Accordingly we have in the nominative case the following: Hattak at or ato - - - - - Hattak mat or mato - - - - - Hattak yammat or yammato Hattak pat or pato - - - - - Hattak ilappat or ilappato - - - - - If the noun is in the objective case, these become: Hattak an or ano - - - - - Hattak man or mano Hattak yamman or yammano - - - - - Hattak pan or pano

Chapta Hannali Lesson Six Every year, on the first Saturday in May, the Atoka County Historical Society presents an outdoor pageant. JOURNEY’S END, in which we reenact some of the great scenes from Choctaw History: the confrontation of Pushmataha and Tecumseh in 1811; the signing of the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek in 1831; the winter time removal of our people to new homes across the Mississippi River; the signing of the Atoka Agreement in 1897; and the final merging of Indian Territory and Oklahoma Territory into the State of Oklahoma in 1907. After the performance in Stanley Park we always sense an amount of disappointment among the youngsters in the audience. They have come expecting to see what they have seen in so many movies: Indians in feathers and war paint dancing and whooping and attacking wagon trains. Instead they have seen peaceable, soft-spoken Indians whose main occupations were agriculture and trade, whose favorite diversion was the ball game. This home-staying, home-loving life of the Choctaws—contrasting with the nomad’s of the buffalo-hunting tribes of the Great Plains—may be reflected in the Choctaw language, with its highly systematized ways of expressing ownership of things, relationship to persons. Choctaw nouns fall into two classes: alienable and inalienable. Alienable nouns represent things that an individual actually owns, that may be bought and sold: a house, a boat, and meat. Inalienable nouns represent either things that an individual is normally born with—eyes, hands and feet—or his kinship with other persons. To express ownership of alienable nouns, which begin with a vowel or with the consonants b or p, the following basic pronouns are prefixed to the noun: Am-, my - - - - - chim-, your (if speaking to one person) - - - - - im-, his or her Pim-, our (if only a few people are concerned) - - - - - Hapim-, our (if a number of people are concerned) - - - - - Hachim-, your (if speaking to more than one person) - - - - - Im-, their Thus, taking pini, boat, as an example, we have the following forms: ampini, chimpini, impini, pimpini, hapimpini, hachimpini, impini. If the alienable noun begins with a consonant besides b or p, m or n, the m- of the above prefixes becomes n-. Taking chokka, house, as an example, we have: anchokka, chinchokka, inchokka, pinchokka, hapinchokka, hachinchokka, inchokka. If the alienable noun begins with the letter m, the m of the prefix is underlined, to show that this is not a double consonant but that the m of the prefix is silent and its preceding vowel nasalized. Taking minko, chief, as an example, we have: amminko, chimminko, imminko, pimminko, hapimminko, hachimminko, imminko. If the alienable noun begins with the letter n, the n of the prefix is underlined, to show that this is not a double consonant but that the n of the prefix is silent and its preceding vowel nasalized.

“Kanima” means somewhere, but here it is made negative by the ik- prefixing the following word. Ik, used alone or as a prefix, is the sign of negation in Choctaw. When it is placed before a verb, adjective or adverb ending in the letters a or I, these endings are changed to o. In “ilappakinlih” we have the article ilappa taking the suffix –k before adding the article inlih. The verb ayyasha, to have one’s home in a place, is formed from the “locative particle” ai-, which is found in many words. Now we suggest that you read aloud the whole excerpt from this creation myth, getting the meaning without pausing to analyze grammatical constructions. Bring out those little articles—at, kat, yosh, etc.—but do not worry if it is not always clear to you why one is used instead of another. “Hopaki fihna kash, hattak at atoba ammona kat Nanih Waya. “Mashkoki yosh tikba Nanih Waya akochchat tok oki. Hashi akochchaka ilhkolit tok oki.” “Mih man, Chiksha yosh atochchinat Nanih Waya akochchat tok oki. Chilakki at atiyat tok an iyakkayat ilhkolit tok osh.” “Mih man, Chahta yosh atochchinat Nanih Waya akochchat tok oki. Chilakki at atiyat tok an iyakkayat ilhkolit tok osh.” “Mih man, Chahta yosh ont ayoshtah man Nanih Waya yamman isht ayyopi akochchat tok oki. Kanima ikayoh osh yakni ilappakinlih on abinohlit tok osh, Chahta at ayyashah oki.”

Hattak ilappan or ilappano. Another common article is oka-, pronounced with the o long and not to be confused with the noun oka meaning water. It has the same forms as ma-: in the nominative, okat and okato; in the objective, okan and okano. Other articles are: o-, ash o-, inlih, the first two of which have –sh for a nominative ending. O- usually indicates decided contrast. Ash o- corresponds to the English “the aforesaid.” Inlih may have such translations as “the same” or “self.” O- and ash o-never add the emphatic suffix –o , thus we have in the nominative case osh and ash osh, in the objective case on and ash on. These last three articles—0-, ash o- and inlih—may be used after the articles a-, ma-, yamma-, pa-, ilappa- and oka-. When this is done, the suffix –k is attached to the first article. A- becomes ak. Ma- becomes mak. Yamma- becomes yammak, Pa- becomes pak. Ilappa- becomes ilappak. Oka- becomes akak. Thus, taking a- as an example, we might have in the nominative case: ak osh, ak ash osh, ak inlih osh. In the objective case these would become: ak on, ak ash on, ak inlih on. Two more articles should be mentioned: atok, pronounced with the a long, and ok. Neither of these is ever used alone. They are followed by another article, usually some form of ma- or oka-. Thus we might have in the nominative case atok mat and ok mat—or, with the –o added for emphasis—atok mato and ok mato. In the objective case these would become atok man and ok man, atok mano and ok mano. Here—in a rather tough nutshell—are the Choctaw articles. The student should not expect to master them all at once. Nor should he be discouraged if he has difficulty in finding exact English equivalents for them. It is probably enough at the start to note in reading or hearing them how they always indicate the case of a noun—whether it is used as a subject or object in a sentence.

Chapta Talhappi Lesson Five Let’s go on with the Choctaw creation myth, which we began, in the last lesson. “Mashkoki yosh tikba Nanih Waya akochchat tok oki. Hashi akochchaka ilhkolit tok oki.” “The Creeks came first out Nanih Waya. Toward the east they went.” A bow to the Creeks and the closely related Seminoles! Not only were they created before the Choctaws, according to this myth, but they also gave their name to the Muskogean linguistic stock. “Yosh” is the article osh with the letter y placed before it because the preceding word ends in a vowel. Sometimes hosh is used under these circumstances. According to Allen Wright, the use of these variations of osh (and other articles beginning with a vowel) is a matter of euphony. Choctaw has tow past tenses: the recent and the remote. Both Byington and Wright express these by adding tuk to the verb if its action took place recently, tok if the action took place along time ago. Nicklas, whose system of spelling we are following, uses tok to express the recent past and –t tok to express the remote past. Akochcha is the verb to come out, to emerge from a place. If the Creeks had come out of Nanih Waya recently, the form of this verb would have been akochcha tok. But this event occurred ages ago, so we have akochchat tok. Byington calls oki “a final particle of assertion.” It corresponds somewhat to an exclamation point in English and need not be translated. “Hashi akochchaka” means literally “the rising sun.” Ilhkoli is the verb “to go.” Ilhkolit tok is its remote past tense, “they went.” “Mih man, Chilakki yosh atoklant Nanih Waya akochchat tok oki. Falammi imma akon ilhkolit tok osh, falammi imma akon ont ayoklachit tok oki.” “Then the Cherokees secondly came out of Nanih Waya. Toward the north they went and in the north they settled and became a people.” “Akon” is the article a- with the letter –k attached because it is followed by on. It takes its case, the objective, from the noun “falammi,” the north. “Ont” is called by Byington a “directive particle,” indicating an action from the speaker, or the place of its origin. Usually the English translation is to go and do something. “Mih man, Chiksha yosh atochchinat Nanih Waya akochchat tok oki. Chilakki at atiyat tok an iyakkayat ilhkolit tok osh.” “Then the Chickasaws came thirdly out Nanih Waya. Where the Cherokees had made a trail, they went and followed.” Atiya means to travel a road for the first time. Iyakkaya, to go after, to follow, is formed from the verb iya, to go. “Mih man, Chahta yosh ont ayoshtah man Nanih Waya yamman isht ayyopi akochchat tok oki. Kanima ikayoh osh yakni ilappakinlih on abinohlit tok osh. Chahta at ayyashah oki.” “Then the Choctaws came out of Nanih Waya fourth and last. They did not go anywhere but settled down in this very same land, and it is the Choctaw’s home.” “Isht ayyopi,” the last ones. 13