New Choctaw Dictionary Unveiled

by KENDRA GERMANY

Chief Gary Batton signs a copy of the New Choctaw Dictionary for Lillie Roberts. Roberts is a New Choctaw Dictionary committee member and worked on the project. 

On March 20, the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma unveiled the New Choctaw Dictionary.

The new dictionary has been long awaited.

The project was a 14 year long process, and a passion of the numerous people who have worked on the dictionary over the years.

Members of the Choctaw Nation Language Department and many volunteers worked diligently editing, reviewing, researching, and translating the Choctaw language for the new dictionary.

Prior to the new dictionary, the only other official compiled resource of the Choctaw language was Cyrus Byington’s Dictionary of the Choctaw Language. Byington’s dictionary was published in the 1800s. Though useful, Byington’s dictionary could be difficult to use for fluent and non-fluent speakers alike.

“I think it is of immense value that we remember this body of work,” said Teresa Billy, Assistant Director of the Language Department. “Our story today is only an extension of that process. Without it, we wouldn’t be here today.”

The new dictionary is a user-friendly compilation of Choctaw words with corresponding English translations. 

According to Billy, having the New Choctaw Dictionary is a significant moment in Choctaw history.

 “The significance of having a Choctaw dictionary at this time is we’ve had one that was created more than 100 years ago. We have a lot of new learners. Back in the 1820s, 30s and 40s when the original previous dictionary was being developed people were already fluent speakers,” said Billy. “Fast forward to today’s time, and we have a lot of people who are learning the language who are not fluent speakers. So they needed a tool and aid to help them to find words.”

 According to Billy, the New Choctaw Dictionary will be a useful tool for those who are new to the Choctaw language.

“We’ll never get rid of the old one, because it has too much information and a lot of information. It will always be resourced and referenced,” said Billy. “However, for a person who is just desiring to learn, they can pick up the new dictionary right away and begin to use it.”

According to Jim Parrish, Executive Director of the Choctaw Language Department, the New Choctaw Dictionary will benefit students of the Choctaw Nation School of Language tremendously.

“This Choctaw dictionary is going to help all students,” said Parrish. “Because it’s going to be a reference point. It’s going to be a little easier for them to look up words. Even if they know the Choctaw words, they’ll see the English definition. But if they know the English word they’re looking for, they now can look that up and see how that word is spoken in Choctaw.”

Parish believes the new dictionary will be beneficial to those who wish to be second language speakers of the Choctaw language.

“These were words spoken by the Choctaws of Oklahoma. We picked out about 4,000 words that are in the new dictionary, and these words are going to benefit a lot of people. They are going to be able to see that these are the most common spoken words. Hopefully by using that, they will be second language learners.” 

Chief Gary Batton is also hopeful the New Choctaw Dictionary will help in the revival and survival of the Choctaw language.

“It’s emotional for me, because I think about all of our people that have lost the language,” said Chief Batton. “Our language is going to survive, and our people are going to survive.”

The new Choctaw Dictionary is available for purchase at the Choctaw Store located at 1882 Hwy. 69/75 Colbert, OK 74733.

Visit http://www.choctawstore.com/all-products/books-cds/ to purchase online, or call the Choctaw Store at (855) 865-7854 to order over the phone. 

Pictured are language instructors from the Choctaw School of Language, volunteers, Choctaw Tribal Council, Chief Gary Batton and Assistant Chief Jack Austin Jr.