Choctaw is a very complex language, but
the following will give you a very brief
description of its sounds and how they are written in the
Byington orthograpy used by
the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma. (The Mississippi Band of Choctaw
three orthographies, including the Byington orthography, and the
uses yet another one for its closely related language.) Our
examples are not perfect,
but they are about as good an idea as one can get without
spending a long time with a
Choctaw is an oral language that was first reduced to writing in
the nineteenth century
by Cyrus Byington, a Presbyterian missionary. He was able to use
the letters of the
roman alphabet to represent most of the sounds in Choctaw. The
main differences are
that he used the Greek letter upsilon for the short a sound
(sort of like the a in against),
and lh or hl for the aspirated l sound (sort of like the lth
sound in health if you can make the sound without voicing the l.
In other words, put your tongue up behind your teeth like you
would if you were going to pronounce the l, and then exhale the
th sound). The roman
letter v is often substituted for the Greek upsilon. In writing, lh is used before
consonants and hl is used before vowels. You will also see ch as
in cheese and sh as
The Choctaw language does not use the English consonants or
letters C, D, G, J, Q,
R, V, X or Z. There are essentially three vowels - a, i and o,
each of which has three
sounds - long, short and nasal. The short sounds are written v,
i and u, respectively.
The long sounds are written a, e and o. The nasal sounds are
denoted by (1) the vowel
followed by m before p or b, (2) the vowel followed by n before
t, ch or l, and (3) the vowel is
underlined or typed with a superscript n in all other cases.
Examples of (1) are ampo
for dish, impa for eat and ombinili for chair. Examples of (2)
are tanchi for corn, pinti for
mouse, and isapontuk for mosquito. Examples of (3) are aki
for my father, chiki for your
father, and shoshi for bug or worm. However, you may see
many different styles of writing and spelling, and people play
fast and loose with o's and u's.
There are two dipthongs (combinations) - ai and au, which
sometimes appear as ay or
aw. Ai sounds like the English i in ice or mice, and au sounds
similar to the ou in house
Choctaw does not have any plurals. The only way to make a noun
plural is to add a
number or a quantity. Ofi can be one dog or a hundred dogs. You
must say ofi tuklo for
two dogs, or ofi laua for a lot of dogs.
Likewise, Choctaw does not have any gender specific nouns except
hattak (man) and ohoyo (woman). To make the generic cow (wak)
male you must add nakni and to make her female you must add tek,
giving wak nakni, the bull, and wak tek, the moo cow. Gender
does appear in kinship terms, but that subject is too
complicated to cover in
years, much less our fifteen minutes.
Choctaw, Chickasaw, and Creek/Seminole are all members of the
language family. Choctaw and Chickasaw are very similar because
they separated very
recently in the archaeological sense. They are very different
because their predecessors separated a very long time ago.
However, they all still
share a basic set of sounds and grammatical construction.
Choctaw does not have nearly as many words as
English, so one word may have many meanings. Anumpa, for
example not only means word, but it can also mean a
language, news, and
all sorts of things connected with words. Choctaw language is
Chahta anumpa, but Chahta anumpa could also mean a Choctaw word.
You may see or hear the word na hullo,
which is the Choctaw term for a European (white) man. Since
English is the predominant European language in the United
you will also see the English language referred to as na hullo
anumpa or simply as na hullo.
And, here is the phrase that everyone wants
"I love you" is "Chi hollo li."