|Spoken in||United States|
|Region||Southeastern Oklahoma and east central Mississippi, and into Louisiana and Tennessee|
|Total speakers||17,890 |
|Note: This page may contain IPA phonetic symbols in Unicode.|
The Choctaw language, traditionally spoken by the Native American Choctaw people of the southeastern United States, is a member of the Muskogean family. The Choctaw language was well known as a lingua franca of the frontiersmen of the early 19th century, including eventual American Presidents Andrew Jackson and William Henry Harrison. Although Chickasaw is sometimes listed as a dialect of Choctaw, more extensive documentation of Chickasaw has shown that Choctaw and Chickasaw are best treated as separate but closely related languages (Munro 1984).
The written Choctaw language is based upon English version of the Roman alphabet and was developed in conjunction with the civilization program of the United States in the early 1800s. Although there are other variation of the Choctaw alphabet, the three most commonly seen are the Byington (Original), Byington/Swanton (Linguistic), and Modern (Mississippi Choctaw).
Many publications by linguists about the Choctaw language use a slight variant of the "modern" orthography listed here, where long vowels are written as doubled. In the "Linguistic" version, the acute accent shows the position of the pitch accent, rather than the length of the vowel.
The discussion of Choctaw grammar below uses the linguistic variant of the orthography.
There are three dialects of Choctaw (Mithun 1999):
Some orthographies use <š> and <č> for /ʃ/ and /tʃ/; others use the digraphs <sh> and <ch>. /j/ is spelled <y>, and most modern orthographies use <lh> to represent the lateral fricative.
|Close||i, iː, ĩː|
|Close-mid||o, oː, õː|
|Open||a, aː, ãː|
In closed syllables, [ɪ], [ʊ], and [ə] occur as allophonic variants of /i/, /o/, and /a/. In the orthography, nasalized vowels are usually indicated by underlining the vowel (e.g., o̱ represents /õː/), and the allophonic [ʊ] is often written <u>. The traditional orthography (used in the Choctaw New Testament) uses <v> and <u> to represent the lax allophones of short /a/ and /o/--that is, [ə] and [ʊ]. This orthography also use <e> to represent some cases of /iː/, and <i> for others, and also use <a>, <i>, and <o> to represent both the long and short phonemes of /a/, /i/, and /o/.
Choctaw verbs display a wide range of inflectional and derivational morphology. In Choctaw, the category of verb may also include words that would be categorized as adjectives or quantifiers in English. Verbs may be preceded by up to three prefixes and followed by as many as five suffixes. In addition, verb roots may contain infixes that convey aspectual information.
The verbal prefixes convey information about the arguments of the verb—how many there are and their person and number features. The prefixes can be divided into three sorts: agreement markers, applicative markers, and anaphors (reflexives and reciprocals). These prefixes occur in the following order:
The agreement affixes are shown in the following chart. All but one of them are prefixes, only (-li) is a suffix.
I, II, and III are neutral labels for the three person marking paradigms. Some authors have called them Actor/Patient/Dative or Nominative/Accusative/Dative.
The 1sg I agreement marker is /-li/, the only suffix among the agreement markers. It is discussed in this section along with the other agreement markers.
I, II, and III agreement are conditioned by various kinds of arguments. Transitive active verbs show the most predictable pattern. With a typical transitive active verb, the subject will take I agreement, the direct object will take II agreement, and the indirect object will take III agreement.
As the chart above shows, there is no person-number agreement for third person arguments. Consider the following paradigms:
When a transitive verb occurs with more than one agreement prefix, I prefixes precede II and III prefixes:
Intransitive verbs show more complicated patterns of agreement. For intransitive verbs, the subjects of active verbs typically trigger I agreement, the subjects of stative verbs typically trigger II agreement, and III agreement is found with the subjects of some psychological verbs.
This type of morphology is generally referred to as active-stative.
The set of agreement markers labelled N above is used with negatives. Negation is multiply marked, requiring that an agreement marker from the N set replace the ordinary I agreement, the verb appear in the lengthened grade (see discussion below), and that the suffix /-o(k)-/ follow the verb, with deletion of the preceding final vowel. The optional suffix /-kii/may be added after /-o(k)-/. Consider the following example:
Compare this with the affirmative counterpart:
To make this example negative, the 1sI suffix /-li/ is replaced by the 1sN prefix /ak-/; the verb root iya is lengthened and accented to yield íiya; the suffix /-o/ is added, the final vowel of iiya is deleted; and the suffix /-kii/ is added.
Reflexives are indicated with the /ili-/ prefix, and reciprocals with /itti-/:
While the verbal prefixes indicate relations between the verb and its arguments, the suffixes cover a wider semantic range, including information about valence, modality, tense and evidentiality.
The following examples show modal and tense suffixes like /-aachii/ 'irrealis'(approximately equal to future), /-tok/ 'past tense', /-h/ 'default tenses':
`She will run.'
There are also suffixes that show evidentiality, or the source of evidence for a statement, as in the following pair:
`She fried the meat.' (I saw/heard/smelled her do it.)
`She fried the meat.' (I guess)
There are also suffixes of illocutionary force which may indicate that the sentence is a question, an exclamation, or a command:
`Did she fry it?'
`I'm Choctaw!' or `I certainly am a Choctaw!'
Choctaw verb stems have various infixes that indicate their aspect. These stem variants are traditionally referred to as `grades'. The table below shows the grades of Choctaw, along with their main usage.
|Name of Grade||How it is formed||When it is used|
|n-grade||infix n in the next to last (penultimate) syllable; put accent on this syllable||to show that the action is durative (lasts some definite length of time)|
|l-grade||put accent on next to last (penultimate) syllable; lengthen the vowel if the syllable is open||before a few common suffixes, such as the negative /-o(k)/ and the switch-reference markers /-cha/ and /-na/|
|hn-grade||insert a new syllable /-hV/ after the (original) next to last (penultimate) syllable. V is a nasalized copy of the vowel that precedes it.||to show that the action of the verb repeats|
|y-grade||insert -Vyy- before the next to last (penultimate) syllable||to show delayed inception|
|g-grade||formed by lengthening the penultimate vowel of the stem, accenting the antepenultimate vowel, and geminating the consonant that follows the antepenult.||to show delayed inception|
|h-grade||insert -h- after the penultimate vowel of the stem.||to show sudden action|
Some examples that show the grades follow:
In this example the l-grade appears because of the suffixes /-na/ 'different subject' and /-o(k)/ 'negative':
... lowat táahana falaamat akíiyokiittook.
lowa-t táaha-na falaama-t ak-íiya-o-kii-ttook
burn-ss complete<lgr>-ds return-ss 1sN-go<lgr>-neg-neg-dpast
`... (the school) burned down and I didn't go back.'
The g-grade and y-grade typically get translated into English as "finally VERB-ed":
`He finally sang.'
The hn-grade is usually translated as 'kept on VERBing':
Ohóbana nittak pókkooli’ oshtattook.
Ohóba-na nittak pókkooli’ oshta-ttook
rain<hngr>-ds day ten four-dpast
`It kept on raining for forty days.'
The h-grade is usually translated "just VERB-ed" or "VERB-ed for a short time":
`He took a quick nap.
Nouns have prefixes that show agreement with a possessor. Agreement markers from class II are used on a lexically specified closed class of nouns, which includes many (but not all) of the kinship terms and body parts. This is the class that is generally labeled inalienable.
sanoshkobo’ `my head'
chinoshkobo’ `your head'
noshkobo’ `his/her/its/their head'
sashki’ `my mother'
chishki’ `your mother'
Nouns that are not lexically specified for II agreement use the III agreement markers:
aki’ `my father'
amofi’ `my dog'
Although systems of this type are generally described with the terms alienable and inalienable, these term is not particularly appropriate for Choctaw, since alienability implies a semantic distinction between types of nouns. The morphological distinction between nouns taking II agreement and III agreement in Choctaw only partly coincides with the semantic notion of alienability.
Choctaw nouns can be followed by various determiner and case-marking suffixes, as in the following examples, where we see determiners such as /-ma/ `that', /-pa/ `this', and /-akoo/ `contrast' and case-markers /-(y)at/ 'nominative' and /-(y)a/ 'accusative':
`that boy (nominative)'
Hoshiit itti chaahamako obiniilih.
Hoshi’-at itti’ chaaha-m-ako o-biniili-h
bird-nom tree tall-that-cntr:acc superessive-sit-tns
`The bird is sitting on that tall tree.' (Not on the short one.)
The last example shows that nasalizing the last vowel of the preceding N is a common way to show the accusative case.
The simplest sentences in Choctaw consist of a verb and a tense marker, as in the following examples:
'She/he/it is fat.'
'They are fat.'
'She/he/it/they saw her/him/it/them.'
As these examples show, there are no obligatory noun phrases in a Choctaw sentence, nor is there any verbal agreement that indicates a third person subject or object. There is no indication of grammatical gender, and for third person arguments there is no indication of number. (There are, however, some verbs with suppletive forms that indicate the number of a subject or object, e.g. iyah `to go (sg.)', ittiyaachih `to go (du.)', and ilhkolih `to go (pl)'.)
When there is an overt subject, it is obligatorily marked with the nominative case /-at/. Subjects precede the verb
`The birds ate them.'
When there is an overt object, it is optionally marked with the accusative case /-a/:
Hoshiyat shoshi(-ya) apatok.
Hoshi'-at shoshi'(-a) apa-tok.
bird-nom bug-(acc) eat-pt
'The birds ate the bugs.'
The Choctaw sentence is normally verb-final, and so the head of the sentence is last.
Some other phrases in Choctaw also have their head at the end. Possessors precede the possessed noun in the Noun Phrase:
'the dog's name'
Choctaw has postpositional phrases with the postposition after its object:
`near a town'
Some common Choctaw phrases (written in the "Modern" orthography):
Other Choctaw words:
Counting to twenty:
At " Native Nashville " web , there is an Online Choctaw Language Tutor, with Pronunciation Guide and four lessons: Small Talk, Animals, Food and Numbers.