Lexicography

Many of the words considered in these posts are from A Dictionary of the Choctaw Language by Cyrus Byington. It is a Choctaw lexicon that was collected over the course of Byington’s near 50 years of missionary work in Mississippi from 1819-1868. Choctaw people named a lot of stuff for him, and yet it is hard to know how many of the words were distinctly Choctaw, or were not, or in either case, have unique and traceable or untraceable etymologies. A look at most pages will show words that were created as descriptive names for English words, like to help make a translation of the New Testament. Some words come from diverse Choctaw dialects that don’t exist today, but the words still do. There are quite a few cognates that were derived from other languages, and ironically, it’s harder to know this when they are derived from other North American languages. Most importantly, there are so many words that were not influenced by other languages even if they rarely see the light of day. Luckily, there are some specific examples of all these types of lexemes in the Byington Dictionary, that even come with etymological notes of explanation. And this is what makes things fun.

At this point in time, some words in Byington could be considered extinct, in that they will likely never return to use in the living language, most probably because they were never colloquial. But other words really need to be revitalized, which is a big part of reversing a language from its decline. So, as a language revitalizer, the more time spent with the Byington dictionary makes it clear that it is still vital because it provides a tool for reclaiming Choctaw words; it provides a jumping off point for discourse; and there is still plenty to be researched and considered within it.

Now jump ahead 100+ years, from when the edited version of the Byington dictionary was published by Swanton and Halbert in 1915. You will be pleased to know that plenty of lexicography work continues to be done for Choctaw. It is the opinion of this writer that no matter what, new glossaries or lexicons need to be accompanied with audio samples of the words, spoken by fluent speakers, and preferably, contextualized (see rant below). So, because this writer is involved in that activity in Mississippi, it is now time to share a newer lexicon: Chahta Anno̱pa Áyikhana: Teaching Dictionary, Trial Edition. This will be helpful for readers who are not as familiar with the modern Choctaw alphabet. It is a trial edition so if you have helpful input or insights your feedback is appreciated. Our goal, is that in less than 100 years, all the words and phrases in this dictionary will be available with audio samples, or, in other more interactive digital forms (hint, hint).

The two lexicons paired here will be the primary sources for these posts. This is noted because, even as the writer may be conducting an analysis of lexemes from Byington, the Choctaw has likely been transliterated to match the orthography used in the modern dictionary. Examples of this type of transliteration are on the Transliteration page under Choctaw Primer.

Rant: Additionally, colloquialisms, namely contractions, need to be better documented. They are how the language has evolved, and so formal constructions of complex phrases really do not help language learners become conversant, because fluent speakers do not talk that way to each other.