Chickasaw language

Last updated
Native to United States
RegionSouth central Oklahoma, from Byng or Happyland (near Ada) north, and from Davis or Ardmore west to Fillmore and Wapanucka in east.
Ethnicity35,000 (1999) [1]
Native speakers
75 (2017) [1]
  • Western Muskogean
    • Chickasaw
Language codes
ISO 639-3 cic
Glottolog chic1270 [2]
Oklahoma Indian Languages.png
Map showing the distribution of Oklahoma Indian Languages
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters. For a guide to IPA symbols, see Help:IPA.

The Chickasaw language (Chikashshanompa' , IPA [tʃikaʃːanompaʔ]) is a Native American language of the Muskogean family. It is agglutinative and follows the word order pattern of subject–object–verb (SOV). [3] The language is closely related to, though perhaps not entirely mutually intelligible with, Choctaw. It is spoken by the Chickasaw tribe, now residing in Southeast Oklahoma, centered on Ada.

The International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) is an alphabetic system of phonetic notation based primarily on the Latin alphabet. It was devised by the International Phonetic Association in the late 19th century as a standardized representation of the sounds of spoken language. The IPA is used by lexicographers, foreign language students and teachers, linguists, speech-language pathologists, singers, actors, constructed language creators and translators.

Muskogean languages language family

Muskogean is language family spoken in different areas of the Southeastern United States. Though there is an ongoing debate concerning their interrelationships, the Muskogean languages are generally divided into two branches, Eastern Muskogean and Western Muskogean. Typologically, Muskogean languages are agglutinative. One language, Apalachee, is extinct and the remaining languages are critically endangered.

In linguistic typology, a subject–object–verb (SOV) language is one in which the subject, object, and verb of a sentence always or usually appear in that order. If English were SOV, "Sam oranges ate" would be an ordinary sentence, as opposed to the actual Standard English "Sam ate oranges".


The language is currently spoken by about 75 people. [4]


Chickasaw, Choctaw and Houma form the Western branch of the Muskogean language family. The Chickasaw and Choctaw were once one tribe who similarly spoke the Muskogean languages. [5] The Chickasaw language was spoken until 1970 but has since become an endangered language. [5] Chickasaw is also related to Alabama, Koasati, Mvskoke (Creek)-Seminole, Hitchiti and Mikasuki. [6]

Choctaw language Muskogean language traditionally spoken by the Choctaw people

The Choctaw language, traditionally spoken by the Native American Choctaw people of the southeastern United States, is a member of the Muskogean family. Chickasaw, Choctaw and Houma form the Western branch of the Muskogean language family. 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.

Alabama is a Native American language, spoken by the Alabama-Coushatta tribe of Texas. It was once spoken by the Alabama-Quassarte Tribal Town of Oklahoma, but there are no more Alabama speakers in Oklahoma. It is a Muskogean language, and is believed to have been related to the Muklasa and Tuskegee languages, which are no longer extant. Alabama is closely related to Koasati and Apalachee, and more distantly to other Muskogean languages like Hitchiti, Chickasaw and Choctaw.

Koasati language Native American language spoken in Louisiana

Koasati is a Native American language of Muskogean origin. The language is spoken by the Coushatta people, most of whom live in Allen Parish north of the town of Elton, Louisiana, though a smaller number share a reservation near Livingston, Texas, with the Alabama people. In 1991, linguist Geoffrey Kimball estimated the number of speakers of the language at around 400 people, of whom approximately 350 live in Louisiana. The exact number of current speakers is unclear, but Coushatta Tribe officials claim that most tribe members over 20 speak Koasati. In 2007, the Coushatta Tribe of Louisiana, in collaboration with McNeese State University and the College of William and Mary, began the Koasati (Coushatta) Language Project as a part of broader language revitalization efforts with National Science Foundation grant money under the Documenting Endangered Languages program.


Sometime prior to the first European contact, the Chickasaw migrated from western regions and moved east of the Mississippi River, where they settled mostly in present-day northeast Mississippi. Chickasaw towns and villages were structured to be densely populated as a wartime measure but encompassed larger areas when there was no conflict with enemies. [5] A main house and main meeting ground were used to gather groups from the Chickasaw community for ceremonies, celebratory affairs, and to discuss important social, cultural, and political matters. [5] There was a division and specialization in labor done by men who prepared the community for war, hunted for food, and made provisions for the defense of their communities while Chickasaw women tended the home, handled farming and agriculture, and raised the families. [5] They would eventually come into contact with Europeans as time passed on and European exploration of their lands took shape. [5] That is where they encountered European explorers and traders, having relationships with French, English and Spanish during the colonial years. The United States considered the Chickasaw one of the Five Civilized Tribes, as they adopted numerous practices of European Americans. Resisting European-American settlers encroaching on their territory, they were forced by the US to sell their country in 1832 and move to Indian Territory (Oklahoma) during the era of Indian Removal in the 1830s.

Current status

Chickasaw language stop sign, with Chickasaw word "Hika" ("stop"), in Ada, Oklahoma. Chickasaw stop.jpg
Chickasaw language stop sign, with Chickasaw word "Hika" ("stop"), in Ada, Oklahoma.
Language offerings for audio tours at the Chickasaw Cultural Center, including Chickasaw, English, and Spanish. Chickasawlanguageaudiotour.jpg
Language offerings for audio tours at the Chickasaw Cultural Center, including Chickasaw, English, and Spanish.

Emily Johnson Dickerson, the last monolingual speaker of Chickasaw, died on December 30, 2013. [7] Ethnologue estimated in its seventeenth edition that Chickasaw retained up to 600 speakers, but noted that this figure was rapidly declining because most speakers are 50 and older. [8] Children are no longer acquiring the language, [8] indicating Chickasaw has a notably low vitality. As of 2014, there were "four to five confident conversational speakers who are under the age of 35." [9] The Chickasaw language is not much used outside of the home. In terms of conservation and language vitality, Ethnologue evaluates the current language situation as moribund, [8] and UNESCO lists Chickasaw as a "severely endangered" language, also noting that most of roughly 600 speakers are over fifty and almost all are bilingual in English. [10]

<i>Ethnologue</i> database of worlds languages published on web and in print

Ethnologue: Languages of the World is an annual reference publication in print and online that provides statistics and other information on the living languages of the world. It was first issued in 1951, and is now published annually by SIL International, a U.S.-based, worldwide, Christian non-profit organization. SIL's main purpose is to study, develop and document languages to promote literacy and for religious purposes.

UNESCO Specialised agency of the United Nations

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization is a specialized agency of the United Nations (UN) based in Paris. Its declared purpose is to contribute to peace and security by promoting international collaboration through educational, scientific, and cultural reforms in order to increase universal respect for justice, the rule of law, and human rights along with fundamental freedom proclaimed in the United Nations Charter. It is the successor of the League of Nations' International Committee on Intellectual Cooperation.

English language West Germanic language

English is a West Germanic language that was first spoken in early medieval England and eventually became a global lingua franca. It is named after the Angles, one of the Germanic tribes that migrated to the area of Great Britain that later took their name, as England. Both names derive from Anglia, a peninsula in the Baltic Sea. The language is closely related to Frisian and Low Saxon, and its vocabulary has been significantly influenced by other Germanic languages, particularly Norse, and to a greater extent by Latin and French.

Language revitalization

The Chickasaw Language Revitalization Program, founded in 2007, uses both Munro-Willmond and Humes alphabets. Because Chickasaw is a spoken language, "there is no 'right' or 'wrong' way to spell Chickasaw." [11] Chickasaw is taught through a master-apprentice program, community programs, and self-study programs.

A "Chickasaw Language Basic" app is available for iPhone, iPad, and other iOS devices. [12]

Classes and programs

The Chickasaw Nation has a department of Chickasaw Language with a 24-member Chickasaw Language Committee. In 2007, the tribe founded the Chickasaw Language Revitalization Program. Four levels of Chickasaw language classes are taught at East Central University in Ada, Oklahoma. Joshua D. Hinson, director of the Chickasaw Language Committee developed master-apprenticeship programs with guidance from linguist Leanne Hinton. [4] [9]

Chipota Chikashshanompoli is a children's language program that meets monthly. Ada, Ardmore, Norman, Purcell, Sulphur, and Tishomingo all host non-academic adult language classes. The tribe also organizes immersion camps and publishes Chickasaw language literature through the Chickasaw Press. [4]



Chickasaw has 16 consonants. In the table below, the consonants are written in the standard Chickasaw orthography. The phonetic symbolization of each consonant is written in the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) to the right of each orthographic letter when the orthography differs from the IPA symbol.

Chickasaw Consonants [13] [14]
  Labial Alveolar Post-
Velar Glottal
central lateral
Nasal m n     
Plosive p     b t     d    k     ɡ ' /ʔ/
Affricate   ch //  
Fricative f s lh /ɬ/sh /ʃ/  h
Approximant    l y /j/ w  


Long and short Vowels of Chickasaw. From Gordon, Munro & Ladefoged (2001:288). Nasal vowels correspond phonetically with the quality of long vowels. Chickasaw vowels.png
Long and short Vowels of Chickasaw. From Gordon, Munro & Ladefoged (2001 :288). Nasal vowels correspond phonetically with the quality of long vowels.

Chickasaw has 9 vowels: [15]

  Front Central Back
oral nasal oral nasal oral nasal
Close i [ɪ]ii [iː][ĩː]  
Mid   o [o̟]oo [oː][õː]
Open  a [ə]aa [ɑː][ɑ̃ː] 

Chickasaw vowels contrast between short and long oral vowels and between long oral vowels and long nasal vowels. Short vowels are centralized (see chart): short i is phonetically [ɪ], short o is phonetically [o̟], and short a is phonetically [ə].

Short vowels are also phonetically lengthened when they occur in the second syllable of a sequence of even-numbered open syllables. [16] For example, the word pisali ('I took him') is phonetically [pɪsəˑlɪ]. The lengthened short vowel is usually intermediate in length between a short vowel and long vowel. However, the phonetic realization varies depending on the individual speaker and also on phonetic environment. The lengthening does not occur at the end of words and is further restricted by certain morphological criteria. [17]

Examples of Chickasaw Vowels [18]
IPA ExampleMeaning
/i/pisa'she looks at him'
/ĩ/sinti''his snake'
/aː/sahashaa'I'm angry'


', a, aa, a̠, b, ch, f, h, i, ii, i̠, k, l, lh, m, n, ng, o, oo, o̠, p, s, sh, t, w, y




Pronominal affixes

Verb arguments (i.e. subject, direct object, indirect object) are indicated with pronominal affixes (both prefixes and suffixes) which are added to verb stems. The pronominal affixes are inflected according to number (singular, plural) and person (1st, 2nd).

Chickasaw has an active–stative pronominal system with two basic series of pronominal sets: an active series (I) and a stative series (II). Additionally, Chickasaw also has dative (III), negative (N), and reciprocal (IR) series.

The active series is used for active intransitive subjects and active transitive subjects. (An active subject, simply put, is a subject that is in control of the action while a stative subject does not have control of the action. This is the difference between She fell on purpose vs. She fell accidentally where the first she controlled the falling while the second she did not control the falling.) The active series is in the table below:

1st-liil- / ii-

The third person lacks an affix and usually does not distinguish between singular and plural. The first person singular affix is a suffix while the other affixes are prefixes. The first person plural has two forms: il- which is used before vowels and ii- which is used before consonants — thus, il-iyya "we go", ii-malli "we jump". An example inflectional paradigm of the verb malli "to jump" is below (with the pronominal affixes underlined):

active affixes indicating subjects
1stmallili"I jump"iimalli"we jump"
2ndishmalli"you jump"hashmalli"you all jump"
3rdmalli   "he/she/it/they jump"

The stative series (II) is below. This series is used to indicate stative intransitive subjects and direct objects.


Example with stative intransitive subjects, lhinko "to be fat":

stative affixes indicating subjects
1stsalhinko"I am fat"polhinko"we are fat"
2ndchilhinko"you are fat"hachilhinko"you all are fat"
3rdlhinko   "he/she/it/they is/are fat"

Example with direct objects, pisa "to look at (someone)" (the subject in the paradigm below is unmarked because it is in the third person):

stative affixes indicating direct objects
1stsapisa"he/she/it/they look at me"popisa"he/she/it/they look at us"
2ndchipisa"he/she/it/they look at you"hachipisa"he/she/it/they look at you all"
3rdpisa   "he/she/it/they look at him/her/it/them"

Both active and stative affixes can occur together in which case the active affix indicates the active subject and the stative affix indicates the direct object. Active prefixes occur before stative prefixes. When ish- "active second person singular" occurs before sa- "stative first person singular", it results in issa- (the sh assimilates to s). Likewise, hash- "active second person plural" + sa- is realized as hassa-. The full paradigm of pisa "to look at" is below:

active & stative affixes together
verb formtranslation morpheme segmentation
hachipisali"I look at you all"hachi-pisa-li
pisali"I look at her"pisa-li
iichipisa"we look at you"ii-chi-pisa
iihachipisa"we look at you all"ii-hachi-pisa
iipisa"we look at her"ii-pisa
issapisa"you look at me"ish-sa-pisa
ishpopisa"you look at us"ish-po-pisa
ishpisa"you look at her"ish-pisa
hassapisa"you all look at me"hash-sa-pisa
hashpopisa"you all look at us"hash-po-pisa
hashpisa"you all look at her"hash-pisa
sapisa"she looks at me"sa-pisa
popisa"she looks at us"po-pisa
chipisa"she looks at you"chi-pisa
hachipisa"she looks at you all"hachi-pisa
pisa"she looks at her"pisa

Verb grades

    foyopa'to breathe'
    fóyyo'pa'to give a sigh of relief'
    foyohómpa'to be breathing'
    foyámpa'breathing' (at same time as another action)


Hello (general greeting)Chokma
how are you? (literally: are you well?)
  • Chi chukma?
  • Chin chukma?
  • Chukma
  • booski
  • booska
  • bookse
reply to Chi chukma and Chin chukmaAchukma akinni
reply to ChukmaHomi, ishno ako
reply to Homi, ishno akoHomi, achukma akinni


  1. 1 2 Chickasaw at Ethnologue (21st ed., 2018)
  2. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Chickasaw". Glottolog 3.0 . Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. Munro, Pamela, and Catherine Willmond (2008). Chikashshanompa' Kilanompoli'. University of Oklahoma Press.
  4. 1 2 3 "Chickasaws Are On the Move." Archived July 16, 2012, at the Wayback Machine Linguistics Society of America Committee on Endangered Languages and their Preservation. Retrieved 9 April 2012.
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 6 "The Chickasaw People". Retrieved 2017-02-10.
  6. "The Official Site of the Chickasaw Nation | Language". Retrieved 2015-08-29.
  7. "Last Monolingual Language Chickasaw Speaker Dies at 93", Native News Online. Retrieved 4 Jan 2014.
  8. 1 2 3***EDITION***
  9. 1 2 Russon, Mary-Ann (2014-05-08). "Chickasaw Nation: The Fight to Save a Dying Native American Language". International Business Times. Retrieved 2014-05-20.
  11. "Language". The Official Site of the Chickasaw Nation. Archived from the original on 2012-09-19. Retrieved 2012-09-29.
  12. "App Shopper: Chickasaw Language Basic for iPhone/iPod Touch (Education)" . Retrieved 2012-09-12.
  13. 1 2 3 4 Gordon, Munro & Ladefoged (2001 :287)
  14. Munro (2005 :121)
  15. Gordon, Munro, Ladefoged. "Chickasaw" (PDF). maint: Multiple names: authors list (link)
  16. Gordon, Munro & Ladefoged (2001 :288)
  17. See Gordon, Munro & Ladefoged (2000)
  18. Gordon, Munro & Ladefoged (2001 :288–289)


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