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The Chahta Language

Editor’s Note: Cha’hta is a derivative for Choctaw, so the following information is referencing the Choctaw Language.

The Cha’hta1 Language, the representative of the western group of Maskoki dialects, differs in its phonetics from the eastern dialects chiefly by the more general vocalic nasalization previously alluded to. Words cannot begin with two consonants; the Creek st is replaced by sht, and combinations like tl, bt, nt do not occur (Byington’s Grammar, p. 9). In short words the accent is laid upon the penultima.

The cases of the noun are not so distinctly marked as they are in the eastern dialects by the case-suffixes in –t and –n, but have often to be determined by the hearer from the position of the words in the sentence. But in other respects, case and many other relations are pointed out by an extensive series of suffixed or enclitic syllables, mostly monosyllabic, which Byington calls article-pronouns, and writes as separate words. They are simply suffixes of pronominal origin, and correspond to our articles the, a, to our relative and demonstrative pronouns, partly also to our adverbs, prepositions and conjunctions. They form combinations among themselves, and supply verbal inflection with its modal suffixes or exponents. Adjectives possess a distinct plural form, which points to their origin from verbs, but in substantives number is not expressed except by the verb connected with them, or by means of separate words.

There are two classes of personal pronouns, the relative and the absolute (the former referring to something said previously), but the personal inflection of the verb is effected by prefixes, the predicative suffix ’h being added to the end of each form in the affirmative conjugation. Only the first person of the singular is marked by a suffix: –li (increased by ’h:li’h). The lack of a true substantive verb to be is to some extent supplied by this suffix –’h. Verbal inflection is rich in tenses and other forms, and largely modifies the radix to express changes in voice, mode and tense. The sway of phonetic laws is all-powerful here, and they operate whenever a slight conflict of syllables disagreeing with the delicate ear of the Cha’hta Indian takes place.

Of abstract terms there exists a larger supply than in many other American languages.

Several dialects of Cha’hta were and are still in existence, as the Sixtown dialect, the ones spoken from Mobile bay to New Orleans, those heard on the Lower Mississippi river, and that of the Chicasa. The dialect now embodied in the literary language of the present Cha’hta is that of the central parts of Mississippi State, where the American Protestant missionaries had selected a field of operation.

Rev. Cyrus Byington (born 1793, died 1867) worked as a missionary among this people before and after the removal to the Indian Territory. He completed the first draft of his “Choctaw Grammar” in 1834, and an extract of it was published by Dr. D. G. Brinton.2 His manuscript “Choctaw Dictionary,” now in the library of the U. S. Bureau of Ethnology, fills five folio volumes, contains about 17,000 items (words, phrases and sentences), and was completed about 1833. The missionary alphabet used by him, which is also the alphabet of Cha’hta literature, is very imperfect, as it fails to express all sounds of the language by signs for each, and entirely neglects accentuation. The pronunciation of Cha’hta is so delicate and pliant that only a superior scientific alphabet can approximately express its peculiar sounds and intonations.


  1. Cha’hta has been made the subject of linguistic inquiry by Fr. Müller, Grundzüge d. Sprachwissenschaft, II, 232-238, and by Forchhammer in the Transactions of the Congrés des Américanistes, 2d session, 1877, 8vo.; also by L. Adam. 

  2. Published in Proceedings of American Philosoph. Society, 1870 (56 pages), 8vo.