In south-central Oklahoma and much of “Indian Country,” using an Indigenous language is colloquially referred to as “talking Indian.” Among older Chickasaw community members, the phrase is used more often than the name of the specific language, Chikashshanompa’ or Chickasaw. As author Jenny L. Davis explains, this colloquialism reflects the strong connections between languages and both individual and communal identities when talking as an Indian is intimately tied up with the heritage language(s) of the community, even as the number of speakers declines.
Today a tribe of more than sixty thousand members, the Chickasaw Nation was one of the Native nations removed from their homelands to Oklahoma between 1837 and 1838. According to Davis, the Chickasaw’s dispersion from their lands contributed to their disconnection from their language over time: by 2010 the number of Chickasaw speakers had radically declined to fewer than seventy-five speakers.
“Davis’s book presents an optimistic view of the role that emergent ethnolinguistic identities might play in the future of urban and reservation Chickasaw communities.”—Tarren Andrews, Language in Society
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