Choctaw dictionary

Submitted by Sammy Smith (sammy@thesga.org)

choctaw_ahe_words

By the early 1800s, Choctaw-speakers lived across Mississippi and in what are now modern neighboring states. Choctaw is closely related to the languages that peoples living in what is now Georgia spoke at that time. They are all part of the Muskogean language family that was common across southeastern North America in late prehistory.

A historic volume called A Dictionary of the Choctaw Language was published in 1915. It is the Smithsonian Institution’s Bureau of American Ethnology’s Bulletin 46. The author was Cyrus Byington, and the volume editors were John R. Swanton and Henry S. Halbert. You can download it here, where it is offered free by the Internet Archive.

Reverend Byington (b. 1793, d. 1868) had passed away by the time this volume was published. He had lived and worked among the Choctaw as a missionary for over fifty years.

This particular part of the dictionary deals with Choctaw phrases that begin with “ahe” and refer to potatoes. Note how many phrases refer to cultivating potatoes. The Choctaws made small mounds of dirt around their potato plants to keep the sunlight from bothering the potatoes, which grow underground. Byington refers to these little mounds as hills in this dictionary.

Do you think the word written here as “ahe” means potatoes in Choctaw?

The word “ahe inchuka” is defined as a potato house. What do you think that is?