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Tuesday, February 4, 2014






What Happens When a Language's Last Monolingual Speaker Dies? 
By Kat Chow

Emily Johnson Dickerson died at her home in Ada, Okla., last week. She was the last person alive who spoke only the Chickasaw language.
"This is a sad day for all Chickasaw people because we have lost a cherished member of our Chickasaw family and an unequaled source of knowledge about our language and culture," Chickasaw Nation Gov. Bill Anoatubby said in a news release. The Chickasaw Nationhas about 55,000 members and is based in the southern part of central Oklahoma.
Dickerson, 93, was one of about 65 people fluent in the Chickasaw language, which has seen its number of speakers shrink from thousands since the 1960s.
"Chickasaw was the dominant language in Chickasaw Nation, both prior to and following removal [when Chickasaw people were forced to relocate to Indian Territory*]," says Joshua Hinson, director of the Chickasaw Language Revitalization Program. "It was the late 1880s, 1890s and into the 1900s when we started to see a shift toward English."
The people who still speak Chickasaw — now in their 60s and 70s — started learning English when they were forced to go to boarding schools for Indians or local public schools. Dickerson didn't learn another language because, Hinson says, she didn't need English. She was from a traditional community, Kali-Homma', and didn't work in a wage economy.
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