Once spoken by thousands, the Chickasaw language is quietly disappearing and its people are looking for a way to rescue it before it goes silent.
In 2013, the Chickasaw lost their last native monolingual speaker, Emily John Dickerson, 93, leaving only 50 native speakers in the Nation. The Chickasaw Nation includes nearly 60,000 members worldwide. Their language was mostly oral until the 1970s when members began writing phonic descriptions of words and phrases seriously.
“The language is our culture. They go hand in hand. I can't even imagine what it would be like to lose our language,” said the Chickasaw Nation’s Language Revitalization Program Director Joshua Hinson.
To preserve the language, Hinson and the language are taking a big step by partnering with language learning company Rosetta Stone. The first installment will be aimed at bringing the language to younger Chickasaw generations after ancestral generations were barred from performing their traditions by legal courts and culture.
“Now, as we're meeting our basic needs; food, shelter, clothing, education, people have time to turn back and focus on what makes us who we are as a tribal people and the most important aspect of that is our language," Hinson said.
The Virginia-based software company offers 25 different courses for widely spoken languages, according to its website. But they also create programs for endangered languages and have worked with other Native American tribes such as the Navajo and Mohawk.
When asked about the lessons, a Rosetta Stone spokesperson said in a statement, "The Chickasaw Nation is helping to put a spotlight on the importance of educating its people ... and we are excited to collaborate with them on what we see as a mission to reverse the tide of indigenous language extinction."
In all, Rosetta Stone will be making 80 lessons in Chickasaw. The first 40 will be out by the fall of 2016.