Monday, February 27, 2012


Recently, I started a project with the intent of a possible revitalization of the Atakapas-Ishák language. The Atakapas-Ishák people are a Native American tribe who lived along the Gulf Coast from Galveston Bay in Texas to Vermillion Bay in Louisiana. The word Atakapas is of Choctaw origin. It means man eater. Ishák is the Atakapan word for people. The Atakapas language is considered to be a language isolate although there have been other linguists who have proposed various language families to which it could belong. John R. Swanton has proposed the Tunican language family which would include Atakapas, Tunica, and Chitamatcha. Mary Haas later proposed the Gulf Coast language family which added the Muskogean languages to those in Swanton's Tunican language family. Unfortunately, there are no speakers of the language alive.

For a long time, the Atakapas-Ishák were thought to be extinct, but more recently, many who are of Atakapas-Ishák heritage have been rallying together in an attempt to be recognized as a tribe. In 2006, the decedents of the Atakapas-Ishák met as a tribe for the first time in more than 100 years. On February 25, 2012, the ribbon cutting ceremony for the Atakapas Ishak Trace beginning in Lafayette, Louisiana took place. I had the chance to attend the ceremony and meet many members of the tribe including Chief Michael Amos. Many that I met were excited about the possibility of a language revival.

There are few resources for the Atakapas-Ishák language. As it stands, there is a dictionary written by John R. Swanson and Albert S. Gatchet which includes some discourse material. In 1929, Swanson wrote a grammar sketch of the language. A primer of the Atakapas-Ishák language was written by Hubert Singleton in 1997. With the limited amount of data on the language, my preliminary conclusion is that it may not be possible to revive the language to a colloquial level. There is still the possibility that it can be revived to a literary level. The dictionary contains terms which are common to every day life for the people at their height. Therefore, it could be possible to create a reader of Atakapas-Ishák folklore and mythology in the language.

All in all, I am very excited about this project. It is exactly what I want to be doing with my linguistics career.

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