One Chickasaw Citizen’s View on the Passing of the Last Monolingual Speaker of the Chickasaw Language
“…For her, she saw the world from a Chickasaw worldview, without the interference of English at all.”
—Josh Hinson, Director of the Chickasaw Language Revitalization Program
(From the recent NPR article “What Happens When a Language’s Last Monolingual Speaker Dies”)
–She was the last person who knew the world only through Chickasaw.
I am not good at languages. I tried as an undergraduate to learn Spanish. I took an entire year of daily Spanish language classes and worked with a tutor the entire time and I was unable to learn more than a few simple phrases, not even enough to get me by living in the border state of Arizona. What I did learn was that I didn’t even know English grammar well enough to think about another language and its use of grammar.
However, I have to say, I’ve been hit hard by the news of the recent death of Emily Johnson Dickerson, the last monolingual speaker of the Chickasaw language. I did not know her, but she is symbolic and represents the passing of an age. Last year, I spent some time at the Chickasaw Nation and I learned that there were only about 70 some speakers of Chickasaw. At the time this alarmed me. But, late last week we learned that the last person who had only a Chickasaw worldview had died. Well, this –to me—is staggering. According to Chickasaw elder Catherine Wilmond, if we lose our language, the world will end (see her talk about this here).