Excerpt: Yukhíti Kóy

Geoffrey D. Kimball is an independent scholar. He is the author of Koasati Dictionary (Nebraska, 1994), Koasati Grammar (Nebraska, 1991), and translator of Kosati Traditional Narratives (Nebraska, 2010). His new book Yukhíti Kóy (Nebraska, 2022) is now available.


The Atakapa language is attested almost entirely through the work of Albert S. Gatschet, work which he did in January of 1885 with two speakers of the language, Kišyuc (Will-o’-the-wisp), also known as Yoyot, and her cousin Tottokš (Round [Eyes]), whose English names were Louison Huntington (born ca. 1830, died ca. 1905) and Delilah Moss (born ca. 1831, died ca. 1920). Gatschet (1885d) indicates that they were the oldest and best-informed Atakapa speakers of his day. He also made the comment: “The remnants of the old Atakapa are reduced to a few women who in 1888 lived a few miles south of Lake Charles R. R. station” (1903), indicating that they resided in the village of Túl Núŋ. Gatschet himself searched tirelessly for speakers of American Indian languages, literally traveling across the continent, often working in primitive conditions. In Louisiana alone between 1885 and 1886, in addition to Atakapa, he documented Tunica, Chitimacha, Biloxi, and two dialects of Choctaw.

John R. Swanton collected a small amount of material from Teet Verdine (1854– 1925) in 1907 and Armojean Reon (1873–1925) in 1908, but by that time, speakers of the language seem to have been reticent to talk to strangers about it.

A little linguistic information exists for the Atakapa living in Texas (the Orkokisak) at the westernmost part of their range and rather more for the Atakapa at the easternmost part of their range (called by Swanton the Eastern Dialect and by Yukhíti speakers Hiyékiti). Both groups had sufficiently different phonological forms of words, as compared to the better-attested Yukhíti (Central Atakapa) of the lakes at the mouth of the Calcasieu River in Louisiana, to indicate that their languages were more than just dialects of each other.

This grammar is based on the assumptions that Gatschet recorded what he heard to the best of his ability and that discrepancies between items recorded at different times should be rationalized first by processes within the language itself before assuming mishearing on the part of Gatschet. Because Swanton’s publication of Gatschet’s field notes is the only available source for others to reference while following this grammar, the vast majority of the examples and all of the texts are presented in the form found in the publication; references to the source of these examples are provided in every case. Examples are taken from Gatschet’s field notes when the published form is incomplete, broken into separate elements when the original is not, or mistranscribed.

All examples in the grammar are given a reference after the translation. For examples taken from the dictionary part of the publication the reference is of the form (1932:44:1), where the second number is the page number, and the third number is the column number. For examples taken from the texts in the publication the reference is of the form (1932:14:71); the second number is the page number, and the third number is the continuous line number assigned by Swanton. Examples taken directly from Gatschet’s field notes have the form (1885b:17), where the first number refers to the specific one of the three notebooks, and the second number to the page number on which the example is found. The transcription of the Atakapa as found in the publication is enclosed in square brackets; the transcription as found in Gatschet’s field notes is given in curly brackets. English translation of the Atakapa is based on my understanding of the material and not necessarily on the glosses of Gatschet or the translation found in Gatschet and Swanton. For consid[1]erations of space, Atakapa forms in lists do not have the original transcriptions, nor is justification provided in the cases where the accent I write differs from the accent published in Gatschet and Swanton. For the purposes of this grammar, the term Atakapa will refer to the language spoken by Kišyuc and Tottokš. However, when it needs to be compared with the two other Atakapan languages, Orkokisak and Hiyékiti, it will be called Yukhíti in order to avoid the long-established, but inaccurate, geographical names for the languages.

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