Category Archives: Choctaw Language

“So Tired?” or “Just Lazy?”

I remember when I first asked for the word for tired in Choctaw. I was pregnant. And working. I just wanted to find a way to express how tired I was! I was studying Choctaw in Red Water Community. Someone said “itííkabih.” Someone said “itakobih.” Everyone laughed. Someone said something about something meaning lazy. I was shocked. Lazy was the furthest thing from tired in my mind. Tired meant you had worked!!

The more they talked about it the more confused I got. I decided I couldn’t tell people about my tiredness in Choctaw because I might be saying I was lazy and I wasn’t going to know. Because, two things. I didn’t understand the laughter. Always a sign something else is going on in the language I don’t know about. Also, the only difference my linguistic, left-brain-dominant mind could see was in the vowels. Just fill in the blanks: _t_k_b_h

Did Choctaw people ever see these two things, tired and lazy as similar? My Choctaw friends tell me these two (similar) words are entirely different things, these tired and lazy concepts. They are the experts. It makes sense of the surprise of folks who can’t believe these two words sound so similar after all! But why would the language itself act like the concepts are related? What’s buried in the history and structure of the language?

The linguist in me knows we often don’t notice the connectedness of our own words, even when it’s marked clearly. OR we have no idea how to describe it to our next door neighbor who sees the world upside down. (or do I see it upside down?) Well, I didn’t try to make “sense” of it. Just listened.

It’s been 9 years since I took that class. I kept inquiring about the two words. I almost always get laughter. And almost always there is someone who appears not to have been around a white person asking about the words. And they laugh because the two words sound so alike. Really? These folks have been using these words their whole life!

I do hear them use the two different words in ways that make sense to me and would translate into English. Yet other times the Choctaw language carries the words into various contexts differently than our English words “tired” and “lazy”.

Eventually I learned to use the Choctaw word appropriately on a few occasions. I laugh too. Let’s just say you either have to be there, or write (at least) a 5 page discourse paper – that’s for another time and another meditation. When I discuss these concepts with the translators, it seems I’m getting it. AND I only know the tip of the iceberg about appropriate use.

So, I don’t have a diagram describing the two words that sound so similar in Choctaw. Go ask a published linguist. Where I find meaning is that it’s given me pause to meditate on my own tiredness and my own laziness. Let’s just say I have to clarify something I’ve discovered. Lazy is not parallel with busy. Lazy is not opposite of hard-working. And the best way I have to describe that is like the two different Choctaw words – the spaces between the consonants.

Lazy and it’s opposite, Good-Work-Tired are like two different ways to fill in the consonants. The consonants of life are the sun coming up. The sun going down. And a world of people I cannot escape over whom I have Zero control. If I let the spaces get filled in with priorities from anywhere but God, I will be burdened and resentful. Is that lazy? Probably.

If lazy means un-prayerful priorities then lazy is where I started and that’s where I’ll end up. Weary from hustling, because even if I had success, that too would be exhausting and lazy-making. If I allow God to fill in the spaces – even when it means making people unhappy – my body will be tired, but my body will also be satisfied and at peace. I will experience “the unforced rhythms of Grace” I will “learn to live freely and lightly.” (Matthew 11:29-30)

How will you fill in the blanks today?

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