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SAMUEL PROCTOR ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at
the University of Florida.
SOUTHEASTERN INDIAN ORAL HISTORY PROJECT
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
In cooperation with The Seminole Tribe of Florida
INTERVIEWEE: David West
INTERVIEWER: John Mahon
DATE: September 1971
Linguist David West first reduced the Miccosukee
language to written form. Since his arrival among the
Miccosukees and Seminoles in 1955, he has written read-
ing books, and translated the New Testament. In this
1971 interview he discusses generally the Creek, Micco-
sukee and Creek-Seminole languages. He compares Micco-
sukee and Creek-Seminole with reference to bilingual
abilities of the Indians. Problems for the English
speaker of Creek is explained. He gives a detailed
description of Miccosukee usage including word origin,
grammar, vocabulary, connotation and interpretation.
Finally, he reflects upon the alienation of the Indians
suspended between their culture and white culture. He
also mentions miscegenation, employment, and the decline
in parental and tribal discipline.
acculturation; alienation, 25-26
discipline, scratching, 29-31
education (public and reservation schools), 26-27
employment (Miccosukee and Seminole), 27-28
Haas, Mary (linguist), 3-4, 6, 9
languages, American Indian not reduced to writing, 21-23
compared with Miccosukee, 1-2, 6-8
history of written form, 3
problems for English speakers, 5-6
origin of words, 10-11
West reduced to written form, 8-9, 20
language, Navajo (written), 21
Miccosukee and Seminole differences, 23-24
religion (early history of Christianity among Seminoles), 1-2
Smith, Stanley (missionary), 1
Wycliffe Bible Translators, 9
W: As I understand the early history of Christianity among the
Seminoles, it was something like this. Of course I wasn't
here to see it first hand. Along about 1907 Creek-speaking
churchmen from Oklahoma started coming here, and continued
coming year after year. Then eventually, along about 1935,
they had their first convert, and started a church, a mission
at first, I believe. First at the Hollywood Dania Reservation,
and then it spread into Big Cypress and the Brighton Reserva-
tion. And they were Baptist Churchmen, so of course, the
denomination that was started here was Baptist. One of their
early leaders was Stanley Smith, who himself was a Creek
speaker. By the way, I should say that the Christian message
also got to the Miccosukee speaking people through bilingual
Indians, of which there were, and still are, quite a few.
Things flourished quite well I think, in spite of a lot of
opposition and even persecution, physical persecution, from
the Seminoles who didn't want their people changing their
religion. Stanley Smith was considered the leader, the founder,
of the churches, and is still thought highly of by people out
of Big Cypress, although they know that he's not with their
organization anymore. And as I understand it, along about
1949, Stanley Smith and the Southern Baptist board had a falling
out, because he took it upon himself to discipline some of
the Seminole young people in a way that the parents in the
church did not approve of. I guess there was physical beating
involved. And there was a big to-do about it, and he was
asked either to mend his ways or leave, and he said I will
leave. He started another church across the road, which now has
its descendants on all the reservations also.
M: Did you ever meet the Reverend Smith?
W: Yes. He visited Big Cypress a number of times when we lived
out there. He is always welcome back even though he helped
split the congregation.
M: Now, straighten me out. At Big Cypress, the dominant language
M: Smith didn't speak that, did he?
W: No. But he was pastor of the church out there in the beginning,
as I understand it. But there were enough Creek-speaking
Miccosukees so that he could get away with that. Among the
older people, there were quite a few who spoke Creek apparently.
The younger people don't know Creek, but some of the older ones
do. ( Smith preached through interpreters.)
M: Where does the bi-linguality come from? If there is such a word?
W: You mean among the Seminoles?
W: Well, apparently, from what I've read, way back in the days of
the Creek Confederacy, there were many different languages
involved in it, and Creek was the prestige language. Other
people learned it in order to be able to communicate with the
political powers that were. And it has always seemed to have
been the prestige language ever since. If there are going to
be bilingual Indians, it's mostly Miccosukees that learn Creek,
and not vice-versa. And I read that it's true of other tribes
that had contacts with the Creeks. The same thing happened
M: But the present tribe can almost uniformly speak both. Did you
know the late Howard Tiger?
M: He could speak both.
W: Yes, some of the Indians do. Quite a lot of them do. Some of
them grew up with one parent of one language and one of the other.
M: Oh, that's where it came from?
W: Yes. Through intermarriage; there is quite a bit of that. There
are a number of people on this Brighton Reservation that came
from Big Cypress and intermarried up there. Whenever they see
me, they speak Miccosukee, even though they do not speak it in
their homes. And some of the men that have had jobs in the
Miccosukee-speaking area had to learn enough for everyday affairs.
But the languages are enough alike so that it's not any great
struggle to learn the second language.
M: If you have no objection, I would like to ask you about the
M: I am no linguist, but I have jotted down some questions.
W: Well, maybe I can answer them, and maybe I can't.
M: I trust you will straighten me out if the questions do not
make any sense. What do you know of the history of the written
W: You mean Creek?
M: Yes. If I am correct, Miccosukee, except for you, has not been
reduced to writing, has it?
W: Not to use in the practical sense. Different people have written
it down for scientific purposes, but not to be used by the
people themselves. As I understand it, Creek was reduced to
writing back in the middle of the 1800's, in Oklahoma. It was
for religious purposes; under, I think, the direction of the
Presbyterian church. They were the ones that originally
published the Creek New Testament, and hymnal, dictionary, and
M: The date on that Reverend Loughridge thing is 1914.
W: Yes, but that was a later reprinting of it. But I'm sure the
Testament was done before that. Apparently, from what I've
read, some educated Creeks sat down with the missionaries and
they agreed on an alphabet together. It was not just the white
people alone that decided what the orthography would be.
Apparently, some of the people in the South were involved in
it, but beyond that, I don't really know, it's just what
I've read. That's all I know. I saw a note on that recently in
reprints from Mary Haas, who is in linguistics at the University
of California and has studied the Muskogan language quite a lot.
Have you seen her material?
M: I know who she is.
W: I have quite a few of her writings. She was good enough when
I started to work here to send me almost a complete file of
reprints of things she had written.
M: Do I understand that you have devised the first Miccosukee
alphabet that anybody has put together?
W: Yes, the first for practical use.
M: Does it resemble the Creek alphabet?
W: Quite a bit. And also English, of course.
M: The Creek alphabet lacks a few of the letters found in English.
W: Well, this one will too because the Miccosukees do not have as
many sounds as we do. It's a relatively simple language, from
a phonetic standpoint. As far as letters that are needed. It
has some features that complicate things for English speakers.
We have an alphabet of 17 characters.
M: What do the Creeks have? It's more than that--must be twenty,
or twenty-two or so.
W: Yes, they have three or four more, because they have chosen to
handle certain features in a different way than we did. One of
the features that is common to both languages, and, of course,
to a lot of others also, is one we refer to as vowel length.
The significant feature is not the sound of the vowel, but just
the pure length of time that it continues. And words can be
different just by one vowel that continues more or less time
than another one.
M: Would you be willing to illustrate that by specifics?
W: Sure. The word for grandmother is Poshe, with a quick 0, and
the word for cat is pooshe, with a long O. That's the only
difference. Creek has this distinction, but they chose to try
to handle that by using a different symbol for the long sounds
than for the short ones. But we have chosen to use double
letters, so that they use a few more symbols than we do for
that reason. Like, their V symbol is used for the short A,
and their U is used for short 0, and so on. Of course, there
are only five vowel symbols in English and Indians use six,
so they couldn't quite handle it all that way, and they put
a macron over their E to designate the long E.
M: Is there anything in context that would have caused them to
use the same word for grandmother and cat? Or is it simply a
W: No. It's just a completely different word. The long and
short 0 are as different as T and K are in English.
M: It's like an umlaut 0 in German?
W: Yes. It's just a completely different sound. It's the way they
hear psychologically, and that's the way it is.
M: You said that there were certain things about the language that
made it difficult for English speakers.
W: This vowel length is one of them.
M: Can you specify any others?
W: Yes. There's a certain amount of lexical involvement with tone
or pitch, whatever you choose to call it.
M: What does that mean, lexical involvement?
W: Well, lexical refers to a difference in the meaning of words. Of
course, all languages use pitch for some things; we use it in
English for information, to display emotions. But we don't use
it to make a difference in words.
M: Could you illustrate that?
W: In English?
M: No, in Miccosukee.
W: Yes, I can. If you say Haache with a low tone on the first
syllable, it means deaf. If you say Haache and keep them both
high, it means tail of something, like the tail of an animal.
And the words are exactly alike except for the pitch on that
one syllable. This language doesn't have as much of this kind
of thing as many other American Indian languages, but it does
have some. Most of the pitch is predictable in terms of the
length of the vowel, or the type of the syllable, or in some
other way, but not all of it is, and in some cases it's not
predictable. It still makes a difference in the meaning of
M: Can any of the Indians write? Either Creek or Miccosukee?
W: Nobody has written in Miccosukee because they haven't had a
chance to work with their written alphabet. But in Creek I'm
not sure if any of those who read it really write it or not.
Josie Billie reads it. He was self-taught by using the New
Testament and other books, but I do not know if he has ever
tried to write it. And here in Florida, the Creek-speaking
community is so small that I suspect there really isn't
much pressure toward learning to write it, because there
wouldn't be enough utility for it.
M: Is the Miccosukee-speaking community much larger?
W: Yes. Here in Florida it is at least twice as large. Most of
the Creek-speaking people are in Oklahoma, where you have
Creek-speaking Seminoles and Creeks proper. So if there are
people that read and write Creek more extensively, they would
be there in Oklahoma.
M: Is Seminole-Creek identical with Creek?
W: Mary Haas considers it a closely related dialect, mutually
M: Whereas Miccosukee and Creek are not mutually intelligible.
W: No, they are not.
M: But you say they do have similarities?
W: Yes, some similarities.
M: Could you illustrate that with any specifics?
W: Well, the grammatical structure is very much the same. In
both cases, we have heavy affixation onto roots, especially
M: You have affixation? Could you illustrate that?
W: Well, I'll start with English. In English, we have roots and
we have affixes.
M: Is an affix either front or rear?
W: Yes. In English you have the root "run", and you put "er" on
it, and you make a different word out of it, just by tacking
on the affix. Or you add an "s" onto that and make it plural,
by adding another affix.
M: I get your point.
W: Well, both of these languages have plenty of those, both front
and rear. And some of them are identical and mean the same
thing. Others, although they may occur in the same relative
order to each other, the sounds that are used may be complete-
ly different. Say, like, in English instead of "er", you put
on "ra", and had "runra" and mean runner, or something like
that. Until you learn the difference, it would throw you.
If you heard it in a stream of speech, you wouldn't know what
it meant, the first time you heard it. And then some of their
vocabulary is completely different, and some of it is changed
slightly, like, in Miccosukee the word for alligator is
halpate, with an "h" on the front of it. In Creek it's alpata,
without the "h". In linguistics we refer to those as cognates,
because they are almost alike. It is apparent that they came
from a common origin, those two words. But other vocabulary
items in the two languages are completely different. Like the
word for person in Creek is "este", and the word for person in
Miccosukee is "yaate".
M: Are these spelled alike at all? "Yaa"--is the "Yaa" sound
identical with anything?
W: Well, the "te", the last syllable is pronounced alike.
M: "Este"? Is that the way you would spell it?
W: Yes, that's the way they spell it in Creek.
M: And how do the Miccosukees spell their word?
W: "Yaa", the way we spell the first syllable. So it's nothing
M: I see.
W: I haven't looked at my Creek stuff and I haven't studied it
enough to speak it. Well, there are a lot of words that just
don't look similar at all between the two languages. And then
you have to learn some grammatical differences and some
vocabulary differences, in order to switch from one language
to the other.
M: Do you write Miccosukee regularly?
W: Yes, whenever I go out to record in it. In the beginning, I used
my scientific script, and now I can write it in the practical
M: Do you undertake to write letters in it, to any Miccosukees?
W: No, because nobody so far has been trained to read it. But I
hope we will be able to do that before too long.
M: How long in the future will it be before you reduce this to
W: I already have.
M: Is it in print?
W: Yes, I have a set of reading books, but they were finished not
long before we were away for this three-year hiatus, and so I
haven't used them with very many people yet.
M: I see.
W: There are one or two people that I introduced them to before
we left, and they started learning to read a little bit.
M: Is there anyone else in the white society but you that can
read Miccosukee? Can your wife read it?
M: Can she speak it?
M: Are there other white people that can read it? First though,
are there other white people that can read Creek?
W: I don't think there is anybody here in Florida. I don't know
M: Does Mary Haas read it?
W: Oh, I suppose she does. But the orthography has some
deficiencies, and it's hard to pronounce it accurately, from
just reading it, for a white speaker, especially. The stress
and tone are not indicated, so it can come to a word that
has those things involved, and you can't always hit it right,
by yourself. Not having heard the word first.
M: Well, how did you happen to move into an interest in the
Florida Indians instead of some other Indians?
W: Well, we are working under twin organizations, the Summer
Institute of Linguistics and Wycliffe Bible Translators, and
we came into this group. Our field director knew of work to
do down here and asked if we would consider coming here, so
we said yes and came to investigate it. And we are still here.
M: How many years ago was that?
W: We first came down here to look around in 1955. So we have
known the people off and on ever since.
M: Sixteen years ago. And how much of that time have you lived
among them, would you say?
W: We have been gone completely for three years, and during the
other thirteen years we were here, at least half of each year.
M: Have you studied other Indian tongues?
W: Just smatterings here and there. Some of our training period
was in Mexico, and we learned a little bit of a couple of
different Mexican Indian languages. And I have heard others,
visiting our colleagues and so on, but I haven't really
learned them. Now, I have some idea of what some of the
others are like, as far as their sounds and grammar, but I
haven't learned any of them.
M: How about Spanish?
W: Yes, I had two years of Spanish in college.
M: And were you able to use Spanish as a functional language?
W: Yes. We had a conversational approach, and I learned it, used
it, and liked it. I used it a good deal while I was in Mexico.
M: Are there any Spanish words in Miccosukee? Sometimes it is
said that there are.
W: A few borrowings from way-way back.
M: Such as what? Can you recall any?
W: Yes. The word for cow is Waake, which comes from vaca. And the
word for horse is Kawaaye, which comes from caballo. And the
word for sugar is Ashookole, which comes from azucar. And rice
comes from the Spanish arroz, it's alooshe, in Miccosukee. A
few things that apparently they hadn't seen before the Spanish
came. But for the most part, they tended to make up new words
out of their own root stock.rather than borrow words. There are
an awful lot of made-up words for relatively recent cultural
things like airplanes and automobiles--things like this. They're
not borrowed words, they're words they made up.
M: They're not English at all. What do the Miccosukees call an
W: It's esh yakaleeke. It means something by which you fly.
M: What is automobile is Miccosukee?
W: Aheshchenehke. It was originally applied to wagons. It means
something that rolls by means of wood, because they were made
of wood in the old days. And then when the automobiles came
along, they just transferred. They enlarged the area of
meaning to include automobile in the same term.
M: Is there a Miccosukee word for engine, or motor?
W: Usually they just refer to anything mechanical like that as
kochone, the word for metal. Then if they need to distinguish
it, they describe it, but there isn't any word for motor as
such as far as I can remember at the moment.
M: From what you know of other languages, including English, do
you consider Miccosukee what you would call a flexible
W: Yes, in many ways. Each language has its own strengths and
weaknesses, and charities and ambiguities, but I think
Miccosukee has some very strong points. One thing it has is
a whole series of affixes and articles that can show the
speaker's attitude toward the statement he's making. Much
as we handle information in English, you can tell whether
the person is dubious, or emotionally involved, or whatnot,
by your intonation in English, but they do it with affixes
on the verb.
M: Can you think of an illustration of this?
W: This is one area that I don't control completely, but if you
say, talaakomesh with an "sh" on the end, it just means he or
she is lying down; it is what we call the indicative in grammar,
just a plain statement with no particular overtone to it. If
you say talaakomo, with an "0" on the end, that makes a question
out of it. There are other areas. There are several affixes that
have to do with the degree of certainty that the speaker has
for a statement he is making. One indicates "this is what I
think on the basis of oral or visual evidence". Like, if you
hear a gunshot, you can say somebody shot a gun. Attach this
affix on the end, and it means "that is what I think happened,
although I didn't actually see it myself, but the evidence is
there". So the language is quite expressive in that way. And it
has both a singular and plural "you", which in English is
ambiguous. So, in this language you say "you" and you know
whether you're addressing one person or more than one. There
are a number of things like that.
M: Does it have, like in French, the intimate "you"?
W: No, Miccosukee doesn't have that. In fact, the language and the
culture are naturally intimately related, but I think it shows
the culture very well in that you find that the language doesn't
have any term for formality of any kind. There is no "hello" and
"good-bye", and no "please" and "thank you". In a small, what
anthropologists call face-to-face, society like this, people
don't need to be formal with each other, because they live with
one another, and know each other anyway.
M: That's interesting. I was really never aware of this.
W: If you say, "how are you", in the traditional Seminole culture,
you are asking a person to tell you how he is, literally. It
isn't just a greeting. And so he may tell you he has a stomach
ache or headache or something else, in reply to that kind of a
question. Of course, those that have been around white people
don't because they know what our culture is like. But I mean,
traditionally, this is their culture. And they learn that white
people expect some of these formalities. The word that they use
for thank you means, literally, "it's sufficient" or something
like that, but it is not a great equivalent for thank you. And,
for hello, for coming and going, if you were to visit, you just
say "I'm going", and that's it. You don't say "good-bye"; there
isn't any such word.
M: That's a very interesting point. I wasn't aware of that at all.
W: To express thanks, the cultural way to do it is to demonstrate
it, not just say it as a formality, which I think is good.
Compared to our culture, I think it's much better.
M: I remember years ago reading S. I. Hayakawa's Language in Action--
did you ever read it?
W: I haven't read it, but I'm familiar with it.
M: Well, he argues, of course, that much of language is sort of like
animal barks and growls, you don't mean what you say. You say,
"how are you". You really don't care, but it's a form of letting a
person know you want to communicate with him in a friendly way.
W: Often this is true, you have your overt meanings, the lexical
meaning, and then you have all these connotational meanings
that build up through personal relationships and culture.
Of course, as members of this culture, we're aware of those,
but somebody who comes from outside isn't. This is one of the
big shifts in learning to deal with another people, to learn
that their words don't always seem to match what you expect.
Because it means something different from what it means just
straight out when you take the lexical items one by one.
M: I would like to have your opinion on this. I have read quite a
bit of history, relative to the contact between the white man
and the Indian. And, of course, this involves the ceremonies
in which the Indians seemed to take great pleasure. The white
man frequently listens to Indian speeches in Indian tongues,
without having any idea of what is being said. But they so
often state how eloquent the Indian has been. Have you got an
opinion about that?
W: Yes, I think they can be very eloquent.
M: If you didn't understand the tongue, would you come away with
W: Yes. Often I still don't understand what they're saying. In a
long discourse, I miss things, but their leading people are as
incisive and sharp and smart--any colloquial term you want to
use--as anybody I can think of in white society, and they know
how to make their point in public. I admire them very much when
I see them in action.
M: Is this accompanied by a good deal of gesture, or pantomime, or
what have you, that might communicate to a non-speaker?
W: Sometimes, but it's not so much a part of their speech as it
would be, say, for the average Latin culture--French or Italian,
or something like this, or Yiddish. Not as much as that.
M: You know, a good deal of the history of the Seminoles, so far as
the personal intercourse is concerned, gets communicated into the
white society by a Negro interpreter.
W: Yes, it did.
M: The Negroes who had run away, say at the time of the Second
Seminole War ( 1835-1842 ), learned the tongue and would
interpret. And they surely, in their rendition of Indian
eloquence, cannot have been particularly graceful themselves.
W: It is hard to say.
M: The range of their languages, you would suppose, would have
been rather limited.
W: Yes. You wouldn't think their English would be very extensive,
but I have never read anything that would tell me one way or the
other what to think about that.
M: Well, I don't see how you can find it out. Speeches from people
like Osceola and Micanopy are recorded in romantic language, and
you wonder whether they spoke in that type of language, or
whether some white man, listening to a Negro interpreter, decided
what they were saying.
W: Well, no two people, hearing the same word, would interpret it
quite the same way. You just don't make a one-to-one correspond-
ence between the words of one language and the words of another.
It's impossible, and so, you have to do the best you can when
M: I guess any language--I'm no linguist--has words that can be
identified as verbs. Is that true?
W: As far as I know.
M: In other words, action words?
W: Every language has to be able to express action.
M: Does Miccosukee, for instance, have tenses similar to ours?
W: It has more. It has at least three different past tenses,
depending on how long ago the action was.
M: Well, how would this differ from our pluperfect and perfect:
I went, I have gone, I had gone.
W: Well, as I understand it, in English, the difference is not so
much the time element. Of course, it is in a way, and yet it's
different. If you say, "I have done it", it implies that the
action was completed, probably not too long ago. Sometime just
immediately before. You say, "I had done it", that puts the
concluded time farther back. It is not related to the present
but to the past. But the difference is just strictly a matter
of when it happened in Miccosukee. If it happened a thousand
years ago, you use one tense; if it happened yesterday, you use
another; and if it just happened, just now, you use still
M: What would be the limitation?
W: Well, they're sort of relative.
M: Not a thousand years ago, but some varied block of ancient past?
W: Yes, it's partly relative. It depends on the context. If you're
talking about last year, you might use the remote past, if the
rest of the context is fairly recent. It's partly relative, it
doesn't have any absolute limits.
M: Well, is the tense expressed by an actual inflection of the
verb, or root of it, or whatever you want to call it?
W: By an affix, yes.
M: It's not like I go, you go, he goes, in which the verb form
W: No, the root doesn't change. It just tacks more things on.
M: Do they not have what are called, in European languages, irregular
M: In which the root form does change?
W: Not as much, no. The root changes for things other than tense.
Quite often for number, the number of people involved, the root
will change between singular, dual, and plural. And sometimes
it changes just by adding something to it. But sometimes it
changes by being completely different. So that, in the verb
for run and the word for lying down, the plural is completely
different from the singular. You have to learn two different
roots there. Sort of like "is", "am" "are", "be", and all
that stuff in English, where they don't look at all alike but
are still part of the same verb conjugation.
M: Well, besides different past tenses, have they got different
W: No, there's only one future.
M: And is present expressed just as one tense, or are there
W: No, no variations. But there are different types of action
--like whether it is continued, or completed, or about to
happen, or something like this, in the view of the speaker.
M: Would you describe the handling of tenses as more complicated
or less complicated for a person attempting to learn it?
W: The only worse complication is having to learn three past tenses
instead of one. Otherwise, I don't think it is any more complicated
than ours. That's off the top of my head. I haven't watched
anybody else try to learn it, but that is my impression.
M: What about mood? Do they have a mood expressed in verbs? Passive
W: There is no passive, as such.
M: There is not?
M: I was hit?
W: No. You have to turn it around and say somebody hit me.
M: Is there an indirect object?
W: Oh, yes. There are plenty of indirect objects--meaning that you
did it for somebody or to somebody. You can say, "I brought the
book to you ". "You" would be the indirect object. Sure, they do
that. And you know that the "you" is an indirect object because
they tack an affix on the verb to show that there's an indirect
object someplace in the sentence.
M: And what about the use of subjects? The Spanish, for instance,
often will leave out a pronoun because the verb form will
W: Yes. They do the same. The subject is always indicated in the
verb by another affix, so you don't have to use the noun or
M: Are there any forms of what I would call substantive words,
other than verbs? That we don't have? And the matter of case
--can you talk about Miccosukee in terms of case?
W: Well, there's something a little bit like case in that most
noun words either have an ending that shows that it's the
subject of the sentence or another ending that shows it's not
M: This is done by endings?
M: Well, I understood you to say that if it's an indirect object,
they identify it by means of an ending.
W: It will be a prefix, in that case, on the verb. Plus, and the
indirect object words will have an ending that says this is not
M: Then you would say, "this is not the subject", wouldn't you, to
specifically signal this as an indirect object.
W: No. The signal for that is in the verb--it says "there's an
indirect object in this sentence".
M: How about the word order?
W: Verbs tend to come at the end of the sentence; the main verb is
at the end of the sentence. Sometimes there will be several
clauses in the sentence, and the main verb will still be way at
the end, sort of like German, I understand. I haven't studied
M: Well, are there articles: "an", "a", and "the"?
W: Not quite like it. There are some affixes that act a little bit
like that. And there are some small words that act a little bit
like that, but nothing that's quite parallel to it.
M: Have you got things that we refer to as prepositions?
W: No. The equivalent of English prepositions are sometimes verb
affixes, sometimes verbs, and sometimes even a noun can be
substituted for our prepositions.
M: You mean if you were going to say, "this cup is on the table"?
W: Yes, you would put an affix in the verb.
M: How would it be?
W: Oh, you would have to say literally, "the cup..."
M: "Sits" or something?
W: Yes, you can't say "is".
M: It will be an action verb?
W: Yes, and short, squat objects like cups "sit". Tall objects
"stand", and long objects "lie down". The word "is" is only
used like our linking verb in English, like you say that "the
man is big", or "the apple is red", but it is not used to mean
a position, like "the cup is on the table". They don't say that.
So literally it comes out "the cup", with a subject ending,
"table" with a non-subject ending, and then a prefix on the
verb that means "on", and then "it sits". That is the way it
M: Does that seem any more complicated to you than English, or less
W: I don't think it's fair to compare the two, really.
M: It's something you can't compare.
W: No. Each language has its own genius, and in some ways I think
it's easy. I think English is a relatively hard language, for a
lot of foreigners to learn, from what I understand.
M: Is this language rich in modifiers? I mean, adjectives, adverbs?
W: Probably not as many in proportion as in European languages, I
M: Well, what about the matter of numbers? Do words have to agree
W: No, they don't, there isn't the need for agreement, as such. The
number comes out in the verb or in the modifier. So, if you want
to say, I saw two big dogs, the big is pluralized, so that you
know that there's more than one dog involved.
M: The adjective follows the number of the noun.
W: Yes. But, the number is not indicated in the noun, just in the
M: Well, so, for our purposes, it'd be I saw two bigs dog"?
M: That isn't fair, I guess.
M: You wouldn't inflect the word dog?
W: No. You don't inflect the dog. You put the plural on the "big".
And the only real plural in nouns is a thing they call a
M: What does that mean?
W: That means that you're thinking of a group of things, not only
as a group, but as individuals. It isn't comparable to an
English regular simple plural. It's different from that. So,
ordinarily you don't see a plural used on a noun.
M: Are there any peculiarities in the language that I've overlooked?
W: I suppose there are lots of things that are different than
English, I suppose. Almost everything seems different.
M: All the terms I've used so far--if you wrote a grammar of this,
you would use similar terms, I suppose: nouns, pronouns, verbs.
W: Well, yes I would. I wouldn't use the word preposition, because
there isn't any, unless I were comparing it with English. Then
I would say English prepositions come out thus and so; but I
wouldn't use it to describe the language per se. Because there
isn't any word class that is called preposition.
M: How would you handle a word like noun? Would they have an
understandable word for this? Have you coined one?
W: No, I haven't needed to. I expect we would just use the word
for name, or something like that.
M: Name. There would be such a...
W: Oh, yes, there's a word for name.
M: And what would you do with pronoun?
W: I don't know for sure at this point. It may be that if we need
to describe something like that we'll use the English technical
terms, and use them as borrowed words. I don't know what we'll
do at this point.
M: Well, you are eventually going to reduce it to a written grammar,
W: Oh, yes, we hope to publish a grammar of some sort eventually.
We have a lot of rough notes, but nothing published in grammar.
It's just been in phonology, is the only thing that has been
published so far.
M: Would you look forward to the day when the Miccosukees wrote in
their own tongue rather than in English?
W: I wouldn't say rather; I would say both. Sure.
M: So they were bilingual in writing.
W: Right. Some of them are interested, and I'm sure that if there's
going to be a lot of writing done in the language, it'll be
because they do it, because one person can only do a certain
amount. In other languages where they've had written newspapers
and so on, of course it's been the native speakers of a language
and not the outsiders who have had to do the bulk of the work.
Like in Navajo for years they had a Navajo newspaper. And the
Indians worked on that.
M: Is the Navajo language as a written language older than the
W: Yes. Oh, yes.
M: Than Creek?
W: Yes. Way back in the early 1900s, different missionaries and
government people worked on it, but then they came out with
several different orthographies, which were conflicting.
Finally the BIA wanted to have a standardized alphabet, so a
couple of anthropologists and linguists worked on it--Morgan,
and Young, and I forget--made a standardized orthography which
everybody then adopted, except maybe one small mission, I'm
not sure. And they wrote a dictionary and a grammar, and they
had a Navajo newspaper going. There has been quite a lot of
religious material, including the New Testament, which was
published in 1956 and is widely used. There are about 15,000
copies in circulation. And quite a lot of Navajos have learned
to read and write their own language, along with English. So
I hope the same thing can happen here.
M: Is Miccosukee, you figure, life work for you? Are you going
to devote the rest of your life to it?
W: Oh, I hope I won't be here the rest of my life. I will be here
several more years.
M: What would you do with yourself, after you had come through
from the beginning--go off and, and grapple with another
W: It's hard to say. Several of our co-workers have done the same
thing. One of our team is on their third language now. And the
team that did the Navajo New Testament also did western Apache
and is still at it. They are related languages, and it was fairly
easy to work with one after they had worked with the other;
they're both Athapascan languages.
M: Is Miccosukee the last of the American Indian tongues to be
W: No. There're still others waiting.
M: Others such as what? Can you recall any that have not been
reduced to the written form?
W: Well, there are a lot that never were and became extinct, or
on the verge of it, so that we won't be working with them.
We hope to have workers with the Sac and Fox.
M: Those languages have never been reduced?
W: About a hundred years ago they had a book or two of the New
Testament, but nothing since.
M: I was brought up in Sac and Fox country, in southeastern Iowa,
and so many of the names like Otumwa, where I was born, and
Oshaloosa are Sac and Fox.
W: Yes. Gee, I'm trying to think. Two of the Pueblo languages in
New Mexico have never had anything written in them. Three of
them, in fact. There are a whole lot of languages in New Mexico
among the Pueblo village type people. And some of the languages
along the Yuma River--I mean the Colorado River--the Yuman
groups in western Arizona have never had anything written, and
are still using their own language quite extensively. And, let
me see, the Alabama Koasati groups in Texas and Louisiana,
never had anything written for them. People say the language is
written, there are technical articles about it, but it has
never been given to the people themselves. Our organization
won't be working where the language seems to be dying out pretty
fast, because it's not worthwhile to spend ten or fifteen years
on a project that nobody would use after you're done.
M: But your selection would doubtless be an American Indian language.
W: Yes. I'm fascinated with the Koasatis myself because I made a
survey there once, and the language is related to this one.
M: Where are they?
W: In Texas and Louisiana. They came from Alabama to begin with,
and the language is related in the Muskogee family to this one.
A lot of the words are the same or cognates--very closely similar
--and some are very different.
M: You have any idea how many of those people there are?
W: The Alabamas and Koasatis, their languages are almost alike,
and together there might be seven hundred, I guess.
M: Are they diminishing, as far as you know?
W: I think they are increasing, like the Seminoles here.
W: As far as I know.
M: While you worked with the Seminoles, have you any idea how the
population changed since you first knew them? How many of them
were there here?
W: Let's see, I was reviewing some figures last night, and I've
forgotten exactly. I think they have increased from around a
thousand to about 1500.
M: I think there are about 1500.
W: In the last fifteen years, I think.
W: It was five hundred and something in 1930, I'm sure of that.
So that they have almost tripled in forty years.
M: Double, about, in Oklahoma what it was here, I think.
W: Yes, at least. I think there are 3500 or four thousand Creek-
speaking Seminoles in Oklahoma, plus all the Creeks proper; of
which there are quite a few.
M: Do you consider it correct to refer to the Miccosukees as
Seminoles? Or do they have to be separately addressed?
W: Well, I know the Miccosukees don't like to be called Seminoles,
especially the ones on the Trail. The terms are used in so many
different ways it's terribly confusing. Linguistically, Seminole
is used to refer to a dialect of Creek. Politically, Seminole
means the three reservations under the Seminole agency here, of
which two-thirds are Miccosukee speakers. And it's through the
political situation that the problem comes because the Miccosukees
on the Trail are under a separate political organization and
don't like to be called Seminole. They feel that the Seminoles
betrayed their trust as Indians, and they don't want to be lumped
together with them.
M: Do they have an agent down there representing them?
W: They did. I'm not sure from what Buffalo Tiger was saying to me
the other day if they still do or not, because the tribe had
taken over most of their own services from the BIA and contracted
them out. They're running their own affairs. I wasn't sure--we
had only a short interview, because he was pressed for time--
whether he meant to say that the agency was completely closed
down now or not. ( It closed in 1971 ) But they're under a
separate organization from the Seminole Tribe of Florida, Inc.
M: Do you remember how long ago that was, when did they make that
W: The Miccosukee tribe on the Trail was organized in 1962, and the
Seminole tribe was organized in 1957. (The split began in the
1930s or earlier) Before that, neither group had a formal tribal
organization under the Indian Organization Act. White people
just had to deal with the leaders as they found them; they didn't
really know who they could turn to, and so it was the white
people who pushed them into tribal organizations as much as any-
body, I think. I don't think they wanted it. Their political
systems are much different from white systems. I don't think
they would've chosen them if they were properly asked. That's
M: From the study of Miccosukee, are there special cultural character-
istics that you have distinguished? Now, for instance, you men-
tioned to me one that was something I never heard before, that
they have no farewell, they have no formalities. This indicates
a rather fascinating thing about the culture. Is there anything
else of that category of generalization that occurs to you?
W: No, not right off. Of course, this business of formality is
something that is quite in contrast with something like Japanese,
where you carry it to a great degree, from what I understand.
M: Well, are there any areas, other areas of our language that they're
lacking altogether, or are there areas where their language is
particularly rich? That you can think of?
W: Offhand, no, at the moment.
M: More of a reactive question that I wanted to ask you centers
around this .type of thing: we had a young fellow named Scafti
at Gainesville who wrote a master's thesis up there. He and
his wife came down and spent a summer among the Seminoles, and
I think she handled the recreation program or something--I
don't know if you ever met him or not.
W: No, they were here during the time that I was away.
M: My point is that the thesis was devastating in suggesting that
the Seminole culture was so badly hung between cultures that it
W: This is true.
M: Particularly the young.
W: This is true.
M: I would like, if you're willing to do it, to hear you make any
comments you're willing to about what we call in white society
W: I'm sure there's a great deal of this. It seems like among the
middle aged people, thirty, forty, fifties, the most unhappy
people are those that are the most enculturated. They are
caught in conflict between two cultures. And you see them
drinking heavily and doing self-destructive things more than
most that are more untouched. And I think this is common in
other cultural areas, too, where the pressure is on, from what
I understand. But there's a lot of pressure from everywhere. I
think a lot of it comes because Americans are so ethnocentric
that they can't stand to see anybody who lives, thinks, and
feels differently than they do.
M: That's an interesting point.
W: And the Seminoles are no exception. Some people can't stand to
see them living differently than we do, and they are pressing
them from every angle to become like white people. And, the
amazing thing to me is that they haven't changed more of their
culture than they have.
M: Do you think they're going to become like white people? Are
they going to disappear, in your opinion?
W: Oh, I suppose in time. I don't know of any minority group that
would hang on in a situation like this. But I don't think it's
going to happen right away. Just from the standpoint of language,
as one facet of culture--you know Steve Feraca was here a couple
of years as one of the BIA officials, and was trained in anthro-
M: I remember his name.
W: His opinion on the use of the language is that there will be more
speakers of the language as years go by, for the foreseeable
future. Not that they will depend on it as exclusively as they
have in the past, because most of them will know English too, but
they will still use Miccosukee as a language of social intercourse
among themselves. For some time to come. I think where the main
pressure comes, well, there's no great conflict when it comes to
wanting material comfort. They can adapt to a lot of those pretty
easily, and they have. The conflict comes in value systems; for
instance, the kids go to school with white kids, and they soon
find out that one of the main values in white society is competi-
tion. For Seminoles it's not. So, if you're a Seminole kid, you
sort of stand back, hang back in the shadows and wait to be coax-
ed into things, because you don't want to compete. We watched the
kids playing games with each other, and the main goal is not to
see who can beat, but just to have fun.
M: And these have been characteristic of the culture in your judgment?
W: Yeah. I think it's less so here, especially at Hollywood where
they've had more white contact. They had to learn to compete
more. But at Big Cypress, you can definitely tell. This is one of
the hurdles the kids have when they go to white schools, social
things like this that grow out of tribal values. For several years,
they have been cutting back on the Big Cypress school, hoping to
phase it out someday, back to only four grades, starting at fifth
grade going to Clewiston, forty miles away to school. But now
they have raised Big Cypress back up to an eight grade school
again; one of the reasons is that they feel the jump to the white
school is too hard for these kids.
M: Where do they get the teachers?
W: Through the BIA.
M: Are any of them Indians? Or do you happen to know?
W: As far as I know, none of them are this year. There are very
few around. Billy Cypress is the only Seminole teacher that's
qualified. Of course, this is a small agency under the BIA
here, and it requires very few teachers, so not very many of
the BIA teachers ever come this way. Big Cypress is relatively
isolated, and not very many of them ask to come there to work
when there is opportunity for a transfer because it's too
isolated--forty miles to the nearest town, and what teacher
likes to live that way, you know. Either they drive back and
forth, or they live out there in the teacher's cottage. It's
sort of isolated, except if they go away on weekends.
M: That's true down on the Trail, too.
W: Yes, they're just about as far from town. Well, that's about
thirty miles from the western outskirts of Miami, I guess. Out
to Forty Mile Bend school.
M: Are the Indian kids discriminated against in any way in the
white school? Have you heard?
W: Yes, in Clewiston, I think they were, especially in the beginning,
socially. Partly because of their own reticence; the Indians
weren't outgoing, and nobody was going to bother to drive them
out of their shell.
M: Would you think it was a color prejudice, such as operated against
the black man?
W: No, I think it was social prejudice. The feeling that, well, they
knew the Indians came from a lower standard of living economically
and so on. And they were different socially. All these barriers.
And then the school board for a long time didn't want the Seminoles
in the school, because they knew that having kids that were below
the average level of achievement academically would make problems
for them. They also knew that Big Cypress Reservation pays no
real estate taxes to the state, so it cost them money. Until the
federal government started making some reimbursement along that
line, they weren't happy at all to have the Seminole kids in the
M: Do you know of many Seminoles--or, if you want to break them down,
Miccosukees and Creeks--that work away from the reservations?
W: Yes, there are quite a few that work away at least part of the
time. There's a regular colony of Seminoles that live almost,
well, some of them live all the time in Immokalee.
M: What draws them there?
W: Work. The vegetable crop.
W: Yes, mainly. Some of them have married migrant workers that live
with the Mexican colony over there. And some of them still have
their own colony. I guess there are at least fifty that live
over there. Most of them came from Big Cypress or the Trail to
begin with. Some of them used to shuttle back and forth, and now
they have more or less settled down, and stay over there.
M: It is said, you know, that in the past--I don't know how recent
past, but in the 1930s--miscegenation was very, very strongly
W: Yes. It still is, from the standpoint of ideals. Now, that's done
practically, it was breaking down even in the 30s and 40s. The
kids that are mixed race out at Big Cypress have really been
clobbered by their own people in school. I mean, well, it's just
like when white kids see something different and that runs in
front of everything. Whether the kids are part white or part
black, out there, they get run down by the other kids.
M: Insulted, made to fight, and so on?
W: Yes, there's one family out there that the kids in the current
generation are, let's see, one-eighth Negro, I think. But they
get picked on a lot. By the other Seminole kids that are Miccosukee.
M: Do you detect some prejudice against the black among them?
W: Yes. I don't know if it comes from inside the tribe or from
outside. I think part of it comes from inside. Historically. Way
back in the days when they accepted the runaway slaves into the
tribe, I think. In some ways they were treated as second-class
citizens. Based from little bits of history that I've heard from
people out there.
M: Oh, I think they were. But miscegenation was very strictly
forbidden in those days. And the Negroes lived in their own
W: But there was enough of it so that they had to admit them into
the clan system.
M: I suppose so.
W: In order to make more opportunities for marriage.
M: Is the clan system still a strong factor, or is that something
W: It's fading, I'm sure, but I think, except among the very young,
it still has some pretty strong influence. You don't see marriages
within the clan too much, yet. And when there is, the old people
really frown on it. Of course they have no way of discipline for
it anymore. Except just social pressure within the group, but
there's nothing they can do, legally. In the old days, of course,
the penalty was death. To marry within your clan.
M: The things I read indicated that the Seminoles generally, as
parents, did never discipline their young very severely.
M: Is that true? Still?
W: Yes. And what discipline system there was has broken down, because
the mother's brother was the disciplinarian in those days, and now
things are such that this is no longer true, and there's been
nothing to take his place.
M: While you lived among them, have you seen that transition?
W: No, it had already happened before that. The older people talk
about what it used to be like when it was that way. I mean,
people 50 and 60 years old still talk a lot about it.
M: Well, one of the standard punishments, so I've read, was scratching.
M: But there was also a purifying element to that.
W: Yes, they did it ceremonially, but they also did it to cleanse
you. Well, they only did it occasionally, as I understand it.
M: Have you ever seen that done or ever seen the evidence of it?
W: Oh, yes, a lot of people...well, not recent evidence, no.
M: But the older ones are scarred, to show for it?
W: Yes. I think another reason that the lack of discipline shows up
is because they live in much closer proximity to other Indians
and other outsiders than they used to. So there's more opportunity
for trouble. Without any guidance, it really shows up. A couple
of women that are working with the Seminoles, for religious
reasons, have been involved with the Seminoles; one of them for
three years, and the other, five. One was saying the other day,
I was listening to what she was saying, it seemed to her that
from about three years old, on up, the kids were more or less on
their own. She had the same impression that I did. That there's
not much discipline. And those that do discipline their children,
seem to really lay it on. There doesn't seem to be any in-between.
M: Well, what is the obvious effect of that? I mean, have you got a
rampant individualism? With each kid doing as he darn pleases, or
have you been able to observe this at all?
W: Well, they do as they please, but as a group. This is my guess.
M: A peer group?
W: Yes. Much like white kids. Even less controlled than white kids.
M: And with a relative indifference to what the old folks think?
W: Yes. Like, I'd say the girls started wearing shorts and the old
grandmothers thought this was terrible. But even among adults,
they don't know what to do with anybody who breaks the social
order. Like, say, a drunk comes up on the church steps and makes
a big fuss. What do you do? Nothing. Just laugh at him and hope
he'll go away.
M: So the lack of discipline extends over into the governmental
W: I think it's because the old system broke down, and everything
is in a vacuum now. This is what I think.
M: It's always puzzled me that with as many older ones around, they
accept the leadership of quite young men. All the chairmen and
presidents I've known have been in their thirties and forties.
W: Well, Bill and Billy Osceola, when they were leaders here, were
a little bit older than that. They are both on up toward sixty.
M: They are?
W: Yes. They don't look it, but Billy's past 60, I know.
M: I didn't know that. You'd never know it.
W: Yes. I think it's partly...I saw a little bit out at Big
Cypress, in informal ways. When they choose somebody to deal
with white people, they choose somebody who they think can
speak the language and deal with white people, whether they
really respect his opinions as an Indian or not. That's what
it seems to me like.
M: Well, from your observations, do the judgments of the tribal
government get carried into execution pretty much, or are they
W: Well, they haven't...excuse me...yeah, I think they do.