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  • Talking Indian: Identity and language revitalization in the Chickasaw renaissance by Jenny L. Davis
  • Jocelyn C. Ahlers
Talking Indian: Identity and language revitalization in the Chickasaw renaissance. By Jenny L. Davis. Tucson: The University of Arizona Press, 2018. Pp. 170. ISBN 9780816537686. $50 (Hb).

In the conclusion to Talking Indian: Identity and language revitalization in the Chickasaw renaissance, Jenny L. Davis writes, ‘Where colonial strategies actively worked to sever Chickasaw from our linguistic and cultural practices, Chickasaw language reclamation efforts work to reweave those practices throughout the community, both near and far, again’ (143). While centuries of government policies aimed at eradicating Native American languages have led in many cases to the disruption of the intergenerational transmission of these languages, recent decades have seen tremendous success in projects aiming to revitalize and reclaim (Leonard 2011) Tribal languages of heritage. In Talking Indian, D presents us with an intimate description of the many facets of one such project of reclamation.

The title of the book quotes a phrase regularly heard in Indian Country, where, as D points out, the use of an Indigenous language is often referred to as ‘talking Indian’; in many cases, this colloquialism is used preferentially over the name of the language itself. This phrase simultaneously reflects a past in which all community members ‘spoke Indian’ and a present in which both community and individual identity are bound up with the language of heritage, regardless of the current number of fluent speakers. An overarching aim of this book is to consider ‘the impacts of language revitalization in the Chickasaw Nation across multiple domains and types of language use’ (4). In so doing, D takes readers on a detailed exploration of the wide range of places where Chickasaw plays a role in the day-to-day lives of Tribal members. At the same time, abundant references and careful analysis link the specific case of Chickasaw to other sites of reclamation and demonstrate how this intimate look at the ways that identity and language are mutually reinforcing can give us insight into the ties between language and identity more broadly.

The first chapter locates the book in several ways. First, it locates the book in relationship to the author, who is herself a member of the Chickasaw Nation. The author also locates the Chickasaw Nation both spatially and temporally, and in so doing, locates this work within the field of diaspora studies. The Chickasaw Nation has been subject to multiple diasporic processes, including relocation from Tribal homelands, the diffusion of Nation members due to political and economic pressures, and the de-diasporization of the Nation’s members, a process that is intimately linked to the economic expansion of the Chickasaw Nation. This process, in turn, is deeply entwined with the linguistic reclamation described in this volume. The first chapter also outlines the ways, expanded upon in the rest of the book, that individual identity, community identity, and speakerhood are co-located in Chickasaw language ideologies. Ethnolinguistic identity is one of the four discourses typically used to indicate belonging in the Chickasaw Nation, and it is here that we see a key theme of the book raised: of the four such discourses described here (discourses that also include the nation as a group of people who live and have lived within the geographic boundaries of the Chickasaw Nation; blood quantum or phenotype; and the official definition of Tribal membership, founded in the Chickasaw Nation’s Dawes Roll), ethnolinguistic identity is the one that offers members of the Nation the potential to manipulate the centrality of their community membership. Because this ethnolinguistic definition is based on knowledge of, or connection to, the Chickasaw language, community members are able to participate in language learning and affiliative activities to increase the centrality of their community membership. This agency is an underlying theme throughout the book.

Ch. 1 outlines the history of language revitalization in the Chickasaw Nation and relates that history to broader processes of language loss and revitalization in the US and elsewhere. This chapter raises another theme of D’s book, which is the way that language revitalization is embedded within dynamic and complex social/political/economic/cultural...


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pp. 374-376
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