Foreword to the Second Edition

Cyrus Byington (1793–1868) was a long-serving missionary to the Choctaw both in Mississippi and in Indian Territory. During his time with the Choctaw, he worked as the superintendent of Iyanubbi Seminary, he preached the Gospel in Choctaw and English to several congregations, he offered medical care, he assisted in translating the Bible and other books into Choctaw, and he conducted research on the Choctaw language for those who might follow (Coleman 2018).

Byington's grammar was edited by Daniel G. Brinton and published in 1870. The dictionary was edited by the anthropologist John R. Swanton and the historian Henry S. Halbert and published in 1915.

Unfortunately, when Swanton and Halbert edited Byington's manuscript, they introduced several changes in spelling:

  • ʋ → ạ
  • hl → ł
  • a̱, o̱, i̱, u̱ → aⁿ, oⁿ, iⁿ, uⁿ

They also removed many spaces between markers and roots:

  • ʋm isuba → ạmisuba ‘my horse’

These changes may seem minor, but they affect alphabetical order and can lead to unending confusion, particularly for those learning the language.

This new, second edition of Byington's Choctaw dictionary was created with specific goals in mind:

  1. to import Byington's dictionary into a database so that headwords, definitions, parts of speech, etc. can be searched electronically.
  2. to correct the spelling back to the standard spelling and make minor corrections in punctuation.
  3. to create a better English-Choctaw index (not yet done).
  4. to restore traditional spacing of markers and roots (not yet done).

To import the dictionary into a database, the first edition was first scanned. Optical character recognition was used to create the first draft. In 2016, fifteen undergraduate students at William & Mary then embraced the project and divided the labor of checking for scanning errors (see Credits & Acknowledgments). During the pandemic of 2020-2021, Jack Martin then reviewed the entire file against the 1915 edition for errors and imported the file into Fieldworks Language Explorer.

Byington's original manuscript is 975 pages. It is archived at the National Anthropological Archives in Suitland, Maryland (NAA Ms. 2549). It would have been ideal to begin a second edition by working directly from the original manuscript, but we opted not to do that.

When Swanton and Halbert created the first edition, they made corrections in pen directly on Byington's original manuscript. Below is an image of the entry for abeka 'sickness' from the original showing edits.

On many pages it is hard to know who made a certain change. It also would have taken more time and money than we had to photograph the original manuscript and then to study the resulting images. Until that can be done, this second edition is offered as an improvement on the first: one that is searchable online and that uses the spelling Byington intended.

In creating this second edition, a number of errors in the first edition were identified and corrected. Following is a list of substantive corrections (going beyond simple punctuation).

Page Entry Change Reason
3 a achumpa, to bury at > achumpa, to buy at typo
5 abeka abeka, v. t., to be sick > abeka, v. n., to be sick typo or misreading of ms.
7 abonunta ullo̱si > ạllo̱si typo
8 achakali applied to putting edge to an ax > applied to putting steel to an ax misreading of ms.
10 achukma itinachukma > itimachukma typo
21 aiaka Chihowa hokạt atobạt aiahpitok: v. t., ikimiksho hoke > Chihowa hokạt atobạt aiahpitok ikimiksho hoke accidental insertion
83 bafạlli bafallit kania > bafạllit kania typo
85 banạtboa waves; willows > waves; billows typo
105 chimmi pro. a. and pass. pro. >a. pron. and poss. pron. typo, inconsistent abbreviations
129 hahka akaⁿka yạt hahka listed twice as an example repetition
138 hatak iⁿhaklo "; n., a fornication" moved from verb entry to noun entry misplaced subentry
154 ho, ho̱ hạchibaptismochiłishke, Matt. 3:11 > hạchi baptismochi li ho mạhlishke, Matt. 3:11 truncation
165 homaiyi fallow, as a deer > sallow, as a deer misreading
171 iⁿ with a prep., s, of him > with a prep., as of him typo
173 ibafoka ibafoyuka, prop. > ibafoyuka, pro. typo
169 hotupali chukạsh > chuⁿkạsh typo
184 ilbạsha ilbạⁿsha > ilbaⁿsha (there  is no letter ạⁿ) typo
187 iłauạllichi itiⁿhowa, to call each other, Mat. 11:16 example in wrong entry
212 iti chant ạbi n. to girdle trees > v. t. to girdle trees typo
213 iti łoli iti łoli > iti łołi, to gall (a tree); to peel a tree typo
223 kanchi isht tahpạtạt kanchi > isht tahpạlạt kanchi typo
223-224 kanimachi (nasal form listed twice) typo
234 kinałichi a seller > a feller misreading
242 alⁿsa > laⁿsa typo
244 lipa chukạsh ạt lipachi > chuⁿkạsh ạt lipachi > typo
263 moma momạt hussạmaiạla > hạssạmaiạla misreading
275 nana kashofa n., a., pardon > n., a pardon typo
277 nashuka hita > nashuka hạta typo
300 okpạni pisaokpạni > pisa okpạni (to match spelling of separate entry) typo
302 oktạbli imoktạbli,  to check (listed twice) typo
320 pulla akostinchi > akostininchi (based on Matt. 7) typo
333 shuⁿfa iⁿshuⁿfi, to disengage (moved to shuⁿfi) misplaced subentry
335 shushi iskitini > shuⁿshi iskitini (to match spelling elsewhere) typo
335 shushi isht abeka >shuⁿshi isht abeka (to match spelling elsewhere) typo
350 tikeli tikoli, pl. > tikohli, pl. typo
351 tiloffi to break short off > to break off short typo
354 tohwikełichi > tohwikelichi typo
355 tomạffi pl. tomołi or tạmoli > pl. tomołi or tạmołi typo
358 tushałichi itatushalichi > itatushałichi typo
360 ushi chiso, thy son, and sạsa, my son > chiso, thy son, and sạso, my son typo
360 wahhạla, a. subentry wahhạla, v. n. moved to separate entry. misplaced subentry
378 yushtololichi yustolushlichi, pl. > yushtolushlichi, pl. typo

Entries like this one in the first edition involving plural verbs seemed potentially confusing:

  • wakalali, pl., wakla, sing., v. a. i., to crack.

Entries like this have been edited as follows:

  • wakalali v. a. i. pl., (wakla, sing.), to crack.

The first edition used the abbreviation "pro." for both pronoun and prolonged form of the verb. This edition uses "pron." for pronoun and "pro." for prolonged form.

The first edition sometimes uses "n. form" or "n. f." as an abbreviation for nasal form, while also using "n." for noun. The abbreviation "nas. form" was used here consistently.

This project is a work in progress. We will continue to work on spacing of markers and roots and to create a proper English-Choctaw index.

—Jack Martin, May 2020


Coleman, Louis. 2018. Cyrus Byington: Missionary and Choctaw Linguist. Durant: Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma.