field notes ➤ Jack Martin, 2011

❝ Creek dialects and ways of speaking

Creek shows variation across regions, variation among speakers, and variation over time.

3.1 Regional differences

There was probably some variation in the early period among clans and tribal towns in Alabama and Georgia, but migration to Indian Territory in the 1830s and 1840s and the redistribution of land in the 1890s likely contributed to a flattening of dialect differences. Surveys conducted in the late twentieth century provided evidence for three Creek dialects: Muskogee, Oklahoma Seminole Creek, and Florida Seminole Creek.

. . . These dialects overlap: the Seminole dialects share a history of approximately one hundred years (roughly 1750-1840), while the Oklahoma dialects share a longer and more recent history (about 1840 to the present). This overlapping history is evident in several areas of the language.

3.1.1 Vocabulary

. . . Because Oklahoma has a temperate climate and Florida is subtropical, the names for plants and animals differ widely in the two regions. Many names for plants and animals used in Florida are unknown in Oklahoma.

Conversely, some species restricted to colder climates are not widely known in Florida. These include common nut trees like ocí: ‘hickory’ and oci:-cápko ‘pecan’. Plants like wí:so, ‘sassafras’ and hilis-hátk-i ‘ginseng’ are imported to Florida for medicine but do not grow there.

Many names for foods also differ between Florida and Oklahoma. In Oklahoma, the traditional corn dish called (o)sá:fki is served in one basic way. Visitors to Florida are surprised to find kowa:wa-sá:fki ‘guava sofkee’, alo:so-sá:fki ‘rice sofkee’, toma:ti-sá:fki ‘tomato sofkee’, and kont-osá:fki ‘coontie sofkee’, among others.

Florida also differs from Oklahoma in social organization. In Oklahoma, an individual identifies with a tribe (e.g., ma:skó:ki ‘Muskogee’), an itálwa ‘tribal town’ (e.g., oci:-ap-ó:fa ‘Hickory Ground’) and an im-aleyk-itá ‘clan’ (e.g., ‘co-âlki ‘Deer clan’). In Florida, names for tribal towns have either disappeared or merged with clans (thus, ‘Big Town’ is a clan in Florida, though it was previously a tribal town).

Most Florida Seminoles live on reservations, while many Creeks in Oklahoma were allotted land. During the twentieth century, the Seminole Tribe of Florida invested heavily in citrus, cattle, and traditional crafts such as baskets and patchwork. Dozens of terms for citrus are used in Florida. Terms for cattle like wa:ka-ika-hátk-i ‘Hereford’ (lit., ‘white-head cow’) can be understood by Oklahoma speakers, though they are not used there. Sewing has its own vocabulary and has affected color terms: páłko ‘grape’ and yalá:ha ‘orange (fruit)’ are used for colors in Florida. ❞

A Grammar of Creek (Muskogee)
by Jack B. Martin
(University of Nebraska Press, 2011)

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