This project began in 2013 by analyzing recordings from the early 1980s of Elvira Molinere Billiot and Valentine Dardar singing in “Indian” (Houma) and John Swanton’s 80+ list of Houma words. We worked to try and find more, with one team member even visiting a Jesuit archive in Montreal out-of-pocket, but there were not enough records to easily bring back Houma. It would have to be reconstructed. So we took the Houma words we had and created spelling patterns around them for uniformity to build the language.
A team of seven Houma and two linguists did copious amounts of research to compare Houma to Choctaw, Chickasaw, Koasati (Coushatta), Alibamu, and Yama (Mobilian Trade Jargon). Analysis showed that Choctaw was closest to Houma but there were some distinct differences. The letter usage only seen in Houma words was over applied to create uniformity among the Houma word list and make it distinct from Choctaw. For example, using “s” only and never “sh.” We also don’t use the vowel “o” but only “u,” as supported by words on the list and historical documents from the early 1700s which used the “u” sound versus “o.” We stuck to both Muskogean and French roots (to honor those who’ve interacted with our tribe longest) by dropping the “h” at the beginning of words. Even the “H” in Houma is not historically consistent and was also dropped sometimes in Choctaw words. So we took beginning with “h” out entirely to keep things simple and uniform.