The evolution of Lakota social and political structure from pre-contact through the present with maps of the Lakota Nation.
Traditional Lakota tales of the creation of the universe, the earth and the emergence of life and mankind within it.
Lakota traditional spiritual beliefs, rites and ceremonies, past and present
Traditional Lakota folk tales in English and Lakota.
A guide to the Lakota alphabet and pronunciation with streaming audio. An introduction to Lakota rules of grammar, verb lists and dictionaries (English & Deutsch).
Song structure of Plains music, historical diffusion of songs, dances and regalia on the Plains. Lakota songs to listen to and download.
Current events, national news clippings.
The full complete text of Treaties and U.S. Supreme Court decisions.
Šung'manitu-tanka, the Great Plains or Buffalo Wolf - The nation of wolves and their unique relationship with the Lakota.
Links to Native American sites on the World Wide Web.
The Lakota Language
Lakota Phonological Key|
The Oglala speak Lakota, a Siouan dialect which they share with the Sicangus,
Hunkpapas, Mnikowojus, Sihasapas, Oohenunpas, and Itazipcos, collectively known as Tetons.
The dialect is similar to and mutually intelligible with the Nakota (Yankton) and Dakota
(Santee) dialects. The relationship between the discrete political units and
their respective dialects is discussed in
Most words in Lakota are accented on the second syllable (See
Phonemes and their equivilent letters appear as follows:
(Click on the vowel to hear the pronunciation !)
Vowels. Lakota has eight vowels, five oral and
a....Low, oral, approximately as in
| a'....Low, nasal, approximately as in calm.
| e....Mid, front, oral, approximately as in they.
| i....High, front, oral, approximately as in machine.
| i'....High, front, nasal, approximately as in seen.
| o....Mid, back, oral, approximately as in open.
| u....High, back, oral, approximately as in boot.
| u'....High, back, nasal, approximately as in boom.
In formal Lakota, sentences end in vowels with the exception of ske?,
'it is said'; nacece?, 'I suppose'; sece?, 'I think.' The glottal stop,
however, is not written (ske, nacece, sece). One word ends in w (haw,
'greetings', 'yes'), but it is traditionally written hau or occasionally how.
Consonants. Lakota has twenty-eight consonants,
of which twenty-one represent seven consonantal triads (p, t, k, c, z, z', and x), each of which
is comprised of a voiced, aspirated, and glottalized member. The remaining seven consonants are
w, y, l, m, n, h, and ?.
p....Bilabial, voiced as in boy.
p when word initial, |
b when first position in consonant cluster.
| p`....Bilabial, aspirated as in pin.
| p'....Bilabial, glottalized, No English equivalent.
| t....Alveolar, voiced, as in dim.
| t`....Alveolar, aspirated, as in tin.
| t'....Alveolar, glottalized. No English equivalent.
| k....Velar, voiced as in got.
k when word initial, |
g when first position in consonant cluster.
| k`....Velar, aspirated, as in kick.
| k'....Velar, glottalized. No English equivalent.
| c....Alveopalatal, voiced, as in jaw.
| c`....Alveopalatal, aspirated, as in church.
| c'....Alveopalatal, glottalized. No English equivalent.
| z....Alveolar, voiced, grooved, as in zip.
| s....Alveolar, aspirated, grooved, as in sip.
| s`....Alveloar, glottalized, grooved. No English equivalent.
| z^....Alveopalatal, voiced, grooved, as in azure.
| š....Alveopalatal, aspirated, grooved, as in shake.
| š'....Alveopalatal, glottalized, grooved. No English equivalent.
| V....Velar, voiced, as in Spanish cigaro.
| x....Velar, aspirated, as in German nach.
| x'....Velar, glottalized. No English equivalent.
| w....Bilabial, voiced, as in water.
| y....Alveopalatal, voiced, as in yes.
| l....Alveolar, voiced, as in link.
| m....Bilabial, voiced, as in mink.
|n....Alveolar, voiced, as in not.
| h....Glottal, voiceless, as in hat.
| ?....Glottal, voiceless.
|| Written as
Excerpt from Reading and Writing the Lakota Language = Lakota Iyapi un Wowapi
nahan Yawapi by Albert White Hat Sr.
History of the Written Language
The Lakota language, like most languages, was not originally a written language.
Dakota, the most eastern division, was the first Sioux tribal group encountered
by missionaries and anthropologists. Consequently, Dakota was the earliest dialect to be transcribed
into a written format. In 1834 the Episcopal missionaries Samuel W Pond, Gideon H Pond, Stephen R
Riggs, and Dr Thomas S Williamson created a Dakota alphabet. This alphabet system was modified
for the "L" dialect by Rev. Eugene Buechel, S.J. . . . and further adapted and extended
by Franz Boaz and Ella Deloria ....
For many years, missionaries, depending on whether they were Episcopalian or
Catholic, would teach Rigg's or Buechel's orthography. Then, in 1976, yet another alphabet
system for the Lakota language was introduced. Two linguists, Dr. Allen Taylor and Dr. David
Rood of the University of Colorado at Boulder present their orthography in Beginning Lakhota.
History of a Lakota Developed Orthography
With the establishment of Oglala Lakota College in 1970 and Sinte Gleska College
in 1971, Lakota people became more actively concerned with various written forms of our language.
Instructors from Pine Ridge, Cheyenne River, and Rosebud reservations exchanged classroom language
materials. However, each group presented a different spelling system, depending upon which
missionaries had had the strongest influence in that region. By 1973, many instructors wanted a
standardized Lakota alphabet.
In response to these issues, Ben Black Bear, Jr., chairman of the Lakota Studies
Department at then Sinte Gleska College, and Ed Fills the Pipe, a Lakota language instructor at
Oglala Lakota College, organized a meeting of language instructors for Pine Ridge, Cheyenne River,
and Rosebud reservations, and Rapid City. For three days, we compared early writings by missionaries,
trappers, and government agents and presented our own individual alphabet systems. We studied these
various systems and agreed that Lakota must be written based on sound. We decided to continue
using the English alphabet system in conjunction with diacritics because that system was most
familiar to Lakota speakers. Yet, when we discussed the specific diacritics for sounds unique to
Lakota, we could not arrive at a consensus. At the end of the meeting, Ben and Ed suggested that
each of us continue working with the system we were most comfortable with and to consider the
possibility of changing our systems when we discovered weaknesses.
At that point I was teaching at St. Francis Indian School, St. Francis, South
Dakota, and developing an alphabet system with Lloyd One Star. As time passed, I began to see
weaknesses in our work. We used letters with diacritics to express sounds unique to Lakota.
However, some of the marks were interpreted as stress symbols, causing students to incorrectly
accent words. For example, the letter k with a slash mark (k') used to represent the guttural k
confused students causing them to accent the syllable instead of articulating a guttural k.
Encounters such as this caused us to question our orthography and to become more ready to
compromise on an alphabet that would be less confusing.
In February 1982, the South Dakota Association of Bilingual and Bicultural
Education sponsored a language workshop conducted by Dr. Allan Taylor and Dr. David Rood on
grammar and sentence structure. At this conference the issue of the alphabet system resurfaced.
In response to this concern, a group of instructors from Rosebud, Pine Ridge and Cheyenne River
reservations, and Rapid City organized the Committee of the Preservation of the Lakota Language,
the Lakotiyapi Okolakiciye. Serving as chair, I updated other instructors on the meetings held
during the 1970s addressing the orthography. We agreed to focus on the "L" dialect,
the dialect spoken on all the Sioux reservations south and west of the Missouri River. We would
not work on the "D" dialect or the "N" dialect, until progress was first
achieved with the "L" dialect.
Before we could continue pursuing a written language we wanted to consult our
Elders. Therefore, at the second meeting, held a month later on the Pine Ridge Reservation, we
invited Elders to tell us about the Lakota language. We wanted to benefit from their knowledge
and experience with both the oral and written language. For three days, we listened to Elders
representing different districts on the Pine Ridge Reservation.
During the following two months we repeated the procedure on the Rosebud and
Cheyenne River reservations. Again we invited Elders and asked them the same questions posed at
Pine Ridge. We let our Elders talk about our language.
In May, the committee met to discuss the concerns voiced by our tribal Elders.
We decided on two central ideas to emphasize when teaching the language. First, Elders reminded
us that the language is wakan, "very powerful". We use it to communicate with the other
nations: the Deer Nation, the Eagle Nation, the Buffalo Nation, and so forth. We talk to the
wamakaskan, "living beings of the earth", through spiritual communications. Language
must be taught with this in mind. Second, when teaching the language to younger people, both its
good and evil powers must be taught. If you teach only the good, children will be ruined when
they become adults. They need to understand that language contains great power. It can be used
to injure a person's feelings or to compliment their achievements. It can be used with evil intent
or to honor and bless. Young people need to understand that language contains the power to give
life or to take it away. As a result, it must be used respectfully.
Aware of the spiritual aspect of our work, we then met in June for three days to
develop an orthography. We went through the language sound by sound, searching for the best letter
to represent each sound. We wrote one word over and over, each time replacing the same letter with
its equivalent from a different alphabet system. In this way we could visually compare the
differences in each system. After discussing the advantages and disadvantages of each letter, we
then voted on the one letter we most wanted to represent that particular sound. Once a consensus
was reached, we then moved on to the next letter.
At the end of three days, the committee had created a recommended alphabet system
that we believed combined the best elements of the existing systems. At one point during the meeting,
Tillie Black Bear for the Rosebud Reservation pointed out the need for simplicity so that our
children could easily write the letters. Throughout the meeting, we kept her words in mind.
The alphabet system presented in this text was created during these 1982 meetings.
I use it as a pronunciation guide. Eighteen letters represent sounds also found in English. Twenty-two
letters represent sounds unique to the Lakota language. Thus, there are a total of forty letters in
this recommended alphabet system. By memorizing the letter with its respective sound, a person can
accurately pronounce spoken and written Lakota.
As Lakota educators, we have continued to work with this 1982 orthography. Most recently,
in February 1995 in Rapid City, South Dakota, the South Dakota Association of Bilingual and Bicultural
Education (SDABBE) had its annual conference. Educators for Rosebud, Pine Ridge, Cheyenne River, and
Lower Brule reservations, Rapid City Schools and other urban schools in the state were in attendance.
The association set aside a day and a half for Lakota language teachers to discuss our language.
Younger teachers trying to develop language curriculum were encountering the same frustrations we
experienced during the early 1970s. They wanted to compare alphabets and create an orthography that
would reflect the needs of Lakota people. They were unaware that had been accomplished in 1982. I was
given the opportunity to present the history of the Lakotiyapi Okolakiciye to this younger generation
of teachers. There was a motion to retain this title for a statewide association to continue to
safeguard the Lakota language in both its oral and written forms. An Elder suggested that we should
make a change. Instead of Lakotaiyapi it should be two words: Lakota Iyapi. If we wanted to advocate
and use the original form of speech, we needed to correct phrases like this that had been shortened.
We voted unanimously to retain the title and incorporate his suggested change.
The next motion was to keep the alphabet system approved in 1982 along with a written
history of its development. We again voted unanimously in favor of it. A person may challenge the use
of a specific letter or diacritic, but the entire alphabet would no longer be called into question.
This decision is a landmark for Lakota educators. During the 1970s and 1980s, we, as
educators, were competitive and protective of our materials. We were new to the education field, where
resources were scarce or nonexistent. Consequently, we rarely reached consensus or acknowledged
achievement. By maintaining the alphabet system created in 1982, we demonstrated that Lakota educators
can collaborate and be active agents pursuing our own scholastic research.
In its last significant action for 1995, the association voted to create a Lakota
dictionary organized thematically, utilizing the new orthography. We started the discussion by
remembering our ancestors' concerns that were listed in treaties: housing, food, clothing, education,
and health. In addition to these five areas, there were eight other categories we wanted to address
in a dictionary. We also decided that if teachers wanted this particular alphabet system to become
the official alphabet of their reservations, they would need to pursue its acceptance with their own
tribal governments. These decisions mark the new directions of Lakota Iyapi Okolakiciye.