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Understanding the Lakota Language- connecting via modern technology

I wanted to write a simple tutorial on how to use the “critical markings” for translating the Lakota language to English. The “simple” tutorial turned out to not to be so simple after all. I also wanted this tutorial to honor the memory of John Around Him, and his mission to keep the language alive through his teachings. During our very first class meeting, he handed out little booklets that had Lakota stories in them. When it came to my turn, I read very slowly, trying to figure out how the words were to be pronounced. I had just read two paragraphs when he had me stop, got all of our attention, and asked, “Why do you think it is so hard to read these stories?” We all came up with different ideas and I told him that it is hard to read in English what a word is supposed to mean if there is no way to tell what you are reading is right or not. He was satisfied with that answer and went on to explain that the Lakota language needs to be taught with the critical markings in order to teach it in the classroom. He also emphasized that there are different markings used by many teachers, and everyone would need to come together to use one uniform way of using the markings.

Critical markings used for dialects

Now after researching the language, the dialects are almost the same, the only exception is the dialect, used for which tribe the person is from- for the letters, L (Lakota), D (Dakota), N(Nakota) and so on. During my research, I came across the markup of languages and the correct term is described as the diacritic- accent markings used to identify a letter or characters for translating to English.

Lakota language font and keyboards

There are many, many Siouan fonts that have been designed for the Lakota, Dakota, Yanktonai, and other Sioux tribes when I went searching for the right ones. Most of these fonts have copyrights, fees and usage rights attached. I wanted to find a site that would have the fonts to be easily downloadable and free. In order to use the following Dakota fonts created by Arthur Durkee, for the University of Minnesota, Department of American Indian Studies. The fonts have to be downloaded to your pc, mac, or open source software. An important issue to remember is that if you were to try to send the file, all formatting would be lost unless the receiver of the file were to download the fonts also. I wanted to find a way to have the fonts readable across most pc platforms, as unicode is a universal industry standard for computer systems to manipulate text. Gentium fonts are available to have the diacritical markings available for the proprietary open-source operating systems such as the *nix systems, Microsoft and Mac systems. During my research I came across Christopher Harvey’s website, which had lots of fonts, keyboards, and links to other sites such as Alan Woods Unicode resources. The fonts are not the only downloads available, but there are also keyboard layouts for download also and install instructions for most pc software program platforms, the keyboards include the Pan-Siouan characters, which come with the install.

Unicode characters

My tutorial involves using the basic symbols used in unicode format and also from the free downloads from different websites. The one option to include the guttural sounds created from Unicode, which are the symbols in font package programs and could not be found. The newer versions of software programs may have the guttural letters with the diacritic markings, but the software program I used does not have these symbols or fonts. The basics of the Lakota language are: there are 20 letters used for writing the language there are 6 letters that are not used: D,F,Q,R,V,X 5 English vowel sounds: A= ah, E= a, I= e, O= o, U= u these are the symbols that can be inserted from the Latin Extended-A group: n with a tail, g with dot above, c with carat above, and s with carat above. An important option to use when inserting the symbols, is that a shortcut key can be assigned to the letter. For example the n with a tail (ŋ )can be assigned a shortcut key of Alt+1, Ś = Alt+2, Ć = Alt+3, Ġ= Alt+4 there are 3 nasalized vowels that end with a tail at the n= ŋ : aŋ , iŋ , uŋ there are 5 guttural letter sounds: G= Ġ Guttural.jpg These symbols I had to create and paste. These letters can be downloaded and installed from the different sites mentioned earlier. There are also these letters that have the same sounds as; ch = Ć , sh = Ś S = F this s sounds like the regular English s as in stop, slow, steep. The LotusWP IntB font has to be selected from the font drop down box, shift+f creates the s with the line above.


Examples of words with the diacritical markings and the sounds in English: O Ćeti Śakowiŋ = o cheti shakowin, which is a band of Oglala Lakota

Ćaŋli = chahn li, which is a cigarette

HokŚila = ho kshila, a boy

Igmu = e-gmoo, a cat

Śa = sha, the color red

EmaĆiyapi = eh ma chi ya pi, my name

AŋaĠoptaŋ = ah na gho ptahn, listen

Woglaka = wo gla ka, speak

O’ iglakapi = o e gla ka pi, to listen to someone speaking


This is just an example tutorial and I wanted to show the different ways that the Lakota\Dakota languages can be written, taught, and collaborate together with all of the information out on the world wide web. One of the principal facts that John taught his classes, is that all of the bands of the Sioux need to come together to agree on a universal agreement on using the diacritical markings to have the languages accessible to the younger generations who may not have first hand access- which is the spoken language, to be available for the next generations. Alex.jpg