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Pronunciation [laˈkˣotijapi]
Spoken in United States, with some speakers in Canada
Region Primarily North Dakota and South Dakota, but also northern Nebraska, southern Minnesota, and northern Montana
Total speakers 6,000[1]
Language family Siouan-Catawban
Language codes
ISO 639-1 None
ISO 639-2 sio
ISO 639-3 lkt

Lakota (also Lakhota, Teton, Teton Sioux) is a Siouan language spoken by the Lakota people of the Sioux tribes. While generally taught and considered by speakers as a separate language, Lakota is mutually understandable with the other two languages (cf. Dakota language), and is considered by most linguists one of the three major varieties of the Sioux language. The Lakota language represents one of the largest Native American language speech communities left in the United States, with approximately 6,000 speakers living mostly in northern plains states of North and South Dakota.[1]

The language was first put into written form by missionaries around 1840 and has since evolved to reflect contemporary needs and usage.


Sound system



Lakota has five oral vowels, /i e a o u/, and three nasal vowels, /ĩ ã ũ/ (phonetically [ɪ̃ ə̃ ʊ̃]). Lakota /e/ and /o/ are said to be more open than the corresponding cardinal vowels, perhaps closer to [ɛ] and [ɔ]. Orthographically, the nasal vowels are sometimes written with a following <ƞ>, <ŋ>, or <n>, and sometimes with ogoneks underneath, <į ą ų>. Writing with <n> is unambiguous and simplest, since no syllables end with consonantal /n/.

Front Central Back
high oral i u
mid e o
low oral a


Bilabial Dental Alveolar Post-alveolar Velar Uvular[2][3] Glottal
Nasal m [m] n [n]
Plosive unaspirated p [p] t [t] č [tʃ] k [k] [ʔ]
voiced b [b] g [ɡ]
aspirated ph [pʰ] / [pˣ] th [tʰ] / [tˣ] čh [tʃʰ] kh [kʰ] / [kˣ]
ejective p’ [p'] t’ [t'] č’ [tʃ'] k’ [k']
Fricative voiceless s [s] š [ʃ] ȟ [χ]
voiced z [z] ž [ʒ] ǧ [ʁ]
ejective s’ [s'] š’ [ʃ'] ȟ’ [χ']
Approximant w [w] l [l] y [j] h [h]

The voiced uvular fricative /ʁ/ becomes a uvular trill ([ʀ]) before /i/[2][3] and in fast speech it is often realized as the voiced velar fricative /ɣ/. The voiceless aspirated plosives have two allophonic variants each: those with a delay in voicing ([pʰ tʰ t͡ʃʰ kʰ]), and those with velar friction ([pˣ tˣ kˣ]), which occur before /a/, /ã/, /o/, /ĩ/, and /ũ/ (thus, lakhóta, /laˈkʰota/ is phonetically [laˈkˣota]; [t͡ʃˣ] does not occur). For some speakers, there is a phonemic distinction between the two, and both occur before /e/. Some orthographies mark this distinction; others do not. The uvular fricatives /χ/ and /ʁ/ are commonly spelled <ȟ> and <ǧ>.

All monomorphemic words have one vowel which carries primary stress and has a higher tone than all other vowels in the word. This is generally the vowel of the second syllable of the word, but often the first syllable can be stressed, and occasionally other syllables as well. Stress is generally indicated with an acute accent: <á>, etc. Compound words will have stressed vowels in each component; proper spelling will write compounds with a hyphen. Thus máza-ská, literally "metal-white", i.e. "silver; money" has two stressed vowels, the first a in each component. If it were written without the hyphen, as mazaska, it could only have one stress.


Of the differing orthographies currently used, the writing system of the New Lakota Dictionary is most widely used. It has been adopted as the standard orthography by the Sitting Bull College, by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, and is also used in a large number of schools on the Pine Ridge and Rosebud Reservations.[4]

The vowels are a, e, i, o, u; nasal vowels are aŋ, iŋ, uŋ. Pitch accent is marked with an acute accent: á, é, í, ó, ú, áŋ, íŋ, úŋ on stressed vowels (which receive a higher tone than non-stressed ones)[5]

The following consonants approximate their IPA values: b, g, h, k, l, m, n, p, s, t, w, z. Y has its English value of /j/. An apostrophe, ’, is used for glottal stop.

A caron is used for sounds which are not written with Latin letters in the IPA: č /tʃ/, ǧ /ʁ/, ȟ /χ/, š /ʃ/, ž /ʒ/. Aspirates are written with h: čh, kh, ph, th, and velar frication with ȟ: kȟ, pȟ, tȟ. Ejectives are written with an apostrophe: č’, ȟ’, k’, p’, s’, š’, t’.

The spelling used in modern popular texts is often written without diacritics. Besides failing to mark stress, this also results in the confusion of numerous consonants: /s/ and /ʃ/ are both written s, /h/ and /χ/ are both written h, and the aspirate stops are written like the unaspirates, as p, t, c, k.

A practical orthography without diacritics has been proposed and is simple to use: mark nasal vowels with a trailing <-n>, mark aspiration with a trailing <-h>, spell some consonants with digraphs <sh, ch, zh, gh>, and mark initial stress with an apostrophe (since default stress falls on the second syllable).


Standard Lakota Orthography, as used by majority of schools, is in principal phonemic, which means that each character (grapheme) represents only one distinctive sound (phoneme), except for the distinction between glottal and velar aspiration which is treated phonetically.

Lakota alphabet
Letter Name of the letter Usual phonetic value (IPA)
A a a [a]
Aŋ aŋ [ã]
B b be [b]
Č č ču [tʃ]
Čh čh čhi [tʃʰ]
Č’ č’ č’ó [tʃ']
E e e [e]
G g gli [ɡ]
Ǧ ǧ ǧu [ʁ] / [ʀ]
H h ha [h]
Ȟ ȟ ȟe [χ]
I i i [ɪ]
Iŋ iŋ [ĩ]
K k ku [k]
Kh kh khi [kʰ]
Kȟ kȟ kȟa [kˣ]
K’ k’ k’o [k']
L l la [l]
M m ma [m]
Letter Name of the letter Usual phonetic value (IPA)
N n na [n]
O o o [o]
P p pu [p]
Ph ph phi [pʰ]
Pȟ pȟ pȟa [pˣ]
P’ p’ p’o [p']
S s sa [s]
Š š še [ʃ]
T t tu [t]
Th th thi [tʰ]
Tȟ tȟ tȟa [tˣ]
T’ t’ t’o [t']
U u u [ʊ]
Uŋ uŋ [ʊ̃]
W w wa [w]
Y y ya [j]
Z z za [z]
Ž ž že [ʒ]
khéze [ʔ]

All digraphs (i.e. characters created by two letters, such as kh, kȟ, k’) are treated as groups of individual letters in alphabetization. Thus for example the word 'čhíŋ' precedes 'čónala' in a dictionary.

Phonological processes

A common phonological process which occurs in rapid speech is vowel contraction, which generally results from the loss of an intervocalic glide. Vowel contraction results in phonetic long vowels (phonemically a sequence of two identical vowels), with falling pitch if the first underlying vowel is stressed, and rising pitch if the second underlying vowel is stressed: kê: (falling tone), "he said that," from kéye; hǎ:pi (rising tone), "clothing," from hayápi. If one of the vowels is nasalized, the resulting long vowel is also nasalized: čhą̌:pi, "sugar," from čhąhą́pi[2].

When two vowels of unequal height contract, or when feature contrasts exist between the vowels and the glide, two new phonetic vowels, [æː] and [ɔː], result[2]: iyæ̂:, "he left for there," from iyáye; mitɔ̂:, "it's mine," from mitáwa.

The plural enclitic =pi is frequently changed in rapid speech when preceding the enclitics =kte, =kį, =kštó, or =na. If the vowel preceding =pi is high, =pi becomes [u]; if the vowel is non-high, =pi becomes [o] (if the preceding vowel is nasalized, then the resulting vowel is also nasalized): hí=pi=kte, "they will arrive here," [hiukte]; yatką́=pi=na, "they drank it and...," [jatkə̃õna][2].

Lakota also exhibits some traces of sound symbolism among fricatives, where the point of articulation changes to reflect intensity: , "it's yellow," ží, "it's tawny," ǧí, "it's brown" (Mithun 1999:33). (Compare with the similar examples in Mandan.)


Word order

The basic word order of Lakota is Subject Object Verb, although the order can be changed for expressive purposes (placing the object before the subject to bring the object into focus or placing the subject after the verb to emphasize its status as established information). It is postpositional, with adpositions occurring after the head nouns: mas'óphiye él, "at the store" (literally 'store at'); thípi=kį ókšą, "around the house" (literally 'house=the around') (Rood and Taylor 1996).

Rood and Taylor (1996) suggest the following template for basic word order. Items in parenthesis are optional; only the verb is required. It is therefore possible to produce a grammatical sentence that contains only a verb.

(interjection) (conjunction) (adverb(s)) (nominal) (nominal) (nominal) (adverb(s)) verb (enclitic(s)) (conjunction)


When interjections appear, they begin the sentence. A small number of interjections are used only by one gender, for instance the interjection expressing disbelief is ečéš for women but hóȟ for men, for calling attention woman say máŋ while men use wáŋ. Most interjections, however, are used by both genders.[6]


It is common for a sentence to begin with a conjunction. Both čhaŋkhé and yuŋkȟáŋ can be translated as and; k’éyaš is similar to English but. Each of these conjunctions joins clauses. In addition, the conjunction na joins nouns or phrases.

Adverbs and Postpositions

Lakota uses postpositions, which are similar to English prepositions, but follow their noun complement. Adverbs or postpositional phrases can describe manner, location, or reason. There are also interrogative adverbs, which are used to form questions.

Nouns and Pronouns

As mentioned above, nominals are optional in Lakota, but when nouns appear the basic word order is Subject-Object-Verb. Pronouns are not common, but may be used contrastively or emphatically.

Lakota has four articles: waŋ is indefinite, similar to English a or an, and kiŋ is definite, similar to English the. In addition, waŋží is an indefinite article used with hypothetical or irrealis objects, and k’uŋ is a definite article used with nouns that have been mentioned previously.


There are also nine demonstratives, which can function either as pronouns or as determiners.

Distance from speaker
near neutral far
dual lenáos henáos kanáos
plural lená hená kaná

The demonstrative is the most neutral. Once a noun has been located, either by pointing or by description, in space or in the listener’s mind, can then be used. Before that, or is usually used to demonstrate exactly what is meant, although hé may also be used while pointing.


Verbs are the only word class that are obligatory in a Lakota sentence. Verbs can be active, naming an action, or stative, describing a property. (Note that in English, such descriptions are usually made with adjectives.)

Verbs are inflected for first-, second- or third person, and for singular, dual or plural grammatical number.


Verb Inflection

There are two paradigms for verb inflection. One set of morphemes indicates the person and number of the subject of active verbs. The other set of morphemes agrees with the object of transitive action verbs or the subject of stative verbs.[2]

Most of the morphemes in each paradigm are prefixes, but plural subjects are marked with a suffix and third-person plural objects with an infix.

First person arguments may be singular, dual, or plural; second or third person arguments may be singular or plural.

Subject of active verbs

singular dual plural
first person wa- uŋ(k)- uŋ(k)- … -pi
second person ya- ya- … -pi
third person unmarked -pi

Examples: máni "He walks." mánipi "They walk."

Subject of stative verbs

singular dual plural
first person ma- uŋ(k)- uŋ(k)- … -pi
second person ni- ni- … -pi
third person unmarked -pi

Object of transitive verbs

singular dual plural
first person ma- uŋ(k)- … -pi
second person ni- ni- … -pi
third person unmarked -wicha-

Example: waŋwíčhayaŋke "He looked at them."


Lakota has a number of enclitic particles which follow the verb, many of which differ depending on whether the speaker is male or female.

Some enclitics indicate the aspect, mood, or number of the verb they follow. There are also various interrogative enclitics, which in addition to marking an utterance as a question show finer distinctions of meaning. For example, while he is the usual question-marking enclitic, huŋwó is used for rhetorical questions or in formal oratory, and the dubitative wa functions somewhat like a tag question in English (Rood and Taylor 1996; Buchel 1983). (See also Men and women's speech below.)

Men and women's speech

A small number of enclitics (approximatelly eight) differ in form based on the gender of the speaker. Yeló (men) ye (women) mark mild assertions. Kštó (women only according to most sources) marks strong assertion. Yo (men) and ye (women) mark neutral commands, yetȟó (men) and nitȟó (women) mark familiar, and ye (both men and women) and na mark requests. He is used by both genders to mark direct questions, but men also use hųwó in more formal situations. So (men) and se (women) mark dubitative questions (where the person being asked is not assumed to know the answer).

While many native speakers and linguists agree that certain enclitics are associated with particular genders, such usage may not be exclusive. That is, individual men sometimes use enclitics associated with women, and vice versa (Trechter 1999).

Examples of enclitic usage

Enclitic Meaning Example[7] Translation
hAŋ continuous yá-he "was going"
pi plural iyáyapi "they left"
la diminutive záptaŋla "only five"
ke attenuative wašteke "somewhat good"
kte irrealis uŋyíŋ kte "you and I will go" (future)
šni negative hiyú šni "he/she/it did not come out"
s’a repeating eyápi s’a "they often say"
séča conjecture ú kte séče "he might come"
assertion (masc) blé ló "I went there (I assert)"
assertion (fem) hí yé "he came (I assert)"
he interrogative Táku kȟoyákipȟa he? "What do you fear?"
huŋwó interrogative (masc. formal) Tókhiya lá huŋwó? "Where are you going?"
huŋwé interrogative (fem. formal, obsolete) Tákula huŋwé? "What is it?"
waŋ dubative question séča waŋ "can it be as it seems?"
škhé evidential yá-ha škhé "he was going, I understand"
kéye evidential (hearsay) yápi kéye "they went, they say"


"Háu kola", literally, "Hello, friend," is the most common greeting, and was transformed into the generic motion picture American Indian "How!", just as the traditional feathered headdress of the Teton was "given" to all movie Indians. As "háu" is the only word in Lakhota which contains a diphthong, /au/, it may be a loanword from a non-Siouan language.[2]

Learning Lakota

Few resources are available for self-study of Lakota by a person with no or limited access to native speakers of Lakota. Here is a collection of some resources currently available:

  • Lakhótiya Wóglaka Po! - Speak Lakota! : Level 1 & Level 2 Textbooks and Audio CDs by Lakota Language Consortium. (elementary/secondary school level)
  • New Lakota Dictionary. (ISBN 0-9761082-9-1)
  • Lakota: A Language Course for Beginners by Oglala Lakota College (ISBN 0-88432-609-8) (The companion 15 CDs/Tapes (11 hours) (high school/college level)
  • Reading and Writing the Lakota Language by Albert White Hat Sr. (ISBN 0-87480-572-4) (high school/college level)
  • University of Colorado Lakhota Project: Beginning Lakhota, vol. 1 & 2, Elementary Bilingual Dictionary and Graded Readings, (high school/college level)
  • Lakota Dictionary: Lakota-English/English-Lakota, New Comprehensive Edition by Eugene Buechel, S.J. & Paul Manhart (ISBN 0-8032-6199-3)
  • English-Lakota Dictionary by Bruce Ingham, RoutledgeCurzon, ISBN 0700713786
  • A Grammar of Lakota by Eugene Buechel, S.J. (OCLC 4609002; professional level)
  • The article by Rood & Taylor, in [2] (professional level)

See also


  1. ^ a b Lakota. Online version of: Gordon, Raymond G., Jr. (ed.), 2005. Ethnologue: Languages of the World (15th ed.). Dallas: SIL International. Accessed 05-16-2009.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Rood, David S., and Taylor, Allan R. (1996). "Sketch of Lakhota, a Siouan Language, Part I". Handbook of North American Indians, Vol. 17 (Languages), pp. 440–482.
  3. ^ a b (2004). Lakota letters and sounds.
  4. ^ New Lakota dictionary. Lakota Language Consortium, 2008
  5. ^ Cho, Taehong. Some phonological and phonetic aspects of stress and intonation in Lakhota: a preliminary report. Published as a PDF at
  6. ^ New Lakota dictionary. Lakota Language Consortium, 2008
  7. ^ Deloria, Ella. 1932. Dakota Texts. New York: G.E. Stechert.


  • Buechel, Eugene. (1983). A Dictionary of Teton Sioux. Pine Ridge, SD: Red Cloud Indian School.
  • DeMallie, Raymond J. (2001). "Sioux until 1850". In R. J. DeMallie (Ed.), Handbook of North American Indians: Plains (Vol. 13, Part 2, pp. 718-760). W. C. Sturtevant (Gen. Ed.). Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution. ISBN 0-16-050400-7.
  • Mithun, Marianne (1999). The Languages of Native North America. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Parks, Douglas R.; & Rankin, Robert L. (2001). "The Siouan languages". In Handbook of North American Indians: Plains (Vol. 13, Part 1, pp. 94-114). Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution.
  • de Reuse, Willem J. (1987). "One hundred years of Lakota linguistics (1887-1987)". Kansas Working Papers in Linguistics, 12, 13-42. Online version.
  • de Reuse, Willem J. (1990). "A supplementary bibliography of Lakota languages and linguistics (1887-1990)". Kansas Working Papers in Linguistics, 15 (2), 146-165. (Studies in Native American languages 6). Online version.
  • Rood, David S. and Allan R. Taylor. (1996). Sketch of Lakhota, a Siouan Language. Handbook of North American Indians, Vol. 17 (Languages), pp. 440-482. Washington DC: Smithsonian Institution. Online version.
  • Trechter, Sarah. (1999). "Contextualizing the Exotic Few: Gender Dichotomies in Lakhota". In M. Bucholtz, A.C. Liang, and L. Sutton (Eds) Reinventing Identities (pp. 101-122). New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0195126297
  • Ullrich, Jan. (2008). New Lakota Dictionary. Lakota Language Consortium. ISBN 0-9761082-9-1.

External links


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