writing system used by SICC draws its origin from the
States. In the 1970’s and early 1980’s Sinte
Gleska University, Oglala Lakota College, and Black Hills
State University initiated an endeavour to standardise
the Dakota/Nakota/Lakota writing system and other aspects
of the language. Over a ten period meetings were held
on a regular basis. For each meeting invitations were
extended to all the Dakota/Nakota/Lakota tribes, schools,
institutions teaching the language, and others working
with the language. Each session lead to extensive discussion
and debate with regard to standardisation and teaching.
Often the debates were very heated. Finally in 1982/1984
consensus was reached.
of the Writing System
To reduce the confusion caused by having many different
2) To develop consistency in what is being taught to students.
(ie: that each teacher will teach and use the same writing
3) To develop a practical layman’s writing system
that non-speakers can use without becoming confused. The
new writing system should clearly distinguish which consonants
have a sound that is different than the sound that is
commonly known for it in English and each letter should
represent only sound. (ie: so students don’t confuse
©añ with can
or waßþe with
waste, etc) Also it should allow students to go back and
forth between the language and English with ease.
*The writing system used by linguists is complex and confusing.
Further it is not what is used everyday, even for writing
*Writing systems, such as Paul War Cloud Grant’s,
that attempt to write the language based on English phonetics
are more confusing because English does not have all the
sounds our language has.
*The Dakota/Nakota/Lakota writing system developed by
Riggs (published in 1854), is not based on linguistics
and has been used extensively. It has been the base for
nearly all the other writing systems. (ie: Buechel) Therefore
it should be the base of the new writing system and an
endeavour should be made to address the shortcomings of
the Riggs writing system. (ie: distinguish between the
3 kinds of c, the 4 kinds of k, the 4 kinds of p, and
the four kinds of t)
4) To develop consistency in the spelling of words.
5) To make it possible to share teaching materials.
Other than to develop a writing system, the other objectives
were never achieved. To this day, nearly every teacher
has his or her own way of writing and materials are still
being produced in a wide variety of writing systems.
Marking on the letters:
Historically some teachers tried to minimize the number
letters with added marks because it was difficult to make
the markings on a regular typewriter. But today with computers
this does not pose a problem.
2) Some teachers believe that the markings on the letters
make it more difficult to learn the language and they
use few markings, with the intent of making things easier
for the student. But by not marking the letters that sound
different than in English, the students become confused.
In analysis it would make much more sense for the students
to take a week or two to memorize the letters with the
markings than to struggle with the uncertainty of which
sound should be made to pronounce a word and with the
confusion that is caused when the letters are not marked.
Dakota Nations of Canada
1985 when Dakota Nations of Canada undertook to do curriculum
development, one of the first issues addressed was the
selection of a writing system to use. At that time, it
was decided to use the writing system sited, with a slight
modification. The grave accent mark is used to mark the
s which makes the sh sound and c which makes the ch sound.
Computer fonts were developed for it and it was used for
all of the DNC publications.
the agreement was made between SICC and DNC in 1991 to
create a Dakota/Nakota/Lakota developer position at the
Centre, the writing system was adopted by the Centre.
All publications produced by the Centre in Dakota/Nakoda/Lakota,
since then, have been done in this writing system.
of the Writing System
Utilises the standard roman orthography used by English.
2) It is a modified form of the Riggs Dakota/Nakota/Lakota
orthography published in 1854. Therefore the older people
who learned how to read and write from missionaries are
able to follow along with this writing system.
3) Each consonant has only one sound. The issue as to
whether the vowels have more than one sound has yet to
4) The assignment of markings to the letters is consistent
and follows a pattern which makes it easy for them to
5) Consonants that have sounds which are equivalent to
the sound that English commonly assigns to it, have no
markings. These are:
B, d, g, h, k, l, m, n, p, s, t,
w, y, and z
6) Consonants which have an unaspirated sound, which is
only found rarely in English or not found in English are
marked with a line above the letter. Unaspirated k’s,
p’s and t’s are many in Dakota/Nakota/Lakota
but most writing systems do not distinguish them from
the regular aspirated form, which causes a lot of confusion.
These are: ¤, ú,
ö, and þ
¤ - is a sound mid
way between the English j and ch – it does not exist
in English – it is found in words like ©isþiñna
ú - is a sound found
mid way between the English g and k – it only exists
in a very few English words – an example is when
you say the English word skill – you hear somewhat
of a g sound – but it is not a true g and its not
ö – is sound
found mid way between b and p – this also only exists
in a very few English words – an example is the
English word spill – you hear somewhat of a b sound
but it is not a true b and its not a p.
þ- is a sound mid
way between d and t –again there are very few English
words with this sound – an example is the English
word still – your hear somewhat of a d sound but
it is not a true d sound and its not a t sound –
this is sound used in words like þuwe,
7) Consonants which have a velarized or guttural sound,
are not found in English. These are marked with a dot
above the letter. These are: Ð,
ü, í, ó, and å.
8) Consonants which have a glottal stop following them
or make stopped sound, a marked with an accent mark following
the letter. These are: É,,ø,×,
á, ¡, ç, and æ.
9) Most writing systems write the ch sound with just a
c. This causes a lot of confusion for beginners and children
who have to work with both languages. In the original
Riggs orthography, this sound was marked with a grave
accent above the letter c. It is represented this way
in the writing system: ¢©.
10) Most writing systems do mark the s that gives the
sh sound, but there is inconsistency as to what marking
is used. For consistency in this writing system it is
marked with a grave accent above the s. Therefore both
sounds, which typically are written as a consonant blend
in English, have a grave accent above them. It is represented
this way in the writing system: §ß.
11) The voiced equivalent to the sh sound or zh was represented
by a j in the original Riggs orthography and is represented
as such in a number of other writing systems. Some writing
systems however represent it by a z with a dot above it
or below it or with a grave accent above it. The j is
preferred by many of the older people, therefore it is
represented with a j in this writing system.
12) The five oral or regular vowels continue to be represented
as they were in Riggs’s original work: a,
e, I, o, and u.
13) In the Riggs orthography a long tailed n is used to
represent the nasal sound of the nasal vowels. This is
common in a number of the writing systems that are not
based on the international linguistic alphabet. Those
writing systems make a nasal symbol below the vowel. There
are however a number of writing systems and published
works that just use a regular n, which causes confusion.
In this writing system, the nasal vowels are represented
as follows: Añ. eñ,
iñ, oñ, and uñ.
14) The writing system represents all the consonant sounds
that exist in the Dakota/Nakota/Lakota language, so it
can be used by any dialect and can accommodate the various
spellings of words. It should be noted that issues pertaining
to which sounds are actually contained in a word, technically
are not a writing system issue. They are a phonics and/or