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My favourite notation for the Laḱota Language



There are quite diverging views on how the Siouan language Laḱota should be spelt best. There are two mainlines to be considered. These are to make a text legible easily for the reader‘s eye and nevertheless still give „enough“ orthographic clues to correct pronunciation. These two goals usually are not achieved at the same time by one single notation, so one has to choose the spelling desired according to the purpose given respectively. The former commonly is realised by the so-called „traditional“ spelling, a way many Laḱota newspapers, books etc. are printed in since about 100 years: this „defective“ form of notation does not use any diacritic marks to indicate the correct pronunciation, so one has „to know it“! For a reader already familiar with the language, this method is quite convenient both to read and to write Laḱota. But then, a student of the language obviously is lost with this notation.
On the other hand, a spelling convention used for scholarly purposes is expected to give as many further clues (mainly to pronunciation) as possible/needed - so usually the script is burdened with all sorts of diacritic marks or other features of differentiation (according to the respective media it is displayed on, e.g. the early internet confined to ASCII encoding, this had to be achieved by still other means, cf. so-called „Net-Siouan“ mode).

I for one am not too happy with most of the different spelling „conventions“ so I‘m trying to suggest one for non-scholarly but daily use that, at the same time, is easy to read and write, parsimonious in a „logic“ sense, slender in shape, and still satisfactory to the non-fluent student. (Hopefully, it is more appealing, also, to a Native‘s eye than all those scripts containing Eastern European looking diacritics, like nasal-hooks and haceks.)



Sample texts (from the L-rd‘s Prayer) in various notations:


Itancan wocekiye.
Ateunyanpi mahpiya ekta nanke cin,
nicaze (nicaje) wakanlapi nuwe, nitokicunze kin u kte (... )
Anpetu otoiyohi anpetu woyute unk'upi ye...


ItxaN‘c^haN wo‘c^hekiye.
Ate‘uNyaNpi mah^pi‘ya ekta‘ naNke‘ ciN,
nic^ha‘z^e wakxaN‘lapi nuNwe‘, nitxo‘kic^uNze kiN u kte (... )
aNpe'tu oto'iyohi aNpe'tu wo'yute uNk?u'pi ye ...

Lakota Language Consortium (LLC)

Itȟaŋčhaŋ wóčhekiye.
Ateuŋyaŋpi maȟpíya ektá naŋké čiŋ,
ničháje wakȟáŋlapi nuŋwé, nitȟókičuŋze kiŋ u kte (... )
Aŋpétu otóiyohi aŋpétu wóyute uŋk'upi ye...

Colorado University Lakota Project (CULP)

Ithąčhą wóčhekiye.
Atéųyąpi maȟpíya ektá nąké čį,
ničháže wakhąlapi nųwé, nithókičųze kį u kte (...)
Ąpétu otóiyohi ąpétu wóyute ųk'u pi ye...

Albert White Hat jr. - Sinte Gleṡka University, Nebraska (W-H)

Iṫáŋċaŋ wóċeƙiye.
Aƭéuŋyaŋƥi maḣƥíya eƙƭá nanƙé ƈin,
niċáje waḱáŋlaƥi nuwé, niṫóƙiƈuŋze ƙiŋ u ƙƭe (... )*
Aŋƥéƭu oƭóiyohi aŋƥéƭu wóyuƭe uŋk'uƥi ye...

* overscore-characters are just approximations for: , , , which are not available in the Unicode chart.

Proposed notation

Iṫanċan wóċekiye.
Ateunyanpi maḣpiya ekta nanke cin,
niċaże waḱanla pi nuwe, niṫokicunze kin u kte (...)
Anpetu otoiyohi anpetu wóyute unk‘u pi ye... *

* the character is an approximations for K-dot above ( ) which is not included in the Unicode chart.



As one can realise from the above examples, beside the adequate marking of nasal vowels, notation of the different phonemic or phonetic variants of so-called 'stops' is most crucial in Lakota spelling. These are


"Plain" (i.e. unaspirated) stops:

White Hat
c, k, p and t
c^, k, p and t
č, k, p and t
č, k, p and t
, , ,
c, k, p and t




Aspirated stops

In pronunciation (and only in pronunciation and not semantically!) one has to differentiate between so-called H-aspiration and Ḣ- or pharyngeal aspiration (the stop is accompanied by a fricative sound produced in the pharynx).


White Hat
c, k, p and t
c^h, kh, ph and th
čh, kh, ph and th
čh, kh, ph and th
ċ, k, p and t
ċ, ḱ, ṗ and ṫ





White Hat
k, p and t
kx, px and tx
kȟ, pȟ and tȟ
kh, ph and th
ḱ, ṗ and ṫ
ḱ, ṗ and ṫ



Notabene: Phonetically there is no Ḣ-aspiration of c ; also: CULP, White Hat and the notation suggested do not differentiate H- and -aspiration in writing (also see below D).

Glottalized stops:
All the above stops - regardless of their phonemic or phonetic variants - additionally have glottalized (phonemic!) forms. Their spelling respective is usually given with a trailing apostroph in almost all conventions, except for in Net-Siouan and CULP-notation where it is indicated by a ? question mark:

For example:
"t'e" (he died), "Ṫaṡunka ḱokip‘a pi" (Afraid-of-his-horse) or "t?e", "txas^uN'ka kxoki'p?api" (in Net-Siouan respectively);
"Šúŋkawaǩaŋ waŋ mak‘úpi" - "I was given a horse" (LLC) or "s^u`N'kawakxaN mak?u'pi" (Net-Siouan);
č’éyaš - even if, although (LLC), c‘éyaṡ (White Hat & proposed) or c^?e'yas^ (Net-Siouan) and č?éyaš (CULP)

Other consonants:
In Laḱota there are consonantal sounds in addition that have special characters for spelling:

White Hat
s, s, z, z (j), g, g
s, s^, z, z^, g, g^
s, š, z, ž (j), g, ǧ
s, š, z, ž, g, ǧ
s, ṡ, z, ż, g, ġ
s, ṡ, z, ż, g, g (ġ)




There are just three nasals in Laḱota, they are related to the vowels a, i, u and given in different ways according to the spelling system respective like in the following chart:

White Hat
an, in, on (un)
aN, iN, uN
aŋ, iŋ, uŋ
ą, į, ų
aŋ, iŋ, uŋ
an, in, un







So let me just give some considerations, guide lines and "logic" for my suggested spelling:


It looks almost like the Traditional spelling convention most Native speakers are accustomed to and which is still in use: the only diacritic is a quite decent over dot on some letters so an eye familiar with traditional spelling will hardly be irritated.

For some reason unknown to the author - and unlike K-hacek (caron) ǩ, ǩ , the K-dot above character is not part of the Unicode chart so the similar looking K-acute Ḱ, ḱ was used instead. Maybe for the sake of consistency this character should be eventually replaced by K-dot below: Ḳ, ḳ. I'd kind of prefer it.



In order to indicate nasals instead of 'ŋ' , the normal 'n' can be used pretty unambiguously just by following clear and "logical" rule(s).

The nasal-indicator ŋ never stands at the beginning of a Lakota syllable and always follows one of the three vowel characters a. i and u . Further, there never are double consonants such as 'nn' etc.

That means e.g. that the word waŋna (now) can simply be expressed by just writing 'wanna' and everybody will know that the a(n) is a nasal.

Also, normal n never stands before a consonant, so e.g. the n in the word 'wanblake' (I saw him/her/it) must be read as an 'ŋ' i.e. as indicating that the syllable wan- actually consists of a nasal vowel.

There might be cases of ambiguity when two vowels are immediately following one after the other with the preceding one being a nasal, like in the word taŋiŋ (to manifest, appear). Here, just typing tanin in fact would be ambiguous (for somebody not knowing this word) as to whether the first syllable is nasalised or not. Since there are two vowels (both nasals) following one another, in cases like this the glottal stop between them (usually not expressed between vowels in writing!) should be written, hence: tan'in.

This notation allows that the special character ŋ can be avoided (and, believe it or not, it's a quite annoying job typing it in with all those frequent nasals by using a special ctrl-key (or such) combination!).

The CULP notation method, BTW, is still more inconvenient because there's not only one but three special characters for the nasals, consequently three special keys are needed for them to be addressed via keyboard.


One doesn't have to type in diacritics for unaspirated C which is much more economic and straightforward than the LLC c-hacek opposed to aspirate c-hacek-h (= č - čh vs. c - ċ) the former is obviously redundant.


Same with guttural-G *, e.g. aġuyapi - bread, ġiġi - brown, rusty:
Since, opposite to normal [g], this very special sound can only be followed by a vowel and never is in final position, a dot-above character actually is not needed, hence, if one prefers, simply aguyapi, gigi etc. can be written instead. What makes life still easier (although I do like the Ġ-notation, moreover as this sound is much less frequent than the others in need of special keystrokes).

* pronounced about as /r/ in Northern French, e.g. "car" [ka:ʀ] - "for, since, because", and /g/ in the German dialect of Berlin, e.g. "ich sage" [ʔɪç zaɣə] - "I say".


Since aspirates (K, P, T) are different in pronunciation, all in all, according to different phonetic conditions, i.e. it just depends on where in the oral cavity the following vowel is produced (e.g. txanka, theca, thipi; p(h/x)ejuta, phica), hence to some degree can be determinated by rules/dialectal conventions, they better be covered by only one type of spelling (as Rood-Taylor (CULP), Albert White Hat jr. and others are doing - e.g. TH = TX/TH). The suggested notation uses the dot-above consonant characters for both variants (which are not phonemically distinctive!).

The consonant-H-hacek character combination of the LLC system for the guttural variants (kȟ, pȟ, tȟ) doesn't appear to be so pleasing for the eye, BTW.


Glottal stops are labeled (by an apostrophe) only where necessary, i.e. after consonants (e.g. t'e, kokip'e etc. - s/he, it died, s/he, it was afraid of) or between a nasal vowel and a trailing vowel (e.g. tan'in - see above). Not between other vowel combinations, e.g. woaiye.
Notabene: There are no diphtongs in the Lakota language, which means that all vowels following after one another are pronounced separately (i.e. with a - normally unexpressed - glottal stop between them).


Stress is indicated (if at all*) only when diverging from the common rule of stress on second syllable, so the acute on vowels is used economically and doesn't visually burden the texts.**

* Many of the exceptions (i.e. stress on first syllable) are predictable because triggered by phonology, hence are based on certain rules also.

** Not unlike in Latin-based Slavonic scripts (where a lot of diacritic marks seem to be crucial!) Lakota texts sometimes are like "decorated": Redundantly denoting the stress in addition, makes the lines look as if all covered with flyspeck


Any feedback is welcome!





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since September 2007

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