Lakota (also Lakhota, Teton, Teton Sioux) is the largest of the three languages of the Sioux, of the Siouan family. While generally taught and considered by speakers as a separate language, Lakota is mutually understandable with the other two languages, 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 8,000–9,000 speakers living mostly in northern plains states of North and South Dakota.
The language was first put into written form by missionaries around 1840 and has since evolved to reflect contemporary needs and usage.
The voiced plosives /b/ and /g/ should perhaps be considered allophones of /p/ and /k/, since for almost all words they are in complementary distribution, with [b] and [g] occurring only before /l/, /m/, /n/, /w/, and /j/, as well as in certain morphophonemic situations. The voiced uvular fricative /ʁ/ becomes a uvular trill ([ʀ]) before /i/. The voiceless aspirated plosives have two allophonic variants each: those with a delay in voicing , and those with velar friction , which occur before /a/, /ã/, /o/, /ĩ/, and /ũ/ (thus, lakhóta, /la'kʰota/ is phonetically [laˈkˣota]; [ʧˣ] 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> (sometimes <ĥ>) and <ǧ>.
The spelling used in modern texts is often written without diacritics, resulting in the failure to mark stress and 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.
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 maza ska, it could only have one stress.
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.
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: 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].
Lakota also exhibits some traces of sound symbolism among fricatives, where the point of articulation changes to reflect intensity: zí, "it's yellow," ží, "it's tawny," ǧí, "it's brown" (Mithun 1999:33). (Compare with the similar examples in Mandan.)
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. Buechel (1983) suggests that the interjection ma is used by women, while men use wa or hohʔ (see also Men's and women's speech below).
It is common for a sentence to begin with a conjunction. Both chake and yukha can be translated as and; kʔeyas is similar to English but. Each of these conjunctions joins clauses. In addition, the conjunction na joins nouns or phrases.
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.
Lakota has four articles: wa is indefinite, similar to English a or an, and ki is definite, similar to English the. In addition, wazi is an indefinite article used with hypothetical or irrealis objects, and kʔu is a definite article used with nouns that have been mentioned previously.
There are also five demonstratives, which can function either as pronouns or as determiners. The demonstratives are lé (this), hé (that) hena (those), henáos (those two) and é. This last, é, is less specific, and is usually translated as this.
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.)
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.
Most of the morphemes in each paradigm are prefixes, but plural subjects are marked with a suffix and 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
|first person||wa-||ʔųk-||ʔųk- … -pi|
|second person||ya-||ya- … -pi|
Examples: ya "He goes." yápi "They go."
Object or subject of stative verbs
|first person||wa-||ʔųk-||ʔųk- … -pi|
|second person||ni-||ni- … -pi|
|third person||unmarked|| -pi (subject) |
Example: wawíchayaka "He looked at them."
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, hųwó 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.)
There are a number of enclitics which differ in form based on the gender of the speaker. Yeló (men) marks mild assertions, and kšt (men) marks stronger assertions. K(i)štó is the version used by women corresponding to men's yeló and kšt. For men, wą marks a mild opinion and yewą́ marks stronger opinions. The corresponding women's forms are ma and yemá, respectively. Yo (men) and ye (women) mark neutral commands, yethó (men) and nithó / įthó (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
|kte||irrealis||uyíkte||"we will go" (future)|
|sni||negative||hiyu`sni||"not come out"|
|sʔa||repeating||eyápi sʔa||"they always say"|
|séca||conjecture||híla séca||"it seems like he came"|
|ló||assertion (masc)||b.léló||"(I hereby assert) I go"|
|yé||assertion (fem)||híla yé||"(I hereby assert) he came"|
|he||interrogative||khoyákiphela he?||"what do you fear?"|
|hųwó||interrogative (masc. formal)||tókhiya lá hųwó?||"where, I ask?"|
|hųwé||interrogative (fem. formal)||Tákula hųwé?||"What is it?"|
|wa||dubative question||séca wa||"can it be as it seems?"|
|skheʔe||evidential||yáha skheʔe||"he was going, I understand"|
|kʔeʔe||evidential (hearsay)||yapi kʔeʔe||"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.
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: