Dakota language

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Dakhótiyapi, Dakȟótiyapi
Pronunciation[daˈkʰotijapi], [daˈqˣotijapi]
Native toUnited States, with some speakers in Canada
RegionPrimarily North Dakota and South Dakota, but also northern Nebraska, southern Minnesota; southern Manitoba, southern Saskatchewan
Santee, Sisseton, Yankton, Yanktonai
Native speakers
290 (2016)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-2dak
ISO 639-3dak
Lang Status 60-DE.svg
Dakota is classified as Definitely Endangered by the UNESCO Atlas of the World's Languages in Danger
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Dakota (Dakhótiyapi, Dakȟótiyapi), also referred to as Dakhota, is a Siouan language spoken by the Dakota people of the Sioux tribes. Dakota is closely related to and mutually intelligible with the Lakota language. It is critically endangered, with only around 290 fluent speakers left out of an ethnic population of almost 20,000.



Dakota, similar to many Native American languages, is a mainly polysynthetic language, meaning that different morphemes in the form of affixes can be combined to form a single word. Nouns in Dakota can be broken down into two classes, primitive and derivative. Primitive nouns are nouns whose origin cannot be deduced from any other word (for example make or earth, peta or fire, and ate or father), while derivative nouns are nouns that are formed in various ways from words of other grammatical categories. Primitive nouns stand on their own and are separate from other words. Derivative nouns, on the other hand, are formed by the addition of affixes to words in other grammatical categories, such as verbs, adjectives, and other nouns.[2]


Verbs in Dakota can appropriate, through agglutination and synthesis, many of the pronominal, prepositional, and adverbial or modal affixes of the language. There are many verbal roots, all of which are only used once certain causative prefixes are added, forming participles. Like in English, Dakota verbs also have three persons, the first, the second, and the third. Person is indicated through the addition (first and second person) or subtraction (third person, the verb is used in its simplest form) of personal pronoun affixes. There are two forms of tense in the language, the aorist (sometimes called the indefinite) and the future. In order to express the future tense, the words kta or kte are placed after the verb, much in contrast to expressing the aorist tense, which requires no marking, but is instead derived from the context of what is being said.[2]

Possessive pronouns and pronominal affixes[edit]

In order to show possession in Dakota, a possessive pronoun must be prefixed onto whichever noun is being possessed. Two forms of possessive nouns occur, the natural class and the artificial or alienable class. Natural class pronouns express possession that cannot be alienated, and when prefixed to a noun, signifies the different parts of one's self. For example, the possessive natural article pronoun mi-, which means "my," can be added to nouns such as "eye," in miista, or "words," in mioie. Meanwhile, artificial possessive pronouns are used to signify property and possessions that can be transferred or traded. For example, the artificial pronoun ta- or ti-, which is equivalent to the singular her or him, can be prefixed onto nouns such as "bow," in tinazipe, and "friend," in takodaku.[2]


Nouns and verbs[edit]

Dakota is mainly a subject-object-verb (SOV) language, where nouns, whether they are the subject or object, always come before the verb. And when two nouns are used in the same clause, where one is the subject and the other is the object, the subject is most usually placed first. Verbs are also usually placed after adjectives that are used to qualify either the subject or the object and adverbs that qualify the verb. When additional words are used within a clause that are not either nouns or verbs, the nouns, both subject and object, are always placed at the beginning of the clause.[2]


Dakota has two major dialects with two sub-dialects each:

  1. Eastern Dakota (a.k.a. Santee-Sisseton or Dakhóta)
    • Santee (Isáŋyáthi: Bdewákhaŋthuŋwaŋ,[3] Waȟpékhute)
    • Sisseton (Sisíthuŋwaŋ, Waȟpéthuŋwaŋ)
  2. Western Dakota (a.k.a. Yankton-Yanktonai or Dakȟóta/Dakhóta, and erroneously classified, for a very long time, as "Nakota"[4])
    • Yankton (Iháŋktȟuŋwaŋ)
    • Yanktonai (Iháŋktȟuŋwaŋna)
      • Upper Yanktonai (Wičhíyena)

The two dialects differ phonologically, grammatically, and to a large extent, also lexically. They are mutually intelligible to a high extent, although Western Dakota is lexically closer to the Lakota language with which it has higher mutual intelligibility.

Writing systems[edit]

For a comparative table of the various writing systems conceived over time for the Sioux languages, cf. the specific section of the article Sioux language.



Dakota has five oral vowels, /a e i o u/, and three nasal vowels, /ã ĩ ũ/.

Front Central Back
high oral i u
nasal ĩ ũ
mid e o
low oral a
nasal ã


Nasal m [m] n [n]
Stop aspirated ph [pʰ]
th [tʰ]
čh [tʃʰ]
kh [kʰ]
voiceless p [p] t [t] č [tʃ] k [k] [ʔ]
ejective p' [pʼ] t' [tʼ] č' [tʃʼ] k' [kʼ]
voiced b [b] d [d] g [ɡ]
Fricative voiceless s [s] š [ʃ] ȟ [χ] h [h]
ejective s' [sʼ] š' [ʃʼ] ȟ' [χʼ]
voiced z [z] ž [ʒ] ǧ [ʁ]
Approximant w [w] y [j]

Comparison of the dialects[edit]

Phonological differences[edit]

In respect to phonology Eastern and Western Dakota differ particularly in consonant clusters. The table below gives the possible consonant clusters and shows the differences between the dialects:

Dakota consonant clusters
Yankton Yanktonai
b ȟ k m p s š t h k g
bd ȟč mn šk tk hm km gm
ȟd kp ps sk šd hn kn gn
ȟm ks sd šb hd kd gd
ȟn pt sm šn hb kb gb
ȟp kt sn šp
ȟt sp št
ȟb st šb

The two dialects also differ in the diminutive suffix (-daŋ in Santee, and -na in Yankton-Yanktonai and in Sisseton) and in a number of other phonetic issues that are harder to categorize. The following table gives examples of words that differ in their phonology.

Eastern Dakota Western Dakota gloss
Santee Sisseton Yankton Yanktonai
hokšídaŋ hokšína hokšína boy
nína nína nína / dína[5] very
hdá kdá gdá to go back[6]
hbéza kbéza gbéza ridged
hnayáŋ knayáŋ gnayáŋ to deceive
hmúŋka kmúŋka gmúŋka to trap
ahdéškadaŋ ahdéškana akdéškana agdéškana lizard

Lexical differences[edit]

There are also numerous lexical differences between the two Dakota dialects as well as between the sub-dialects. Yankton-Yanktonai is in fact lexically closer to the Lakota language than it is to Santee-Sisseton. The following table gives some examples:

English gloss Santee-Sisseton Yankton-Yanktonai Lakota
Northern Lakota Southern Lakota
child šičéča wakȟáŋyeža wakȟáŋyeža
knee hupháhu čhaŋkpé čhaŋkpé
knife isáŋ / mína mína míla
kidneys phakšíŋ ažúŋtka ažúŋtka
hat wapháha wapȟóštaŋ wapȟóštaŋ
still hináȟ naháŋȟčiŋ naháŋȟčiŋ
man wičhášta wičháša wičháša
hungry wótehda dočhíŋ ločhíŋ
morning haŋȟ'áŋna híŋhaŋna híŋhaŋna híŋhaŋni
to shave kasáŋ kasáŋ kasáŋ glak'óǧa

Grammatical differences[edit]

Yankton-Yanktonai has the same three ablaut grades as Lakota (a, e, iŋ), while in Santee-Sisseton there are only two (a, e). This significantly impacts word forms, especially in fast speech and it is another reason why Yankton-Yanktonai has better mutual intelligibility with Lakota than with Santee-Sisseton.

Some examples:

English gloss to go [6] I shall go to go back [6] he/she/it will go back
santee-sisseton yá bdé kte hdá hdé kte
yankton-yanktonai yá mníŋ kte kdá/gdá kníŋ/gníŋ kte
lakota yá mníŋ kte glá gníŋ kte

There are other grammatical differences between the dialects.

Revitalization efforts and resources[edit]

Software and mobile apps for learning Dakhóta[edit]

A Dakota 1 app was previously available for iPhone, iPad, and other iOS devices.[7] The Association on American Indian Affairs website offers an extensive selection of Dakotah learning resources, including CDs, DVDs, flashcards, and software.[8]

Curriculum, textbooks, and other materials for teaching and learning Dakhóta[edit]

A Level 1 Speak Dakota! textbook is available from the Dakhóta Iápi Okhódakičhiye. Developed by Dakota language speakers, teachers, and linguists, the textbook is the first fully illustrated Dakota language textbook that is linguistically and pedagogically consistent. Dakota language learning materials are also available on their website.[9]


  1. ^ Dakota at Ethnologue (19th ed., 2016) closed access
  2. ^ a b c d Riggs, Stephen Return; Dorsey, James Owen (1983). Dakota Grammar: With Texts and Ethnography (reprint ed.). Minnesota Historical Society Press. ISBN 0873514726.
  3. ^ Formerly Mdewákhaŋthuŋwaŋ
  4. ^ for a report on the long-established blunder of misnaming "Nakota" the Yankton and the Yanktonai, see the article Nakota
  5. ^ in Upper Yanktonay
  6. ^ a b c more precisely: 'he/she/it is going (back)' (hence elsewhere).
  7. ^ "App Shopper: Dakota 1 (Education)". Retrieved 2012-09-12.
  8. ^ "AAIA Native Language Program". Archived from the original on 2012-12-01. Retrieved 2013-01-19.
  9. ^ "Dakhóta Iápi Okhódakičhiye/Dakota Language Society". Retrieved 2014-08-29.


  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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).
  • Rood, David S.; & Taylor, Allan R. (1996). Sketch of Lakhota, a Siouan language. In Handbook of North American Indians: Languages (Vol. 17, pp. 440–482). Washington DC: Smithsonian Institution.
  • Parks, D.R.; DeMallie, R.J. (1992). "Sioux, Assiniboine, and Stoney Dialects: A Classification". Anthropological Linguistics. 34 (1–4): 233–255. JSTOR 30028376.
  • Riggs, S.R., & Dorsey, J.O. (Ed.). (1973). Dakota grammar, texts, and ethnography. Minneapolis: Ross & Haines, Inc.
  • Shaw, P.A. (1980). Theoretical issues in Dakota phonology and morphology. New York: Garland Publishing, Inc.

External links[edit]