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Number of Speakers: About 6,000

Key Dialects: See below

Geographical Center: Central USA

Lakota has 6,000 native speakers out of a 20,000 population (1987 SIL). The total population of speakers in both the USA and Canada is 6,000. It is spoken in the regions of northern Nebraska, southern Minnesota, North and South Dakota, northeastern Montana, and in Canada.

Lakota is one of four dialects of the Dakota group. The other three are Dakota, also spoken in the USA, and Assiniboine, and Stoney, spoken in Canada. The Dakota group belongs to the Mississippi Valley section of the Central Siouan Proper subgroup of the Siouan family, which includes 17 languages in total.

Lakota is one of the four closely related dialects of the Dakota group. The easternmost dialect of the language is Santee-Sisseton. Nineteenth-century scholars, following native usage, referred to this dialect as Dakota. The westernmost of the dialects, Teton, is designated by its native name, Lakhota or Lakota. Speakers of the Assiniboine and Stoney dialects call their language Nakoda. One more dialect, Yankton-Yanktonai, also located geographically between the Santee-Sisseton and Teton dialects, shows affinities with both Dakota and Nakoda, although its speakers call their language Dakota.

Each of these dialects has a number of sub dialects, some quite different from the others. The sub dialects of Lakota are divided into two groups: the ones used in the southwest reservations (Pine Ridge and Rosebud) and the ones used on the Missouri River (Cheyenne River, Lower Brule, Standing Rock). The populations on these reservations reflect earlier band divisions among the Teton Sioux, so the present linguistic differences quite likely reflect differences older than the reservation period, which dates only from the last third of the nineteenth century. (Rood and Taylor, 1994)

There are a number of different orthographies in Lakota and no current standard has yet been established. The three most commonly used variants are: the Buechel Orthography based on the Eugene Buechel Lakota-English Dictionary, the Indian Reader Orthography, based on the Sioux Indian Reader Series of the 1940s, and Taylor & Rood Orthography, based on the Taylor & Rood Language Lessons.

Lakota is a polysynthetic language. Lakota nouns are either simple or derived. Derived nouns are divided into compounds and affixed forms. Compound nouns consist of two (or more) nouns, or of a noun plus a verb. In noun-noun compounds, the earlier element usually modifies the later. When non-nominal elements are present in the compound, these usually follow the nominal elements and modify them.

Nouns derived by affixation may have either prefixes or suffixes. Elements used as suffixes are usually identical to clitics.

The choice of the article depends on various features of the noun and of the sentence in which it occurs. Generic nouns have no article in Lakota. The choice of indefinite article is made on the basis of a number of covert classes to which nouns belong. These include mass nouns, human, and non-human. Moreover, there are different forms depending on whether the sentence in which they appear is negative or affirmative and, if it is affirmative, whether it refers to real or to hypothetical things.

Possession is marked in one of three ways: by special affixes in the verb, by a modifying form of the stative verb itha'wa ‘belong to, own’, or by special prefixes on the noun. Moreover, many nouns, including some body parts cannot be formally marked for a possessor anywhere in the sentence.

Lakota verbs are inflected for first and second person, while third person is unmarked for both subject and object agreements. The clitic pi is used to mark plural agreement with animate subjects while plurality of inanimate subjects is marked through reduplication.

The verb is the only obligatory element in the Lakota sentence. Simple sentences can, depending on the verbal category, imply zero, one, two, or three participants. Intransitive verbs have markers that show if the verbs are unergative or unaccussative.

Verbs fall into several classes according to their participant types: impersonal (no participants), stative (one objectlike participant), active intransitive (one subjectlike participant), transitive (two participants), and ditransitive (three participants). Stative and intransitive verbs are made transitive by means of a causative construction. Transitive verbs may also be made causative, in which case they become ditransitive verbs. Aspect, tense, and modality are expressed with the aid of clitics in Lakota.

Independent pronouns are rarely used in ordinary Lakota but are available for emphatic expressions or to serve as the objects of postpositions such as kic^hi ‘together with’. There are two sets. The first is simply emphatic: the second is used to contrast one referent with others.

Conjunctions occur in two possible positions: in the second slot from the beginning or in the last slot in the sentence. The more common position is last in the sentence. When conjunctions join two of the parts of a sentence, such as nominals or verbs they occur in the sentence position appropriate to the major part.

Adverbs are of three possible types: words, phrases, or sentences and may occur either before or after the nominals of the sentence. Any number of adverbials can appear in a structure and their order is not fixed.

Lakota has a Subject-Object-Verb word order. Any number up to three nominals can appear in a syntactic structure in Lakota. Nominal expressions can serve the three possible grammatical roles of subject, indirect object, and direct object. If more than one nominal occurs in a sentence, the subject will normally appear first followed by either of the objects. For some speakers, there is no required order between direct and indirect objects. Very rarely, however, does this cause any misunderstanding, since in most such sentences potential ambiguities are resolved by the meanings of the particular words. The grammatical roles of subject, object, or indirect object may be indicated by verbal affixes instead of by overt nominals.

The Lakota language is in danger of becoming extinct. Since the 1970s there have been efforts to introduce the language into schools, but none of these attempts has met any expected success. Since the early 1990s there have been visible signs of the serious extent of language loss but there has been no successful answer to the problem. Current estimates show that if continuing with the current rates of loss of speakers, very soon the Lakota language will be beyond recovery. For example, in the early 90s about half of the population on Pine Ridge, Dakota, had no speaking knowledge of Lakota. This number has grown to three-quarters of the population today. If this continues at the same rate, then in about eight to ten years ninety percent of the population will not be able to speak the language.

The history of the Lakota language is connected with the history of its native speakers. The first recorded contact with the Lakota people was by Jesuits in 1640 and 1658, in the area of present-day Green Bay, Wisconsin, and in the forests in southern Minnesota. These people had lived in this area for many generations.

In about 1804 AD the Sioux met the Lewis and Clark expedition and trading posts were established throughout the West. In 1868 the United States government, in conjunction with numerous Bands of the Lakota and Dakota Indians, signed the Treaty of Fort Laramie. This document officially granted the Lakota people unrestricted control over sixty million acres of the Black Hills, government supplies and provisions, as well as forbidding white men to enter the area.

After the end of the war the Congress was in constant trouble over the application of US law to tribes, which wanted traditional autonomy. The Indian Citizenship Act of 1924 granted citizenship to Native Americans, but not full protection under the Bill of Rights for Indians living under tribal governments.

In the Eisenhower administration of the 1950s, the "termination" policy was instituted, to move many Indian tribes off the reservation they were living, and relocate the individual members in cities. Some reservations were closed, affecting about 60 tribes. The purpose was to force assimilation of Indians into the American culture. Also, support programs for some reservations, including health and education services, were terminated.

This policy ended in the Nixon administration 1970, when it was realized that Indians had a right to maintain their tribal culture. The 1968 Civil Rights Act -- Title II, gave full civil rights to individual American Indians living under tribal law.

The activism and takeovers by the American Indian Movement in the early 1970s led to more thorough consideration of the condition of American Indians. The Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act of 1975 gave Indian people more power in planning and administering federal programs and services to Indians.

US policy allowed for Lakota children to be placed in adoptive or foster homes of non-native Americans, against the will of their relatives on the reservations. This caused those native children to lose contact with their heritage and family members. In the late 1930s, the BIA started closing Indian boarding schools far from reservations, and allowing Indian children to attend schools closer to their tribes. Indian languages were allowed and funded to be taught in schools on reservations. However, as mentioned above, despite the efforts the Lakota language today is not far from becoming extinct.

Campbell, G. L. 1991. Compendium of the World's Languages, Vol. 1 -2. London and New York: Routledge.

Grimes, B. F., ed. 1992. Ethnologue, Languages of the World. Dallas, TX: Summer Institute of Linguistics.

Linguistic Society of America. 1992. Directory of Programs in Linguistics in the United States and Canada. Washington, DC.

Rood, S. David and Allan R. Taylor. 1996. Sketch of Lakhota, a Siouan Language. Handbook of North American Indians, Vol.17 (Languages), pp.440-482.

Ruhlen, M. 1987. A Guide to the World's Languages, Vol. 1: Classification. London: Edward Arnold.

Shaw A. Patricia. 1980. Theoretical Issues in Dacota Phonology and Morphology. New York: Garland Publishing, Inc.

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