Sioux Language
Dakota, Lakota
Native toUnited States, Canada
RegionNorthern Nebraska, southern Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, northeastern Montana; southern Manitoba, southern Saskatchewan
Native speakers
25,000[1] (2015)[2]
Language codes
dak - Dakota
lkt - Lakota
Glottologdako1258  [3]
lako1247  [4]
Linguasphere62-AAC-a Dakota

Sioux is a Siouan language spoken by over 30,000 Sioux in the United States and Canada, making it the fifth most spoken indigenous language in the United States or Canada, behind Navajo, Cree, Inuit languages and Ojibwe.[5][6]

Regional variation

Page from Dictionary of the Sioux Language, 1866

Sioux has three major regional varieties, with other sub-varieties:

  1. Lakota (AKA Lak?óta, Teton, Teton Sioux)
  2. Western Dakota (AKA Yankton-Yanktonai or Dak?óta, and erroneously classified, for a very long time, as "Nakota"[7])
    • Yankton (Ihá?kt?u?wa?)
    • Yanktonai (Ihá?kt?u?wa?na)
  3. Eastern Dakota (AKA Santee-Sisseton or Dakhóta)
    • Santee (Isá?yáthi: Bdewákhathu?wa?, Wa?pékhute)
    • Sisseton (Sisíthu?wa?, Wa?péthu?wa?)

Yankton-Yanktonai (Western Dakota) stands between Santee-Sisseton (Eastern Dakota) and Lakota within the dialect continuum. It is phonetically closer to Santee-Sisseton but lexically and grammatically, it is much closer to Lakota. For this reason Lakota and Western Dakota are much more mutually intelligible than each is with Eastern Dakota. The assumed extent of mutual intelligibility is usually overestimated by speakers of the language. While Lakota and Yankton-Yanktonai speakers understand each other to a great extent, they each find it difficult to follow Santee-Sisseton speakers.

Closely related to the Sioux language are the Assiniboine and Stoney languages, whose speakers use the self-designation term (autonym) Nakhóta or Nakhóda. Speakers of Lakota and Dakota have more difficulty understanding each of the two Nakoda languages (Assiniboine and Stoney).[8]

Comparison of Sioux and Nakota languages and dialects

Phonetic differences

The following table shows some of the main phonetic differences between the regional varieties of the Sioux language. The table also provides comparison with the two closely related Nakota languages (Assiniboine and Stoney), which are, however, no longer mutually intelligible with the Sioux language.[8][9]

Sioux Assiniboine Stoney gloss
Lakota Western Dakota Eastern Dakota
Yanktonai Yankton Sisseton Santee
Lak?óta Dak?óta Dakhóta Nakhóta Nakhóda self-designation
lowá? dowá? dowá? nowá? to sing
?ís?ila ?ís?ina ?ístina ?úsina ?úsin small
hok?íla hok?ína hok?ína hok?ída hok?ína hok?ín boy
gnayá? gnayá? knayá? hnayá? knayá? hna to deceive
glépa gdépa kdépa hdépa knépa hnéba to vomit
kigná kigná kikná kihná kikná gihná to soothe
slayá sdayá sdayá snayá snayá to grease
wi?há?a wi?há?a wi?há?ta wi?há?ta wi?há man
kibléza kibdéza kibdéza kimnéza gimnéza to sober up
yatká? yatká? yatká? yatká? yatká? to drink

Lexical differences

There are also numerous lexical differences among the Sioux dialects as well as between the sub-dialects. Yankton-Yanktonai is lexically closer to the Lakota language than it is to Santee-Sisseton. The following table gives some examples:[8]

English gloss Santee-Sisseton Yankton-Yanktonai Lakota
Northern Lakota Southern Lakota
child ?i?é?a wak?á?ye?a wak?á?ye?a
knee hupáhu ?ha?kpé ?ha?kpé
knife isá? / mína mína míla
kidneys phak?í? a?ú?tka a?ú?tka
hat wapháha wap?ó?ta? wap?ó?ta?
still hiná? nahái? nahái?
man wi?há?ta wi?há?a wi?há?a
hungry wótehda do?hí? lo?hí?
morning ha'á?na hí?ha?na hí?ha?na hí?ha?ni
to shave kasá? kasá? kasá? glak'ó?a

Writing systems

Life for the Dakota changed significantly in the nineteenth century as the early years brought increased contact with white settlers, particularly Christian missionaries. The goal of the missionaries was to introduce the Dakota to Christian beliefs. To achieve this, the missions began to transcribe the Dakota language. In 1836, brothers Samuel and Gideon Pond, Rev. Stephen Return Riggs, and Dr. Thomas Williamson set out to begin translating hymns and Bible stories into Dakota. By 1852, Riggs and Williamson had completed a Dakota Grammar and Dictionary (Saskatchewan Indian Cultural Center). Eventually, the entire Bible was translated.

Today, it is possible to find a variety of texts in Dakota. Traditional stories have been translated, children's books, even games such as Pictionary and Scrabble. Despite such progress, written Dakota is not without its difficulties. The Pond brothers, Rev. Riggs, and Dr. Williamson were not the only missionaries documenting the Dakota language. Around the same time, missionaries in other Dakota bands were developing their own versions of the written language. Since the 1900s, professional linguists have been creating their own versions of the orthography. The Dakota have also been making modifications. "Having so many different writing systems is causing confusion, conflict between our [the Dakota] people, causing inconstancy in what is being taught to students, and making the sharing of instructional and other materials very difficult" (SICC).

Prior to the introduction of the Latin alphabet, the Dakota did have a writing system of their own: one of representational pictographs. In pictographic writing, a drawing represents exactly what it means. For example, a drawing of a dog literally meant a dog. Palmer writes that,

"As a written language, it [pictographs] was practical enough that it allowed the Lakota to keep a record of years in their winter counts which can still be understood today, and it was in such common usage that pictographs were recognized and accepted by census officials in the 1880s, who would receive boards or hides adorned with the head of the household's name depicted graphically" (pg. 34).

For the missionaries however, documenting the Bible through pictographs was impractical and presented significant challenges.

Comparative Table of Dakota and Lakota Orthographies[10]
IPA Buechel &

Standard Orthography[11] Brandon
& Boas
Rood &
Riggs Williamson University
White Hat Txakini
? ´ ´ ? ´ none ' ´ ´ ´ none '
a a a a a a a a a a a a
a: a (á) á a a a a a a a a 'a[note 1]
ã an, an' (a?) a? an? ? an ? a? a? a? a? an
p~b b b b b b b b b b b b
t? c ? c c c ? ? c c c? c
t c (c, c?) ?h ? c? c ?h c? c ?[note 2] ch
t?' c' ?' c? c' c ?' ? c c' ?'[note 2] c'
t~d none none d d d d d d d d d
e~? e e e e e e e e e e e
e:~?: e (é) é e e e e e e e e 'e[note 1]
k~? g g g g g g g g g g g
?~? g (?) ? ? ? g ? ? ? g ? gx
h h h h h h h h h h h h
? h? ? ? ? r ? ? ? ? ? x
~?' h' (h?') ?' ?' r ?' ? ? ?' ?' x'
i i i i i i i i i i i i
i: i (í) í i i i i i i i i 'i[note 1]
? in, in' (i?) i? in? ? in ? i? i? i? i? in
k k (k, k?) k k k k k k k k k k
k?~k? k kh k? k' k kh k k ? k kh
q?~k? k (k?) k? k? k' k kh k k ? k? kx
k' k' k' ? k' q k' ? ? k' k' k'
l l l none l none l l l none l l
l: none none none none none none none none none none
m m m m m m m m m m m m
n n n n n n n n n n n n
? n n n n n ? n n n n ng
o o o o o o o o o o o o
o: o (ó) ó o o o o o o o o 'o[note 1]
õ~? on, on' (o?) u? un? ? on ? o? o? u? u? un
p ? (p, ?) p p p p p p p p p? p
p? p ph p? p' p ph p p p? p ph
p?~p? p (p?) p? p? p' p ph p p p? ? px
p' p' p' p? p' p p' p? p? p' p' p'
s s s s s s s s s s s s
s' s' s' ? s' s s' s' s' s' s' s'
? ? ? ? ? x, ? ? ? ? ? ?[note 3] sh
~?' ?' ?' ?' x, ? ? ?' ?' ?' ?'[note 3] sh'
t t (t, ?) t t t t t t t t t t
t? t th t? t? t th t t ? t th
t?~t? t (t?) t? t? t? t th t t ? ? tx
t' t' t' ? t' t t' ? ? t' t' t'
u u u u u u u u u u u u
u: u (ú) ú u u u u u u u u 'u[note 1]
õ~? un, un' (u?) u? un? ? un ? u? u? u? u? un
w w w w w w w w w w w w
j y y y y y y y y y y y
z z z z z z z z z z z z
? j ? ? z j ? ? ? ? j zh
  1. ^ a b c d e Marks a stressed initial syllable
  2. ^ a b Saskatchewan uses c? for White Hat's ?
  3. ^ a b Saskatchewan uses s? for White Hat's ?


Sound system

See Lakota sound system and Dakota sound system.


Dakota is an agglutinating language. It features suffixes, prefixes, and infixes. Each affix has a specific rule in Dakota. For example, the suffix -pi is added to the verb to mark the plurality of an animate subject (Shaw, pg. 10). "With respect to number agreement for objects, only animate objects are marked, and these by the verbal prefix wicha-"(Shaw, pg. 11). Also, there is no gender agreement in Dakota.

Example of the use of -pi:

  • 1. ma-khata 'I am hot' (I-hot)
  • khata-pi 'they are hot' (0-hot-pl.)

Example of the use of wicha-

  • 1. wa-kte 'I kill him' (0-I-kill)
  • wicha-wa-kte 'I kill them' (them-I-kill)

(Shaw, pg. 12) Infixes are rare in Dakota, but do exist when a statement features predicates requiring two "patients."

Example of infixing:

  • 1. iye-checa 'to resemble'
  • iye-ni-ma-checa 'I resemble you'
  • 'you resemble me'
  • 2. iskola 'be as small as'
  • i-ni-ma-skola 'I am as small as you'
  • 'you are as small as I'


Dakota has subject/object/ verb (SOV) word order. Along the same line, the language also has postpositions. Examples of word order:

  • 1. wichasta-g wax aksica-g kte
  • (man-DET bear-DET kill)
  • 'the man killed the bear'
  • 2. wax aksicas-g wichasta-g kte
  • (bear-DET man-DET kill)
  • 'the bear killed the man'

(Shaw, pg. 10)

According to Shaw, word order exemplifies grammatical relations.

In Dakota, the verb is the most important part of the sentence. There are many verb forms in Dakota, although they are "dichotomized into a stative-active classification, with the active verbs being further subcategorized as transitive or intransitive" (Shaw, pg. 11). Some examples of this are:

  • 1. stative:
  • ma-khata 'I am hot' (I-hot)
  • ni-khata 'you are hot' (you-hot)
  • khata 'he/she/it is hot' (0-hot)
  • u-khata 'we (you and I) are hot' (we-hot)
  • u-khata-pi 'we (excl. or pl) are hot' (we-hot-pl.)
  • ni-khata-pi 'you (pl.) are hot' (you-hot-pl.)
  • khata-pi 'they are hot' (0-hot-pl.)
  • 2. active intransitive
  • wa-hi 'I arrive (coming)' (I-arrive)
  • ya-hi 'you arrive' (you-arrive)
  • hi 'he arrives'
  • u-hi 'we (you and I) arrive'
  • u-hi-pi 'we (excl. or pl.) arrive'
  • ya-hi-pi 'you (pl.) arrive'
  • hi-pi 'they arrive'
  • 3. active transitive
  • wa-kte 'I kill him' (0-I-kill)
  • wicha-wa-kte 'I kill them' (them-I-kill)
  • chi-kte 'I kill you' (I-you (portmanteau)- kill)
  • ya-kte 'you kill him' (0-you-kill)
  • wicha-ya-kte 'you kill them' (them- you-kill)
  • wicha-ya-kte-pi 'you (pl.) kill them'
  • ma-ya-kte 'you kill me' (me-you-kill)
  • u-ya-kte-pi 'you kill us' (we-you-kill-pl.)
  • ma-ktea 'he kills me' (0-me-kill-pl.)
  • ni-kte-pi 'they kill you' (0-you-kill-pl.)
  • u-ni-kte-pi 'we kill you' (we-you-kill-pl.)
  • wicha-u-kte 'we (you and I) kill them' (them-we-kill)

(Shaw, pgs. 11-12)

The phonology, morphology, and syntax of Dakota are very complex. There are a number of broad rules that become more and more specific as they are more closely examined. The components of the language become somewhat confusing and more difficult to study as more sources are examined, as each scholar has a somewhat different opinion on the basic characteristics of the language.


  1. ^ UNESCO Atlas of the World's Languages in Danger
  2. ^ Dakota at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
    Lakota at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  3. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Dakota". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  4. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Lakota". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  5. ^ Indigenous Languages Spoken in the United States
  6. ^ Statistics Canada: 2006 Census Archived 2013-10-16 at the Wayback Machine.
  7. ^ for a report on the long-established error of the Yankton and the Yanktonai as "Nakota", see the article Nakota
  8. ^ a b c Ullrich, Jan (2008). New Lakota Dictionary (Incorporating the Dakota Dialects of Yankton-Yanktonai and Santee-Sisseton). Lakota Language Consortium. pp. 2-6. ISBN 0-9761082-9-1.
  9. ^ Parks, D. R.; DeMallie, R. J. (1992). "Sioux, Assiniboine, and Stoney Dialects: a Classification". Anthropological Linguistics. 34 (1-4).
  10. ^ Riggs, p.13
  11. ^ Orthography of the New Lakota Dictionary adopted as the Standard Lakota Orthography by the majority of educational institutions across Lakota country
  12. ^ A diacritic-free orthography devised by native linguist Violet Catches


  • Bismarck Tribune. (2006, March 26). Scrabble helps keep Dakota language alive. Retrieved November 30, 2008, from [1]
  • Catches, Violet (1999?). Txakini-iya Wowapi. Lakxota Kxoyag Language Preservation Project.
  • DeMallie, Raymond J. (2001). "The 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.
  • de Reuse, Willem J. (1987). One hundred years of Lakota linguistics (1887-1987). Kansas Working Papers in Linguistics, 12, 13-42. (Online version:
  • 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). (Online version:
  • Eastman, M. H. (1995). Dahcotah or, life and legends of the Sioux around Fort Snelling. Afton: Afton Historical Society Press.
  • Howard, J. H. (1966). Anthropological papers number 2: the Dakota or Sioux Indians: a study in human ecology. Vermillion: Dakota Museum.
  • Hunhoff, B. (2005, November 30). "It's safely recorded in a book at last". South Dakota Magazine: Editor's Notebook. Retrieved November 30, 2008, from [2]
  • McCrady, D.G. (2006). Living with strangers: the nineteenth-century Sioux and the Canadian-American borderlands. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.
  • Palmer, J.D. (2008). The Dakota peoples: a history of the Dakota, Lakota, and Nakota through 1863. Jefferson: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers.
  • Parks, D.R. & DeMallie, R.J. (1992). "Sioux, Assiniboine, and Stoney Dialects: A Classification". Anthropological Linguistics vol. 34, nos. 1-4
  • 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.
  • Riggs, S.R., & Dorsey, J.O. (Ed.). (1973). Dakota grammar, texts, and ethnography. Minneapolis: Ross & Haines, Inc.
  • Robinson, D. (1956). A history of the Dakota or Sioux Indians: from their earliest traditions and first contact with white men to the final settlement of the last of them upon reservations and the consequent abandonment of the old tribal life. Minneapolis: Ross & Haines, Inc.
  • 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.
  • Saskatchewan Indian Cultural Center. Our languages: Dakota Lakota Nakota. Retrieved November 30, 2008. Web site: [3]
  • Shaw, P.A. (1980). Theoretical issues in Dakota phonology and morphology. New York: Garland Publishing, Inc.
  • Ullrich, Jan. (2008). New Lakota Dictionary: Incorporating the Dakota Dialects of Santee-Sisseton and Yankton-Yanktonai. Lakota Language Consortium. ISBN 0-9761082-9-1.
  • Ullrich, Jan, with Ben Black Bear, Jr. (2016) Lakota Grammar Handbook. Bloomington: Lakota Language Consortium. (ISBN 978-1-941461-11-2)
  • Utley, R.M. (1963). The last days of the Sioux nation. New Haven: Yale University Press.

External links

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