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Dakota/Lakota Pronunciation and Spelling Guide (Sioux)

Welcome to our Lakota and Dakota alphabet page! The following charts show the pronunciation for the Sioux spellings we have used on our site, as well as some alternate spellings that you may find in other books and websites.



The Sioux languages were not originally written languages, so there is no single, official spelling for any given Sioux word. Some Lakota and Dakota bands, tribes, and nations have different standardized orthographies (spelling systems) than others. Some Lakota and Dakota people prefer to use phonetic spelling. Others do not use a standardized orthography at all, but simply spell Sioux words as best they can using the English alphabet. Needless to say, this makes comparing different Sioux language websites rather difficult.

On our website, we have used the orthography that Pinny uses, since she has been the one to type all these materials. However, this orthography may not be the best one for Sioux language beginners to use. As in the English alphabet, some letters can sometimes make more than one sound. In English, for example, "g" is pronounced differently in "bag," "cage," and "garage." In this Sioux spelling system, "s" is pronounced differently in "sinte"and "sunkawakan." We are currently working on adding phonetic lettering or (preferably) audio to all of our Sioux language pages.

Sioux Vowels

Character
We Use:
Sometimes
Also Used:
IPA symbol: Sioux pronunciation:
a    a Like the a in father.
e    e Like the e sound in Spanish, similar to the a in English gate.
i    i Like the i in police.
o    o Like the o in note.
u    u Like the u in flute.

Sioux Nasal Vowels

Nasal vowels don't exist in English, but you may be familiar with them from French (or from hearing people speak English with a French accent.) They are pronounced just like oral ("regular") vowels, only using your nose as well as your mouth. To English speakers, a nasal vowel often sounds like a vowel with a half-pronounced "n" at the end of it. You can hear examples of nasal vowels at the end of the French words "bon" and "Jean," or in the middle of the word "Français."

Note: The Sioux pronunciation of the nasal vowels on and un is exactly the same.

Character
We Use:
Sometimes
Also Used:
IPA symbol:
an  an, ą, aη, aŋ, aN  ã
in  in, į, iη, iŋ, iN  ĩ
on  on, , oη, oŋ, oN  ũ
un  un, ų, uη, uŋ, uN  ũ

Sioux Consonants

Character
We Use:
Sometimes
Also Used:
IPA symbol: Sioux pronunciation:
b    b Like b in bill.
c  č, ch, ć, , , j  t ~ d An unaspirated, 'soft' ch sound, like the ch in filching or the t in vulture. Sometimes it sounds more like the j in jar. This character is also used to represent the aspirated ch (see Aspiration, below.)
c  č, ch, c‘, , c  th An aspirated, 'hard' ch sound, like the one in chair. This character is also used to represent the unaspirated ch (see Aspiration, below.)
c'  c’, č', ç, c'  t' Like ch in char, but with a catch after it (like ch'ar).
d    d Like d in English die. Only used in Dakota pronunciation.
g    g Like g in gate. Also used to represent the g in Spanish saguaro.
g  , gh, ğ   Like g in Spanish saguaro. Also used to represent the g in English gate.
h  x  h~x Like h in hay. At the end of a word or before another consonant, it is pronounced like the ch in German ach.
h'    h' Like h in hay but with a catch after it (like h'ay.)
j  zh, ž, ź   Like a French j. In English, you can hear this sound at the end of words like garage.
k  , , g  k Like the unaspirated k in ski. Also used to represent the aspirated k in key.
k  kh, k‘, , kx  kh~kx Like the aspirated k in key. Sometimes it is pronounced more raspily. This character is also used to represent the unaspirated k in ski.
k'  k’, ķ  k' Like k in key, but with a catch after it (like k'ey).
l    l Like l in English light. Only used in Lakota pronunciation.
m    m Like m in English moon.
n    n Like n in English night.
p  , , b  p Like the unaspirated p in spin. Also used to represent the aspirated p in pin.
p  ph, p‘, , px  ph~px Like the aspirated p in pin. Sometimes it is pronounced more raspily. This character is also used to represent the unaspirated p in spin.
p'  p’  p' Like p in pin, but with a catch after it (like p'in).
s    s Like s in so. Also used to represent the sh in show.
s  š, sh, ś, s, s   Like sh in show. Also used to represent the s in so.
s'  s’, ş  s' Like s in so, but with a catch after it (like s'o.) Also used to represent sh with a catch after it.
s'  š', sh', ś', s', s'  ' Like sh in show, but with a catch after it (like sh'ow.) Also used to represent s with a catch after it.
t  , , d  t Like the unaspirated t in sty. Also used to represent the aspirated t in tie.
t  th, t‘, , tx  th~tx Like the aspirated t in tie. Sometimes it is pronounced more raspily. This character is also used to represent the unaspirated t in sty.
t'  t’, ţ  t' Like t in tie, but with a catch after it (like t'ie).
w    w Like w in English way.
x  , r  x Guttural sound that doesn't exist in English. Like ch in German ach.
x'  '  x' Like ch in German ach, but with a catch after it.
y    j Like y in English yes.
z    z Like z in zoo.
z'    z' Like z in zoo, but with a catch after it (like z'oo.)
    A pause sound, like the one in the middle of the word "uh-oh."

Sioux Stress

Word stress in the Sioux languages is significant. For example, in Dakota Sioux, zica with the stress on the second syllable means "squirrel," but zica with the stress on the first syllable means a kind of bird. Unfortunately for language learners, native Sioux speakers almost never mark where the accent falls in a word (any more than English speakers do.) In texts written by linguists, sometimes you will see a stressed syllable in a Dakota or Lakota word marked with an acute accent, such as zicá.

Dakota/Lakota Pronunciation and Vocabulary Resources

   Lakota words
   Dakota Sioux picture dictionary
   Sioux words
   Lakota animals
   Dakota body parts
   Sioux colors
   Lakota numbers
   Lakota alphabet
   Sioux alphabet and orthographies
   Siouan language group
   Plains Indians
   Native Americans of South Dakota
   Lakota legends



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