The following charts will be useful in deciphering the orthographies used by other publications, but note that not every author transcribes words accurately using these systems.

Nasal vowels, and the velar nasal

lakotaorthographyvowels (118K)

Aspirated, unaspirated, and pharyngeal and ejective p, t, k

lakotaorthographystops (186K)

Fricatives, affricates, and the glottal stop

lakotaorthographyfricatives (171K)


   • IPA: The International Phonetic Alphabet is a worldwide writing system used by linguists that can identify all the sounds of a language.
   • Riggs: used by Reverend Stephen Return Riggs, who created Grammar and Dictionary of the Dakota Language (1852), and edited Dakota-English Dictionary (1892). It was also used by his comrade, Thomas S. Williamson. Both of these men had followed the work of fellow Episcopal missionaries Samuel W. Pond and Gideon H. Pond.
   • Williamson: used by missionary John Poage Williamson (son of Thomas Williamson) who published An English-Dakota Dictionary (1902).
   • Traditional: the way most native speakers of Lakota (who have not taken language classes) write their language using English letters, which may have been influenced by early missionary systems. Famous Native Americanists Mary Crow Dog, Vine Deloria Jr. (nephew of Ella Deloria), Luther Standing Bear Jr., and John Niehardt, translator of Black Elk Speaks, use this orthography.

The ejectives S and SH, the ejective, guttural H, and the guttural G are not always recognized apart from plain S, SH, H and G, and the glottal stop is not always marked. Many of these elders view other orthographies as unnecessarily complicated, and unfortunately few linguists have acknowledged the efficiency of the traditional system before exploiting its weaknesses.

   • B & D: stands for the last names of the famous anthropologist Franz Boas, and the native Lakota speaker linguist Ella Cara Deloria, who collaborated on writing Dakota Grammar (1941). Raymond J. DeMallie wrote a short biography of her in Deloria's book Waterlily (1988).

Deloria created the orthography for transliteration of a wealth of materials and a dictionary. Most of her valuable projects were never published, but efforts are currently underway to publish them in the future. One unique characteristic of her system is dots (.) between the clusters bl, gl, mn, gm, gn, to represent the schwa.

   • Buechel: used by Eugene Buechel, a missionary who wrote A Grammar of Lakota: The Language of the Teton Sioux Indians (1939) and created a Lakota dictionary, which was published after his death in 1970 and includes a copy of his grammar. Buechel's orthography is the same as that of Boas & Deloria, only [ʒ] is recorded as j rather than z, and nasal vowels are written with a superscript N, (n). Note that Buechel's 1970 dictionary was edited by Manhart, and thus appears in the Manhart (I) orthography.
   • Manhart (I): used by Reverend Paul Manhart S. J. who edited and published Buechel's Lakota Dictionary (1970). This modification of Buechel's orthography marks unaspirated stops with a dot above the letter, and pharyngeal stops with a superscript c (c) or apostrophe (’) above the letter, which in small print is indistinguishable with the dot. However, he was not always consistent in his conversion of Buechel's orthography.
   • Manhart (II): used by Buechel to transcribe Lakota Tales & Texts (1978), which was edited by Manhart. This orthography is the same as traditional, only Manhart included the glottal and consonant stops at the request of Deloria.
   • WH Sr.: stands for Albert White Hat Sr., a Lakota language teacher and native speaker linguist who wrote the 1999 book Reading and Writing the Lakota Language, where he explains the history of the orthography he uses. In 1982, during a three day workshop organized by the Committee for the Preservation of the Lakota Language, Lakota educators including White Hat Sr. consolidated the best attributes of missionary alphabets and created a new orthography that was reviewed by tribal elders.
   • CU: stands for the Colorado University Orthography developed by linguists David Rood and Allan Taylor wrote extensively on the Lakota language including the textbook Beginning Lakhota (1976). They also wrote an article that explains the reasoning behind their system entitled The Colorado System for Writing the Lakota Language, published in 1975 by the American Indian Culture and Research Journal volume 1, number 3, pages 3-12.
   • LLC: LLC: stands for Lakota Language Consortium, which produces language teaching materials including New Lakota Dictionary (2008). In that dictionary, Jan Ullrich gives a good history of Lakota lexicography, and mentions that various tests were performed in the development of LLC's orthography, which were designed to identify and carry over the best features of previous orthographies. It is largely based on the Colorado system (in fact Rood is on the LLC's board of directors), only it lacks a symbol for ng, represents vowels using the engma instead of ogoneks, and represents the glottal stop using an apostrophe. Today LLC's orthography has pretty much become the standard, and this is what SAIVUS uses.
   • SICC: SICC: stands for Saskatchewan Indian Cultural Centre, which created free online courses for various American Indian languages. They use White Hat Sr.'s orthography, but change the dots on š and č to grave accent marks ( and ), and accompany the ejective č with a diacritic.
   • Txakini: used by Violet Catches, a native speaker linguist who heads the Lakxota Kxoyag Language Preservation Project, which aims to produce language teaching materials. The website mentions a book that explains her orthography called Txakini-iya Wowapi, but as it is extremely hard to track down, I'm guess it's self-published.
   • Net Siouan: used by various websites as a way to type Siouan languages using ordinary keyboard characters.


Oral vowels, b, h, g, l, m, n, s, w, and z are consistent across transcription systems. Stress is indicated by Buechel, Manhart (I), CU, LLC, and Net Siouan.

Some linguists write <š> for [ʃ], <č> for [tʃ], <ǰ> for [ʒ], <x> for [χ], <ǧ> for [ɣ], and mark aspiration with an apostrophe.

Manhart viewed having separate symbols for ŋ and ȟ unnecessary given the following spelling conventions, which I will paraphrase for clarity:

for n/ŋ:
   •  n is always ŋ at end of a word
   •  n is always ŋ when anteceded by a consonant
   •  between vowels, n must be marked with a consonant stop (n‘) to distinguish it from ŋ
   •  otherwise, n is n

for h/ȟ:
   •  h is always ȟ at the end of a word
   •  h is always ȟ in a cluster
   •  between vowels and at the beginning of words, h must be marked with a consonant stop (h‘) to distinguish it from ȟ
   •  otherwise h is h

(Buechel & Manhart 1998, xi-xiii)

There are some exceptions to the first rule for n/ŋ, like hehán (then). Rood and Taylor pointed out a good exception to the third guideline for n/ŋ: chanmáwašte (I am happy) Rood and Taylor 1975, 7).

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Last Updated: 04/29/2011