Local words and Standard Lakota Orthography

Local words and Standard Lakota Orthography

Postby admin » October 17th, 2009, 2:37 am

Q: Is this the new standard Lakota only southern Lakota? For example, Lakota spoken on Rosebud and Pine Ridge?

Let me answer your questions/comments as best as I can.

Standardization of orthography has no negative impact on preserving the local words (variants used in different reservations and communities).

Standardized orthography serves the purpose of spelling meaningful sounds of the language consistently. For example the speakers in Standing Rock use the word kasáŋ ‘to shave’ (which is something that most people in Pine Ridge and Rosebud don’t use or never heard since they use kašlá or kak’óǧa). On the other hand the southern speakers (Pine Ridge, Rosebud) say kaká for ‘grandfather’ while northern speakers say lalá. Standardization means that the letter k in kasáŋ and the letter k in kaká will represent the same sound regardless of where the word is used. This means that people from Standing Rock and Cheyenne River will be able to read texts written by people from Pine Ridge and Rosebud and vice versa, and they will know how the local variants are pronounced. This means that standardization of orthography actually helps to preserve the local variants thus making the language richer.

Are all students on all the reservations being taught a "standardized" Lakota? Are community differences allowed?

The Lakota Language Consortium is doing its best to support the preservation of the local variants. As you know the New Lakota Dictionary (NLD) is the first Lakota dictionary ever that records local variants and marks their local usage (please read page 18, third paragraph). This was not previously done in any material and all earlier dictionaries were based almost exclusively on the southern sub-dialects (mainly Pine Ridge, and partly also Rosebud). During the work on NLD much effort was made to record the local variants from all communities.

It is also important to say that contrary to the popular beliefs the local variants are not numerous. The differences are often manifested in very common words, such as grandfather (kaká vs. lalá), cattle (ptegléška vs. ptewániyaŋpi), clothes (hayápi vs. hayáke). This makes it seem as if there are many variants, but in reality they number a few dozens of words.

The LLC textbooks are also designed to balance the use of the local variants. The main characters in the textbook are eight children who come from different reservations (e.g. Bob is from Pine Ridge, Lisa is from Cheyenne River, other characters are from other communities). This allows the introduction and consistent use of local variants throughout the textbook series. It teaches the students not only to use the variants but also to have respect for words from other communities and consider them as something that makes the language richer.

You can rest assured that local sub-dialects are alive and thriving in many languages that have long had standardized spelling (such as English, French, Italian, German, Polish, Czech etc.).

I personally have had first hand experience with non-Native speakers telling me I pronounced a word incorrectly. They learned southern Lakota.

Of course only a very silly and ignorant learner of a language would patronize fluent speakers about their language.
The source of this misunderstanding, however, lies probably in the fact that the standardized spelling is based on the slow, formal speech style. Note that in everyday English people say things like “I wanna do it”, “I’m gonna do it” or “lemme see” and “d’eat?”. Except for some very informal texts (such as teenagers’ texting) you will never see those phrases spelled as they are above. Instead they will be spelled “I want to do it,” “I am going to do it,” “Let me see” and “Did you eat?” respectively.
People in non-English speaking countries who learn English as a second language always start by learning the formal, slow speech forms. This is why many of them are surprised when they have the first contact with authentic English and find out that many things are pronounced differently in everyday speech. This is where some second language learners get puzzled and think that the English of the textbooks is different from the English of the real world. In fact, it is not, it is just that the spelling is based on formal speech.

The same is true in almost every other language, including Lakota. In Lakota we write philámayaye even though in every day speech it is pronounced something like philámæ. We write šúŋkawakȟáŋ but the word can also be pronounced as šúŋkakȟaŋ or šúŋwakȟaŋ informally. The word iglúwiŋyeya is commonly pronounced iglúwiŋyæŋ. The word ikȟóyaka is informally pronounced ikȟwáka or okȟáyaka by some people.
The NLD provides fast speech variants for a large percentage of the words, and the grammar section gives a very detailed description on how the informal speech style differs from the formal spelling. The textbook series will continue to focus on both formal spelling and everyday pronunciation.

Basing the standardized spelling on formal pronunciation is, again, nothing that would have a negative impact on the language. On the contrary. It makes written communication consistent and easier, and most of all, it makes learning the language easier and faster.
As was the case with local variants, the spelling based on formal speech is another thing that many languages have in common.

I would like to close this discussion by sharing something from the Lakȟól’iyapi Summer Institute at the Sitting Bull College this past summer.
One of the groups of teachers was being introduced to the orthography in a class on phonology and reading. It was about 40 teachers, most from Cheyenne River but also some from Standing Rock, Pine Ridge and Rosebud. All of these were fluent native speakers and many of them have been Lakota language teachers for many years.
One of the tasks that they did in the class was as follows:

They were given a story written in English (it was a short text covering one letter format page) and were asked to read the story with understanding as they would be asked comprehension questions afterwards. While they were reading I measured the time. The average reading time was 2 minutes. After the two minutes all of these teachers were able to name all the characters and describe very confidently what happened in the story. This means that their reading fluency and reading comprehension skills in English were excellent.

The same task was repeated with a Lakota text. It was a text written by a native speaker in the non-standardized spelling (sometimes referred to as “traditional”, basically spelling that does not mark all the meaningful sounds of the language). This Lakota text equaled the English text in length and complexity (one page, three characters, simple story). The average reading time was 15 minutes, but many people read as long as 20 minutes (!!). It was obvious that the readers had to re-read many sentences several times before they gained some understanding of what was being said in them.
After reading they were again asked to give the basic information about the story. Although most were able to name the main characters, only one or two were able to describe what happened in the story.
This shows us that the fluency of reading a Lakota text spelled without focus on sounds was extremely low and so was the reading comprehension.

The same task was repeated once again with a different Lakota text, except that this time the text was written with the standardized orthography. The average reading time was 7 minutes. And all participants were able to retell what happened in the story with high confidence.

It is important to say that most of these people saw the orthography for the first time.

This reading activity showed that the standard orthography makes the pronunciation and meaning (!!) explicit, and that it significantly increases the fluency and comprehension of reading. It has this positive impact even for people who haven’t been introduced to the spelling previously.

Similar reading tasks were repeated towards the end of the institute and they showed that after the teachers had worked with the orthography for three weeks their reading fluency and comprehension began to get very near their skills in reading English (which was 2 minutes per letter format page).

Final remark:

The doubts or suspicions that many people in the communities have about the new orthography are mostly caused by the fact that they don’t know enough about it. We have experienced over and over that those who are introduced to the orthography in a pedagogically sound way become strong proponents of it.

Finally, I would like to remind everyone that this forum’s policy prohibits discussing orthographies. The reason for this is the fact that such discussion is necessarily contra-productive. It takes us away from the main purpose of this forum – and that is to learn the language. No one is forced to adopt this orthography if they don’t like it. But those who want to enjoy this wonderful learning community and the many useful learning activities of this forum are bound by the forum’s policy to “support the standard to the best of their abilities and do nothing to undermine it.”
Please, abide by the policy and thus help us in creating consistency and literacy in Lakota, because it is a necessary part of successful language revitalization.

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