The history of Standard Lakota Orthography

The history of Standard Lakota Orthography

Postby admin » October 10th, 2009, 1:33 pm

Q.: Why do you use SLO in the dictionary and don't use CULP orthography? Why don't you put glottal stops between vowels as in CULP?

The orthography of the New Lakota Dictionary (NLD) is actually largely based on the CULP orthography.

First of all, it is important to realize that the orthography established in the New Lakota Dictionary is a practical orthography. Here, practical means ‘best serving the purposes of literacy and education, and suitable to the language community.’

The CULP orthography was introduced to the Lakota community in the early 70’s and it was strongly endorsed by the Lakota Studies department at the Sinte Gleška College. There was a good chance that the orthography would be adopted for standardization and it almost happened, but after Ben Black Bear Jr. was replaced in the position of the Lakota Studies department chair by Albert White Hat, the orthography was unfortunately rejected together with the CULP curriculum. No other college or school on the Lakota reservations used it since. This was rather unfortunate. Had the CULP orthography been fully established on at least one of the reservations there would have been little argument against adopting it for standardization. It is also likely that during the last forty years the language instruction would have been based on consistent and pedagogically sound materials.

In the years of working on the New Lakota Dictionary the CULP orthography was the primary candidate and the editors proposed CULP to be used in the dictionary. The native Lakota scholars, consultants and teachers involved in the dictionary project felt strongly about maintaining some of the traditional orthographic aspects, mainly the following:

1) not marking intervocalic glottal stop, and
2) maintaining nasal vowels marking with ŋ

As there had been no broadly accepted tradition of marking aspiration the CULP feature of marking it with “h” was adopted because it is the most logical approach. Native speakers wanted to further refine this aspect by

3) marking the difference between glottal and velar aspiration (kh, ph, th vs. kȟ, pȟ, tȟ)

The three features listed above are the three main differences between CULP and SLO. Let’s take a closer look at them:

As for (1): not marking the intervocalic glottal stop is not a major issue since it is not phonemic. Intervocalic glottal stop is pronounced only in very formal speech and when it is not pronounced it has no impact on meaning (e.g. a’ú and ho’áglagla become and hoáglagla in everyday speech). Therefore, marking intervocalic glottal stop is unnecessary, while it makes writing and reading more difficult. Intervocalic glottal stop has not been an orthographic tradition and it was never really accepted by the community of native speakers.
Note that for instance in Hawaiian the words and a’ú each have a different meaning. In Lakota, they are one and the same word.

As for (2): the tradition of marking Lakota nasal vowels with ŋ (aŋ, iŋ, uŋ) is over 150 years old and all literate Lakota speakers are used to it. The nasal hooks (ą, į, ų) are of course linguistically more accurate, but they have always been one of the reasons why the CULP orthography was not accepted by the language community. Moreover, the use of ŋ makes the orthography much easier to type (CULP has 12 non-Latin characters, SLO has only 6, besides, accented vowels with hooks are not yet standardized by Unicode, so there is no standard font for CULP).

As for (3): the marking of kh, ph, th versus kȟ, pȟ, tȟ is unnecessary from the purely linguistic point of view (because they are allophones which means that their choice does not impact meaning). On the other hand this feature is not incorrect from any perspective and it has proven to be a very useful feature of the orthography in that it makes the pronunciation very explicit.

Additionally, several of the orthographies (including CULP, the NLD orthography, Albert White Hat and Txakini) were tested with Lakota language students at elementary, middle school and high school levels. The NLD orthography had the best results, highly exceeding the results of CULP. Similar tests were recently done with Lakota language teachers, both before and after they were introduced to the orthography. The reading comprehension and fluency of SLO exceeded every other orthography by a significant measure.

Since about 2003 the new orthography has been adopted by a growing number of Lakota schools. The entire Standing Rock Tribe (including the Sitting Bull College) adopted the orthography early on, all schools on Cheyenne River have been using it and most schools in Pine Ridge, as well as many schools outside reservations (as in Rapid City, Sioux Falls etc.) The orthography has some critics in Rosebud (Francis White Bird etc.) but it also has a growing number of strong proponents on that reservation.

It is relevant to mention that the orthography has been fully endorsed by Professor David Rood (the author of CULP) and the Linguistic Department of Colorado University. After the publication of the New Lakota Dictionary the Lakota language scholar program at the Colorado University has been using the orthography and Professor Rood is planning to convert the CULP textbook into the orthography.

Orthographic reform is never a popular nor an easy process. No one orthography is acceptable for every single person because people have their own individual preferences based on family history or personal usage. However, the benefits of standardization to the language, the community and individual learners or speakers are immeasurable.

In this dictionary, are there specific rules for when, and when not, to designate a space between the end of a verb and the enclitic 'pi', for example? If so, what are they? Or is this arbitrary?

Based on tradition –pi is always treated as a suffix in NLD. This is described on page 764 (footnote 42).

What is the reason then for indicating a glottal stop with a punctuation mark that indicates possession and contraction in English? Isn't this confusing?

Functionally there is no difference between modified letter apostrophe used in SLO and the IPA character for glottal stop as long as the usage is properly introduced and established. The choice of apostrophe is based on a well established orthographic tradition.
Also, it is good to keep in mind that Lakota isn't English and that apostrophe is not the only letter used differently in the two languages.
Note that apostrophe is used for marking glottal stop in a large number of languages, including many Native American languages.

How much of this dictionary can be attributed to the CULP method for teaching, reading and writing the Lakhota language? I find it regrettable that useful features of the CULP method were not applied to this particular dictionary.

The CULP writing system is at the core of the new orthography (SLO). SLO is more practical, while not being less accurate. It is a very suitable orthography that makes pronunciation explicit and typing and reading easy.

The advantages of the orthography are not immediately clear to community members who haven't been trained in using it, which is one of the reasons why there has been some opposition. During the past 6 years more than eighty Lakota language teachers and educators have been trained in the orthography. Most teachers who come to trainings are at first hesitant about the writing system, because it is new and it takes time to learn it and get used to it. These teachers, however, have been seeing the positive impact of the orthography on their students and by far the largest majority come back for more training and fully endorse the orthography.
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