Lakota Alphabet & Orthography

Above, Leroy Curley's "The Lakota Alphabet."
The Lakȟóta Alphabet
An Inspired Way To Write
By Dakota Wind 

In 1982, Leroy Curley (Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe) developed his Lakota Alphabet. According to Curley, this new way of communication was a special gift from Wakȟáŋ Tȟáŋka Tȟuŋkášila, the creator. Forty-one characters in this beautiful alphabet were inspired by the phases of the sun and moon. 

Curley's final alphabet as it appeared on his funeral program in the fall of 2012. 

Curley continued to develop his alphabet, and over the course of thirty years, his alphabet took a syncretic turn as the characters evolved, turning into a mirror of sorts of the regular English alphabet with characters representing the letters "A" through "Z." There are slight distinctions between upper and lower case letters and even a question mark.

Curley's 1982 alphabet changed. his orthography changed too. For example, his 1982 letter "G" looks like the letter "A" in his final alphabet. For a comparison and explanation of the many orthographies of Dakhóta and Lakȟóta visit the Society to Advance Indigenous Vernaculars of the United States (SAIVUS) page dedicated to those various Lakota Orthographies

In recent years, another Lakota orthography was developed by the Lakota Language Consortium (LLC) called by them the Standard Lakota Orthography (SLO). It must be acknowledged that the LLC has a tenuous relationship with some individuals and institutions on some of the reservations in North and South Dakota. This writer hasn't personally experienced any friction with the LLC, but I am neither a fluent speaker nor am I an institution. Lekší Kevin Locke (Standing Rock Sioux Tribe) has convinced me of the utility of the LLC's SLO. 

Regarding utility, there is a Lakota news website posts everything in Lakȟól'iya. Wóihaŋble employs the LLC's SLO. There's an article up there about The Hobbit's Thorin Oakenshield. If you're a Ringer like myself, you'll want to check it out.

You can acquire the LLC's Lakota keyboard on your mobile device by checking the app store, or you download it for your computer here

You can acquire a Lakota keyboard employing Albert White Hat's orthography here or download the keyboard bundle directly here

Mr. Ray Taken Alive, an enrolled member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and Lakota language educator, took Curley's 1982 orthography and created a True Type Font (TTF). One you can easily install on your computer. Tȟaŋháŋši Ray has graciously agreed to freely share this TTF. You can download it here. View Tȟaŋháŋši Ray's instructional video to create your own Lakota keyboard.

An inspired take on Curley's 1982 alphabet. 

Inspired by Tȟaŋháŋši Ray's efforts in taking Curley's 1982 alphabet and making it keyboard friendly, I decided to revisit Curley's alphabet and create my own font. I regularly employ the LLC's SLO, but I very much wanted to remain faithful to the spirit of Curley's 1982 efforts. 

Comparing Curley's 1982 alphabet to this 2020 inspired take you'll see that it's much the same but there are some differences. In Curley's '82 alphabet there are no lowercase letters. His later version has slight distinctions for lowercase letters. This 2020 version keeps the characters the same, only smaller for lowercase. 

In keeping with the spirit of the '82 version, that the characters were inspired by the heavens, the accent or glottal indicators are represented as four-pointed stars. The concept for the period at the conclusion of a sentence is represented as a black-filled circle, which is the Lakota pictographic concept for an end. The concept for the question mark is a half-circle, inspired by the Plains Indian sign language for "question." A bolt of lightning serves as an exclamation mark. 

How numerals might appear in the 2020 version. It's no mistake that these numerals look like hands. The top row is the hash line method of counting. The hand symbols represent how one counts with one's hands. The dot in the bottom row represents the finger from the opposite hand touching the top of the numerals for tens. 

There are no numbers in the 2020 version. In the pre-reservation days, numbers were drawn out much like hash marks. That would be impractical today to represent the number thirty with thirty marks (IIIIIIIIII IIIIIIIIII IIIIIIIIII) in a word document. There was a concept of "nothing," but not zero as a numeric place marker. I suggest that it may be practical to employ regular English numerals. You might scroll back up and review Curley's final alphabet and check out the numbers he's developed. 

How does this 2020 Lakota alphabet look when put to use? 

The song of the White Buffalo Calf Woman, written in the LLC's SLO with a translation (above), and how the same song appears when using the 2020 Lakota Plain font. 

Maybe this looks strange and different. Maybe just different. Maybe you like it but aren't familiar with what it says or how to use it? Maybe you don't like it and don't want to use it. An easy way to try it out is to download the 2020 Lakota Plain Font, open a word document, type in the LLC's SLO, select your text and change what you're working with to this font. 

Here follow a few more examples.

I took a textless movie poster of Avatar and wrote "Tȟó Tȟáŋka" or "Big Blue." I created a papyrus version of the 2020 font. Like it? Get it here

Throughout the years, you may have heard the beautiful argument that the Lakota language was never written. I have wondered too, why does there have to be a standard way of writing Lakota (even as I employ the LLC's SLO). Why not start the writing process with pictography? 

Do you have a font idea and want to talk about it? Shoot me an email

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