Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Colorado University Lakȟóta Project Method for Writing Lakȟóta

    There is no "right" way to write the Lakȟóta language.  I am enrolled member of a division of the Oyáte ("Sioux") tribe that uses the Lakȟóta dialect.  We have our own unique problems to solve when it comes to our ways of writing our dialect.  The other groups within the Oyáte — and other aboriginal groups of the western hemisphere — need to solve their own problems and leave us alone so that we might try to resolve our problems within the Lakȟóta; for, when it comes to just this particular issue among the Lakhota, there are more than enough problems for us to try to resolve.
    The method I use for writing the Lakȟóta language was developed in the 1970s by linguists at the Colorado University Lakhota Project (CULP).  The critics of the CULP method, and there are many, tend to disparage its extensive use of diacritic marks.  However veiled the obvious contempt for this particular method, by professionals and educators — Lakȟóta and non-Lakȟóta alike — who consider themselves authorities on the matter of writing the Lakȟóta language, the only conclusions I have been able to arrive at have been that their "reasons" for their apparent disdain actually lie in the fact of either their inability or incapacity for replicating the sophisticated repertoire of diacritic marks required to express the Lakȟóta language in a written form.  In other words, they are either too lazy to learn how to program their keyboards to produce elements of Lakȟóta text or their mindsets are still artifacts of the nineteenth century — before the age of personal computers, programmable keyboards and fonts; before Unicode and the International Phonetic Alphabet.
    Especially at fault are the Lakȟóta in teaching positions at various educational institutions who have failed to recognize and accept the CULP method for writing the Lakȟóta language.  Some won't even respond to opportunities to discuss the matter, a rather interesting reluctance considering that they are paid to teach the subject.  Instead, as in one particular case, an alternative method for writing the Lakȟóta language was put together and published by a Lakȟóta but it was obviously derived from a preceding, antiquated method that was first published by a non-linguist, non-Lakȟóta who tried to twist elements of the Lakȟóta language and culture into a grotesque form that fulfilled his own agenda rather than actually recording facts to preserve the Lakȟóta people and culture.       
    As an eighteen-year-old marine, for eight-hours a day, five-days-a-week over a thirty-six week course, I studied and graduated from the South Vietnamese dialect of the Vietnamese language at the Defense Language Institute at the Presidio of Monterey, Monterey, California.
    Vietnamese is a tonal language.  One word in the Southern dialect can mean five different things, based on the tone applied to it.  In the Northern dialect, one word can mean seven different things.  Typically, the accented characters use two diacritic marks.  It is not an ambiguous language.  The written form is unmistakably clear and concise.  The compression and economy gives the language its power, beauty and richness.
    So, when I read or hear non-Lakȟóta, or Lakȟóta, complain about how the CULP method of using diacritic marks in writing Lakȟóta is confusing or distracting. it seems to me that they are oblivious as to how confusing and distracting it is to try and read — much less comprehend — poorly written Lakȟóta.  Try reading some of the available published material with Lakȟóta text and it will become clear as to why the younger Lakȟóta on the Rosebud reservation struggle to either write, read or speak Lakȟóta.
    It's been a failure of leadership.  Lakȟóta youth — fortunately in this era of personal computers, programmable keyboards and fonts — will have to rely on each other and share with each other those methods, like the CULP method for writing Lakȟóta, which their educational institutions have either ignored or refused to incorporate.    

No comments: