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Ethnohistory 48.1-2 (2001) 359-361

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Book Review

Reading and Writing the Lakota Language:
Lakota Iyapi Un Wowapi Nahan Yawapi

Reading and Writing the Lakota Language: Lakota Iyapi Un Wowapi Nahan Yawapi. By Albert White Hat Sr. Edited by Jael Kampfe, foreword by Vine Deloria Jr. (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1999. xiv + 226 pp., foreword, editor’s preface, introduction, appendixes. $50.00 cloth, $24.95 paper; $12.95 tapes [2], $34.95 Set [tapes and paperback].)

Many Native North American communities are confronted with the real threat of native-language obsolescence within the twenty-first century. As members of these communities struggle to devise ways of halting and perhaps reversing this trend, they face the challenge of creating effective language programs within local educational institutions. The lack of consistent and comprehensive pedagogical materials limits the success of many of these programs. Albert White Hat and Jael Kampfe have addressed this deficiency by designing a textbook expressly for the purpose of teaching the Lakota language at Sinte Gleska University. The lessons were conceived of and written by White Hat and organized and edited by Kampfe. While the book can be used by a general audience, it illustrates a growing trend for tribally controlled colleges and universities to create a language curriculum tailored specifically to the needs of their students and community.

The book offers fifteen "teachings" comprised of lessons in pronunciation, vocabulary, and grammar, with some teachings dedicated solely to reviewing or assessing an individual student’s progress. Each teaching is intended for one week of instruction and practice, and collectively they account for approximately one semester of language classes. The lessons are designed for adult learners, but they could be adapted by individual teachers for use in secondary schools. In general, they are best suited to a language classroom taught by a Lakota speaker; an individual attempting to learn the language alone would need the accompanying language tapes to [End Page 359] use the lessons. Many of the suggested exercises and drills in the textbook require an instructor’s participation. In addition, while stress is marked in the pronunciation drill, it is not indicated in later sections of each teaching.

The orthography used in the book is the result of long-term collaboration between a number of Lakota educators and elders at Rosebud and Pine Ridge reservations. The introduction provides a detailed discussion regarding the development and adoption of the alphabet. While many linguists may find fault with White Hat’s established orthography, a fact that he addresses, he believes its strength lies in its development within the community, and therefore it serves as "an act of self-determination" (10). One of the difficulties in creating a writing system is deciding how to accurately represent Lakota sounds using a familiar alphabet without alienating a beginning learner with excessive notation. The orthographic concerns that White Hat discusses are common to many Native American language programs, and any person involved with designing language lessons should be acutely aware of the challenges involved with creating an acceptable writing system.

Perhaps the most distinguishing feature of White Hat’s lessons are the discussions of Lakota philosophy and worldview that are interspersed throughout the teachings. Kinship is addressed at length, and emphasis is placed on both creating and maintaining proper relationships. While most of the in-class drill work deals with vocabulary and sentence patterns, the suggested homework often asks for a discussion regarding the philosophical sections. Particularly interesting is White Hat’s commentary on contemporary usage and slang. His inclusion of humorous antidotes should be noted as people have often criticized the general lack of humor in most language lessons. These discussions not only serve as aids for language retention, but also help the student understand both the historical and cultural forces that affect language use within the Lakota community.

The lessons are supplemented with extensive appendixes that provide both additional vocabulary practice for each of the Lakota sounds and guidelines for lesson planning. The orthography correspondence between the major written sources both for Lakota and Dakota–...


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