Published Febraury 21, 2016
PIERRE. SOUTH DAKOTA— Lakota Language Consortium (LLC), a nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation and revitalization of the Lakota language, also known as Sioux, announced today that only 2,000 first-language speakers of Lakota remain – a decline of 66% in ten years.
Lakota, a language spoken on reservations in North and South Dakota, is one of the most well-known of America’s indigenous languages, and one of the few still spoken with a significant chance of survival. Lakota population is 170,000, but fluent speakers are a small fraction of that number.
In 2006, there were an estimated 6,000 first-language Lakota speakers. Beginning 2016, LLC counted approximately only 2,000 remaining speakers – a loss of 4,000 in just 10 years. The 66% loss in speakers equates to approximately 400 speakers lost each year.
Based on the new findings, Ethnologue, a catalogue of world languages, will now redesignate the Lakota language from “Threatened” to “Moribund”, with the special status of “Reawakening” – reflecting the community’s commitment to bringing back the language into every day use.
Ben Black Bear, a 69 year-old Lakota Elder and a first-language speaker, remarked, “I’ve been looking for good Lakota speakers, and the only ones I’ve found are older than me. But there are young people interested in learning. The challenge is getting them from ‘I want to learn’ to ‘What can I do to stop Lakota from disappearing?’”
For 10 years Mr. Black Bear has worked with the Lakota Language Consortium on numerous translation and recording projects, dubbing The Berenstain Bears into Lakota, and taking part in a language documentary, Rising Voices/Hóthaninpi, which premiered on public television in November 2015.
Despite the latest Lakota speaker count, Mr. Black Bear remains hopeful, “From the outside perspective, the language is in critical condition. But from the inside, from those of us living and speaking it, we just need to look at ourselves in a positive way to move the language forward.”
Lakota Language Consortium (LLC) is leading the revitalization of Lakota by educating the public on the issue and providing critical support to language teachers and learners. The group consists of schools and colleges across Lakota reservations, community leaders, linguists, and volunteers working together for the revitalization of Lakota.
For more information please visit http://lakhota.org
Or for Rising Voices/Hóthaninpi www.risingvoicesfilm.com.
Editor’s Note: This article first appeared in Native Max magazine. Used with permission. All rights reserved.