Three Dakota Words

Every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon I sit in on and learn a bit more of the Dakota language with Dr. Clifford Canku (pronounced “chan-ku”), Dakota elder and professor of Dakota language at North Dakota State University (NDSU). The classroom setting is both structured and informal, and it has been incredible thus far. By this I mean eye-opening, as in language is the epitome of culture. It is the way we perceive of and describe our world. To understand a culture and its history requires us to understand the language. It’s a basic rule but it bears repeating.

On Tuesday Canku instructed our small student squad to select 10 Dakota words in which non-Dakota/Lakota/Nakota speakers have difficulty enunciating. Here are three from my selection, all of which begin with the letter č. This is a hard c, making a kind of “ch” noise. Also, you can always consult and listen to Canku going through the Dakota alphabet at this link here, too.

čáǧa (v.n.), to freeze, or become ice.

čantiŋ’za (v.n.), to be of good courage. — side note: this might be required to endure the season of čáǧa.

čanza’ni (v.n), to be well in heart; to be tranquil; or of good cheer. — again, see side note above.


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