Dakota was once the dominant language spoken in what is now Southern Minnesota. But after centuries of colonization and systemic oppression, few fluent Dakota speakers remain. Šišóka Dúta, a Dakota Language professor at the University of Minnesota is working to revitalize the Dakota Language.
“We want people to learn the words and use them. And so if we can get this out there, we can have people looking up words and using them as much as possible,” he said. “The goal with language revitalization… another word we say is ‘hdukínipi’ - to bring back to life. So if we're bringing our language back to life, we have to do everything necessary. We have to do as much as possible, as fast as we can. And this is one of the things we can do.”
Šišóka Dúta says a mobile dictionary is less expensive and easier to keep on hand than a paper dictionary. And he says the app doesn’t rely on wifi; that’s important for residents of reservations, which often have poor internet connections.
“Obviously, when you print something, you want to have as few errors as possible. And so, you know, it would take a long time to edit and proof. And there's lots of stages of that. versus kind of maybe making a mobile dictionary, it's a little bit easier finding errors in a database, you know, when we're looking at all the different words. And then we can have audio versus print, you can’t have audio attached to the words. So that makes it easy for people using the dictionary to hear what the words sound like from a fluent speaker.”
At the Dakota and Ojibwe Language Consortium in February, many presenters noted that the majority of first language speakers are either passing away or suffer from PTSD when speaking their language. Šišóka Dúta says without efforts like this, future generations of Dakota people may never be able to learn their native language.
“The Dakota language belongs to the Dakota people. It's our language, it's up to us to learn it, to use it, to speak it, to share it, or pass it on. And if we don't do it, nobody else is going to do it for us. And I always encourage all people, no matter their background, or where they come from, you can learn the language too. As long as we keep in the forefront, that the language is ours, it belongs to us.”
The Dakhód Iápi Wičhóie Wówapi App is available for download on both Apple and Android devices.