How to pronounce ‘Mni Sóta Makoce,’ the Dakota phrase that will be on the new state seal

A Native person wearing a cool black hat
University of Minnesota Dakota language specialist Neil McKay talks with MPR News reporter Melissa Olson in his Minneapolis office on Thursday.
Ben Hovland | MPR News

Like many loon-loving Minnesotans, I’m excited for the big reveal of the new state seal, which is expected to be revealed at the State Emblems Redesign Commission Friday.

I am also excited to see the Dakota phrase Mni Sóta Makoce incorporated into the design. “Minnesota” is derived from the Dakota name for the region. 

As a mixed-heritage Ojibwe person living in Dakota territory, I’ve often thought I’d like to learn how to introduce myself in Dakota. But I’ve heard the phrase Mni Sóta Makoce pronounced differently by different people.  

And I wondered — how should I say it? 

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I decided to ask Neil McKay who teaches Dakota language at the University of Minnesota. He graciously gave me and MPR News visual journalist Ben Hovland a brief lesson. He started with a lesson on translation.  

“Minnesota comes from Mni Sóta. Mni Sóta Makoce is the land of clear water or a translation that we Dakota like is the land where the water reflects the skies,” McKay said.  

From there he moved on to how he pronounces the phrase. (And I’ve spelled out the different pronunciations that follow just for emphasis). 

“This word Mni sóta. I say: minny-SÓ-ta,” said McKay. “And some people might say … minny-shó-ta or minny-o-shó-ta,” says McKay.  

“What’s the difference? I’d say they are all correct. I’m just going to say that … I was taught, and I’ve heard in this area … minny-SÓ-ta,” said McKay. 

And mah-KOH-chay... is land,” said McKay. “And on that one — everyone says it the same.” 

It’s a valuable lesson in learning to speak a language — any language. Expect people to say the same phrase a little bit differently from one place to the next. When we listen, we sound pretty awesome.