updated 3/27/2006 2:51:22 PM ET 2006-03-27T19:51:22

Those who hope they can stop the Dakota Sioux language from dying have hit on the perfect word: Scrabble.

A special Scrabble tournament in the language made its debut Friday, pitting teams from Sioux reservation schools in North Dakota, South Dakota and Manitoba.

The game is part of the tribe's campaign to revitalize the Dakota language, now spoken fluently by a dwindling number of elders. One survey predicted the last fluent Sisseton-Wahpeton Dakota speaker would die in 2025.

“With these efforts, we'll try to prolong that,” Darell DeCoteau said as he gestured to a nearby Scrabble board. “This will probably push that back a little bit.”

“Start in the middle,” David Seaboy told a group of middle-school students from the Enemy Swim Day School at Waubay, S.D. “Everybody help somebody make a word.”

The first word to take shape was “sa,” pronounced “shah” — the color red.

After a few minutes of frantic consultation with the official Dakota Sioux Scrabble dictionary, a team built on the base to form the word “sapa,” pronounced “shah-pa,” or dirty, a word worth seven points.

“This is a good stimulant for the mind,” said Seaboy, 63, one of a group of Sisseton-Wahpeton elders, all fluent in the language, who wrote the 207-page Dakota dictionary.

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