Dene Numbers
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The Athapaskan language family is made up of three distinct groups:

Pacific Coast, Apachean and Northern Athapaskan (Krauss).

26 distinct languages have been identified, ranging geographically from Alaska in the north, eastward to Hudson Bay and as far south as Washington and Oregon states, southern Alberta, and the American southwest.

The word Athapaskan comes from Athapuscow, Cree for "a place where there is grass everywhere"(Ives).

The Athapaskan language spoken in Saskatchewan is called by linguists, Chipewyan. The Dene of northwestern Manitoba, northern Alberta, and parts of the Northwest Territories also speak this language.

Unlike many Aboriginal languages, Chipewyan (or Dene, as it is called in this province), is still the language of use in many communities. Recent initiatives in schools in Black Lake and Dillon, as well as daily programming in Dene on Missinippi Broadcasting Corporation and the publications of educational materials are helping to keep this language relevant and vital.

Dene was not originally a written language but in the latter part of the 19th century the syllabic system developed for the Cree by the Methodist minister James Evans was adapted for writing the Dene language. Many of the old people still use this syllabic system and hymnals and scripture are still available.

Recent materials are generally written in Roman orthography, and younger people are becoming literate in their first language.

Dene is a complex language made up of 43 sounds or combinations of sounds (SICC, 1996).

  • 12 of these are vowels, representing 14 sounds.
  • There are three phonetic markers – glottal stop, high tone, and nasal.
  • Like many Aboriginal languages it is verb-driven.
    In the first, second and third person there are singular, dual (2 persons), and plural (more than 2) forms.
  • The past, present and future tenses have 27 forms for each verb. (Kasyon

Each spring the Athabaskan Languages Conference is held in a different location in Canada or the United States. This small conference brings together linguists and Athapaskan speakers to discuss the intricacies of the language and ways they might collaborate to keep the language strong.

For more information contact: Siri G. Tuttle ( or visit the website


Materials in Dene are available from the following sources:

Northern Lights School Division #113 - Bag 6600, La Ronge, Saskatchewan S0J 1L0

Father Porte Memorial School - Black Lake, Saskatchewan S0J 0H0

Northern Canada Evangelical Mission - Box 2244, Prince Albert, Saskatchewan S6V 6Z1

The Saskatchewan Indian Cultural Centre - 120 – 33rd St. E. Saskatoon, Saskatchewan S7K OS2



Bourbonais, O.M.I., Rev. J. and Rev. G. Bragaglia, O.M.I. (Eds.). (1947). "Chipewyan Hymn Book", reprinted from a 1904 edition published by the Societé Saint Augustin of Brussel (this publication is in syllabics)

Duchaussois, O.M.I.,Rev. P. (1923). Mid Snow and Ice: The Apostles of the North-West. Burns Oates & Washbourne.

Elford, Leon W. and Marjorie Elford. (1981). Chipewyan Dictionary. Northern Canada Evangelical Mission.

Haas, Mary R. (July 1968). Notes on a Chipewyan Dialect. International Journal of American Linguistics, Vol. XXXlV, No. 3. p.165-175.

Hoijer, Harry. (October, 1956). The Chronology of the Athapaskan Language. International Journal of American Languages, Vol. XXll, No. 4. p. 219-232.

Ives, John W. (1990). A Theory of Northern Athapaskan Prehistory. University of Calgary Press.

Kasyon, Mary Jane. (1997). Dene (Chipewyan) Language Classification Verbs. Northern Canada Mission Distributors.

Layman, Bill and Lynda Holland. (Fall 1999). "The Athapaskan Language Family". Above and Beyond, p. 17.

Li, Fang-Kuei. (1964). A Chipewyan Ethnological Text. International Journal of American Linguistics, Vol. XXX, No. 2. p. 132 - 136.

Sapir, Edward. 1936). Internal Linguistic Evidence Suggestive of the Northern Origin of the Navaho. American Anthropologist, No. 38.p. 224 -235.

Shafer, Robert. (n.d.). Athapaskan and Sino-Tibetan. International Journal of American Linguistics, Vol. XVlll, p. 12 - 19.