Dene Suline language

ᑌᓀᓱᒼᕄᓀ Dënesųłiné
Native to Canada
Region Northern Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba; southern Northwest Territories and Nunavut
Ethnicity Chipewyan people
Native speakers
12,000  (2006)[1]
Official status
Official language in
Language codes
ISO 639-2 chp
ISO 639-3 chp
Glottolog chip1261[3]

Chipewyan ,[4] ethnonym Denesuline IPA: , is the language spoken by the Chipewyan people of northwestern Canada. It is categorized as part of the Northern Athabaskan language family. Denesuline has over 11,000 speakers in Canada, mostly in Saskatchewan, Alberta, Manitoba and the Northwest Territories,[1] but only has official status in the Northwest Territories alongside 8 other aboriginal languages: Cree, Dogrib, Gwich’in, Inuktitut, Inuinnaqtun, Inuvialuktun, North Slavey and South Slavey.[2][5]

Most Chipewyan people now use Dene and Denesuline to describe themselves and their language. The Saskatchewan communities of Fond-du-Lac,[6] Black Lake,[7] Wollaston Lake [8] and La Loche are a few.



The 39 consonants of Dënesųłiné:

  Bilabial Inter-
Dental Post-
Velar/Uvular Glottal
central lateral plain labial
Nasal m m   n n          
Plosive plain b p   d t     g k gw  
aspirated     t     k kw kʷʰ  
ejective         kwʼ kʼʷ ɂ ʔ
Affricate plain   ddh dz ts dl j      
aspirated   tth tθʰ ts tsʰ tɬʰ ch tʃʰ      
ejective   tthʼ tθʼ tsʼ tsʼ tłʼ tɬʼ chʼ tʃʼ      
Fricative voiceless   th θ s s ł ɬ sh ʃ hh χ hhw χʷ h h
voiced   dh ð z z l ɮ zh ʒ gh ʁ ghw ʁʷ  
Trill     r r          

The "velar" fricatives are actually uvular.


Dënesųłiné has vowels of 6 differing qualities.

  Front Central Back
Close i i   u u
Close-mid ë/e e   o o
Open-mid e ɛ    
Open   a a  

Most vowels can be either

As a result, Dënesųłiné has 18 phonemic vowels:

  Front Central Back
short long short long short long
Close oral i     u
nasal ĩ ĩː     ũ ũː
Close-mid e       o  
Open-mid oral ɛ ɛː        
nasal ɛ̃ ɛ̃ː        
Open oral     a    
nasal     ã ãː    

Dënesųłiné also has 9 oral and nasal diphthongs of the form vowel + /j/.

  Front Central Back
oral nasal oral nasal oral nasal
Close         uj ũj
Mid ej ẽj əj   oj õj
Open     aj ãj    


Dënesųłiné has two tones:

  • high
  • low


Villages in Canada with a Denesuline speaking population
15 communities in Canada with Denesuline populations. Flashing dots are villages with over 1,000 speakers.
Welcome signs by the La Loche Airport
Close-up of Dënesųłiné and English sign

In the 2011 Canada Census 11,860 people chose Dene as their mother tongue. 70.6% were located in Saskatchewan and 15.2% were located in Alberta.[9]

Not all were from the historical Chipewyan regions south and east of Great Slave Lake. Approximately 11,000 of those who chose Dene as their mother tongue in 2011 are Dene/Chipewyan with 7,955 (72%) in Saskatchewan, 1,005 (9%) in Manitoba, 510 plus urban dwellers in Alberta and 260 plus urban dwellers in the Northwest Territories. The communities within the Dene/Chipewyan traditional areas are shown below:


The Dene (Denesuline) speaking communities of Saskatchewan are located in the northern half of the province. The area from the upper Churchill River west of Pinehouse Lake all the way north to Lake Athabasca and from Lake Athabasca east to the north end of Reindeer Lake is home to 7410 people who chose Dene as their mother tongue in 2011.[10]

Prince Albert had 265 residents who chose Dene as their mother tongue in 2011, Saskatoon had 165, the La Ronge Population Centre had 55 and Meadow Lake had 30.[10]

3,050 were in the Lake Athabasca-Fond du Lac River area including Black Lake and Wollaston Lake in the communities of:

3,920 were in the upper Churchill River area including Peter Pond Lake, Churchill Lake, Lac La Loche, Descharme Lake, Garson Lake and Turnor Lake in the communities of:


Two isolated communities are in northern Manitoba.


The Wood Buffalo-Cold Lake Economic Region in the north eastern portion of Alberta from Fort Chipewyan to the Cold Lake area has the following communities. 510 residents of this region chose Dene as their mother tongue in 2011.[10]

  • Fort Chipewyan 45 out of 847 residents chose Dene as their mother tongue in 2011.[10]
  • Fort McKay 30 out of 562 residents chose Dene as their mother tongue in 2011.
  • Janvier (Janvier 194) 145 out of 295 residents chose Dene as their mother tongue in 2011.
  • Janvier South 35 out of 104 residents chose Dene as their mother tongue in 2011.
  • Cold Lake 149 105 out of 594 residents chose Dene as their mother tongue in 2011.
  • Cold Lake 149 B, Alberta 25 out of 149 residents chose Dene as their mother tongue in 2011.

Northwest Territories

Three communities are located south of Great Slave Lake in Region 5. 260 residents of Region 5 chose Dene as their mother tongue in 2011.[10]

  • Fort Smith 30 out of 2093 residents chose Dene as their mother tongue in 2011.[10]
  • Fort Resolution 95 out of 474 residents chose Dene as their mother tongue in 2011.[10]
  • Lutselk'e 120 out of 295 residents chose Dene as their mother tongue in 2011.[10]

See also


  1. ^ a b Statistics Canada: 2006 Census Sum of 'Chipewyan' and 'Dene'.
  2. ^ a b Official Languages of the Northwest Territories (map)
  3. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Chipewyan". Glottolog 2.2. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  4. ^ Laurie Bauer, 2007, The Linguistics Student’s Handbook, Edinburgh
  5. ^ Northwest Territories Official Languages Act, 1988 (as amended 1988, 1991-1992, 2003)
  6. ^ "Prince Albert Grand Council (Fond-du-Lac)". Retrieved 2013-05-26. 
  7. ^ "Prince Albert Grand Council (Black Lake)". Retrieved 2013-05-26. 
  8. ^ "Prince Albert Grand Council (Wollaston Lake)". Retrieved 2013-05-26. 
  9. ^ "Statistics Canada Table 1 (Aboriginal language families) Canada Census 2011". 2011. Retrieved 2013-04-14. 
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m "Community Profiles (Canada Census 2011)". 2011. Retrieved 2013-04-14. 


  • Cook, Eung-Do. (2004). A Grammar of Dëne Sųłiné (Chipewyan). Algonquian and Iroquoian Linguistics - Special Athabaskan Number, Memoir 17. Winnipeg: Algonquian and Iroquoian Linguistics. ISBN 0-921064-17-9.
  • Cook, Eung-Do. 2006. "The Patterns of Consonantal Acquisition and Change in Chipewyan (Dëne Sųłiné)". International Journal of American Linguistics. 72, no. 2: 236.
  • De Reuse, Willem. 2006. "A Grammar of Dëne Sųłiné (Chipewyan) (Cook)". International Journal of American Linguistics. 72, no. 4: 535.
  • Elford, Leon W. Dene sųłiné yati ditł'ísé = Dene sųłiné reader. Prince Albert, SK: Northern Canada Mission Distributors, 2001. ISBN 1-896968-28-7
  • Gessner, S. 2005. "Properties of Tone in Dëne Sųłiné". Amsterdam Studies in the Theory and History of Linguistic Science. Series IV, Current Issues in Linguistic Theory. 269: 229-248.
  • Li, Fang-Kuei. (1946). Chipewyan. In C. Osgood & H. Hoijer (Eds.), Linguistic Structures of Native America (pp. 398–423). New York: The Viking Fund Publications in Anthropology (No. 6). (Reprinted 1963, 1965, 1967, & 1971, New York: Johnson Reprint Corp.).

External links

  • First Voices Dene Community Portal
  • Our Languages: Dene (Saskatchewan Indian Cultural Centre)
  • OLAC resources in and about the Chipewyan language
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