Dogrib language

Tłı̨chǫ Yatıì
Native toCanada
RegionNorthwest Territories
Native speakers
1,735, 90% of ethnic population (2016 census)[1]
  • Wıı̀lıı̀deh Yatıı̀
Official status
Official language in
 Northwest Territories[2]
Language codes
ISO 639-2dgr
ISO 639-3dgr
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters. For an introductory guide on IPA symbols, see Help:IPA.

The Dogrib language or Tłı̨chǫ Yatıì is a Northern Athabaskan language spoken by the Tłı̨chǫ (Dogrib people) of the Canadian Northwest Territories. According to Statistics Canada in 2011, there were 2,080 people who speak Tłı̨chǫ Yatıì.[3] As of 2016, 1,735 people speak the language.[4]

Tłıchǫ Yatıì is spoken by the Dene First Nations people that reside in the Northwest Territories of Canada, the Tłıchǫ. Tłı̨chǫ lands lie east of the Mackenzie River between Great Slave Lake and Great Bear Lake in the Northwest Territories. There are four primary communities that speak the language: Gamètì (formerly Rae Lakes), Behchokǫ̀ (formerly Rae-Edzo), Wekweètì (formerly Snare Lakes) and Whatì. From a population number of about 800 during the mid-19th century to about 1,700 by the 1970s, the population has grown to about 2,080 as recorded by the 2011 Census. However, Tłıchǫ Yatıì has seen a decrease in mother tongue speakers, hence placing it under the list of endangered languages.[5][6]

The Tłıchǫ region covers the northern shore of Great Slave Lake, reaching up to Great Bear Lake. Rae-Edzo, now known by its Tłıchǫ name, Behchokǫ̀, is the largest community in the Tłıchǫ region. According to the Endangered Languages Project, approximately 1,350 people speak the language while at home. Speakers are commonly fluent in English.[7]


Tłıchǫ Yatıì was traditionally only an oral language. Tłı̨chǫ Yatıì was one of the many Indigenous Canadian languages targeted by the Canadian Indian residential school system. Through the imperialistic British North America Act of 1867 and the Indian Act of 1876, the Canadian Government formalised its unilateral control over Indigenous people and their lands. By the 1920s these schools became mandatory for all indigenous children to attend. Indigenous languages were not allowed to be spoken at these schools since the late 19th century. The last of the residential schools closed in 1996. These schools contributed heavily to Language shift away from Indigenous languages, including Tłı̨chǫ Yatıì, and towards English.[8]

In 1992, the first edition of the Tłıchǫ Yatıì Enįhtł’è - A Dogrib Dictionary was published which provided the Tłıchǫ people with a database of words and spelling. This sparked the interest of community members and became the first step in revitalization efforts.[9]

Revitalization efforts

In 2005, the Tłıchǫ signed the Tłıchǫ Agreement for Self-Governance.[10] This allowed the Tłıchǫ people to prioritize the preservation of their language, culture and way of life. Since its implementation, the Tłıchǫ Government has been working hard to help younger generations of Tłıchǫ learn the language by declaring Tłıchǫ Yatıì as one of two official languages of the Tłıchǫ Government. Revitalization efforts include putting up signs in Tłıchǫ Yatıì, creating on the land programs, providing Tłıchǫ Yatıì classes for community members.[11]

Tłı̨chǫ Yatıì is one of the nine official Indigenous languages of the Northwest Territories (NWT) in Canada. Because of its official status, the NWT's department of Education, Culture, and Employment, has been monitoring the language through the Indigenous Languages and Education Secretariat since 2014. This department is devoted to the revitalization of the official languages in the NWT and has policies that ensure the continued use and growth of Indigenous languages.[12] According to the 2018 - 2019 Annual Report on Official Languages, multiple revitalization efforts have been made by the Tłı̨chǫ Government.[13] Some of which include an Elder Evening Story Telling that occurs weekly, transcribing and translating materials into Tłı̨chǫ Yatıì for classes, setting up a radio station, and having community language classes in the language, now including immersion classes in grades K-7. In addition to local efforts, the Official Languages Act ensures that Tłı̨chǫ Yatıì and the other indigenous languages are used in providing government services.[13]

Geographic distribution

The language is mainly spoken in the Northwest Territories of Canada. The four official Tłıchǫ communities are Gamètì, Behchokǫ̀, Wekweètì and Whatì. Both communities of Yellowknife and Dettah also have many Tłıchǫ speakers, mostly speaking the Wıı̀lıı̀deh Yatıı̀ dialect.


The Yellowknives Dene speak a dialect of Tłı̨chǫ called Wıı̀lıı̀deh Yatıı̀. This dialect came into existence when speakers of Chipewyan began speaking Tłı̨chǫ after 1829 and incorporated some Chipewyan words and grammar.[14]



The consonants of Tłıchǫ Yatıì in the standard orthography are listed below (with IPA notation in brackets):[15]

  Bilabial Alveolar Post-
Palatal Velar Glottal
central lateral plain labialized
Nasal plain  m  /m/  n  /n/            
prenasalized  mb  /ᵐb/  nd  /ⁿd/            
Plosive tenuis  (b  /p/)  d  /t/        g  /k/  gw  /kʷ/    /ʔ/
aspirated    t  /tʰ/        k  /kʰ/  kw  /kʷʰ/
ejective    t’  /tʼ/        k’  /kʼ/  kw’  /kʷʼ/  
Affricate tenuis    dz  /ts/  dl  /tɬ/  j  /tʃ/        
aspirated    ts  /tsʰ/    /tɬʰ/  ch  /tʃʰ/        
ejective    ts’  /tsʼ/  tł’  /tɬʼ/  ch’  /tʃʼ/        
Fricative voiced    z  /z/  l  /ɮ/  zh  /ʒ/  q  /ɣ/    
voiceless    s  /s/  ł  /ɬ/  sh  /ʃ/    x  /x/    h  /h/
Approximant voiced    r  /ɾ~ɹ/    y  /j/    w  /w/  
voiceless              wh  /ʍ/  

Tenuis stops may be lightly voiced. Aspirated stops may be fricated [Cˣʰ] before back vowels.

Tlicho communities in the Northwest Territories


The language uses long, short and nasal vowels, and distinguishes them in writing, along with low tone:[15]

  Front Central Back
short long short long short long
Close oral ı /i/ ıı/iː/        
nasal ı̨ /ĩ/ ı̨ı̨ /ĩː/        
Close-mid oral e /e/ ee /eː/     o /o/ oo /oː/
nasal ę /ẽ/ ęę /ẽː/     ǫ /õ/ ǫǫ /õː/
Open oral     a /a/ aa /aː/    
nasal     ą /ã/ ąą /ã/    
  • Nasal vowels are marked by an ogonek (called wı̨ghǫą, 'its little nose', in Tłı̨chǫ Yatıı̀) e.g. ą.
  • Low tone is marked with a grave accent (called wets'aà, 'its hat', in Tłı̨chǫ Yatıı̀), e.g. à.
  • High tone is never marked.
  • The letter 'i' is written without a dot (tittle).


Typologically, Tłıchǫ Yatıì is an agglutinating, polysynthetic head-marking language, but many of its affixes combine into contractions more like fusional languages. The canonical word order of Tłıchǫ Yatıì is SOV.[16] Tłıchǫ Yatıì words are modified primarily by prefixes, which is unusual for an SOV language (suffixes are expected).

Like Spanish and Portuguese, Tłıchǫ Yatıì has two verbs similar to English 'be'. One is used for ways of being that are more dynamic or temporary; the other for more permanent and immutable properties. For example, nàzèe-dǫǫ̀ ts’ı̨ı̨lı̨ and nàzèe-dǫǫ̀ ats’ı̨ı̨t’e both mean 'we are hunters', but the first means that the speakers are currently hunters (for example, part of a hunting party), while the second implies that hunting is their regular profession.[17]

In addition to verbs and nouns, there are pronouns, clitics of various functions, demonstratives, numerals, postpositions, adverbs, and conjunctions in Tłıchǫ.[18][19] The class of adjectives is very small, probably around two dozen words: most descriptive words are verbs rather than adjectives.[16]


Example words and phrases:[20][21]

  • Tłı̨chǫ got'ı̨ı̨̀ – Tłıchǫ people
  • tłı̨ – dog
  • tłı̨cho – dog rib
  • łıwe / łıe – fish
  • detʼǫ – duck
  • eyè – egg
  • ejietʼò – milk
  • dìga – wolf
  • tʼooh – poplar
  • deh – river
  • elà – canoe
  • – island
  • kwe – rock
  • sìh or shìh – mount
  • – lake
  • zhah – snow
  • chǫ or tsǫ – rain
  • ło – smoke
  • kǫ̀ – house
  • degoo – white
  • dezǫ – black
  • dekʼo – red
  • dǫ nàke laànì nàtso – strong like two people

See also


  1. ^ "Language Highlight Tables, 2016 Census - Aboriginal mother tongue, Aboriginal language spoken most often at home and Other Aboriginal language(s) spoken regularly at home for the population excluding institutional residents of Canada, provinces and territories, 2016 Census – 100% Data". www12.statcan.gc.ca. Government of Canada, Statistics. 2017-08-02. Retrieved 2017-11-23.
  2. ^ Official Languages of the Northwest Territories Archived March 23, 2012, at the Wayback Machine (map)
  3. ^ "Census in Brief Aboriginal Languages in Canada, Language, 2011 Census of Population" (PDF). Government of Canada. Government of Canada. Retrieved 18 March 2018.
  4. ^ "Aboriginal mother tongue, Aboriginal language spoken most often at home and Other Aboriginal language(s) spoken regularly at home for the population excluding institutional residents of Canada, provinces and territories, 2016 Census – 100% Data". Statistics Canada.
  5. ^ History. (2012, January 05). Retrieved March 09, 2017, from https://www.mpm.edu/research-collections/anthropology/online-collections-research/dogrib/history
  6. ^ "Did you know Dogrib is endangered?". Endangered Languages. Retrieved 2017-02-10.
  7. ^ "Did you know Dogrib is endangered?". Endangered Languages. Retrieved 2017-02-10.
  8. ^ Fontaine, Lorena Sekwan (2017). "Redress for linguicide: Residential schools and assimilation in Canada". British Journal of Canadian Studies. 30 (2): 183–204. doi:10.3828/bjcs.2017.11. S2CID 148990297.
  9. ^ Dogrib Divisional Board of Education. "Tłıchǫ Yatıì Enįhtł'è - A Dogrib Dictionary" (PDF). Tłıchǫ Government. Retrieved 18 March 2018.
  10. ^ "Land Claims and Self-Government Agreement Among the Tłıchǫ" (PDF). Government of Canada. Retrieved 18 March 2018.
  11. ^ "Tłıchǫ Government Administrative Policy and Procedures" (PDF). Tłıchǫ Government. Retrieved 18 March 2018.
  12. ^ Education, Culture and Employment. "Indigenous Languages and Education Secretariat". www.ece.gov.nt.ca. Retrieved 2020-05-26.
  13. ^ a b "2018 - 2019 Annual Report on Official Languages" (PDF). Government of the Northwest Territories.
  14. ^ "Our Language". Yellowknives Dene First Nation. Yellowknives Dene First Nation. Retrieved 2021-04-15.
  15. ^ a b Coleman, Phyllis Young (1979). Dogrib Phonology. Ann Arbor, Michigan, [etc.]: University Microfilms International.
  16. ^ a b Welch, Nicholas (April 2016). "Propping up predicates: Adjectival predication in Tłı̨chǫ Yatıı̀". Glossa. 1 (1): 1–23. doi:10.5334/gjgl.7.
  17. ^ Welch, Nicholas (March 29, 2016). "Copulas are not just inflection: Evidence from Tłı̨chǫ Yatıı̀". Canadian Journal of Linguistics. 61 (1): 98–106. doi:10.1017/cnj.2016.8.
  18. ^ Ackroyd, Lynda (1982). Dogrib grammar. unpublished. pp. 32–58.
  19. ^ Saxon, Leslie; Siemens, Mary (1997). A Dogrib dictionary. Rae-Edzo, Northwest Territories, Canada: Dogrib Divisional Board of Education. p. vi-xiv. ISBN 978-1-896790-00-8.
  20. ^ Saxon, L.; Siemens, M. (1996). Tłıchǫ Yatıì Enįhtł'è – Dogrib Dictionary. Rae-Edzo: Dogrib Divisional Board of Education.
  21. ^ Saxon, L.; Siemens, M. (2011), Tlinchon Yatıì Multimedia Dictionary, Victoria: U. of Victoria Linguistics Dept., archived from the original on 5 May 2014, retrieved 12 May 2014

External links

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