Babine-Witsuwit'en language

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Native to Canada
Region British Columbia
Ethnicity 3,410 Nadot’en (Babine) and Wet'suwet'en in 7 of 9 communities (2014, FPCC)
Native speakers
430 in 7 of 9 communities  (2014, FPCC)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3 bcr
Glottolog babi1235[2]

Babine–Witsuwit'en or Nadot’en-Wets’uwet’en is an Athabaskan language spoken in the Central Interior of British Columbia. Its closest relative is Carrier. Because of this linguistic relationship together with political and cultural ties, Babine–Witsuwit'en is often referred to as Northern Carrier or Western Carrier. Specialist opinion is, however, that it should be considered a separate, though related, language (Kari 1975, Story 1984, Kari and Hargus 1989).

A term used briefly in the 1990s is Bulkley Valley – Lakes District Language, abbreviated BVLD. The Ethnologue uses the bare name Babine for the language as a whole, not just for the Babine dialect.

As its name suggests, Babine–Witsuwit'en consists of two main dialects, Babine (Nedut’en) and Witsuwit'en. Babine is spoken around Babine Lake, Trembleur Lake, and Takla Lake. Witsuwit'en is spoken in the Bulkley Valley, around Broman Lake, and in the vicinity of Skins Lake. The two dialects are very similar and are distinguished primarily by the fact that in Babine but not in Witsuwit'en the Athabascan front velar series have become palatal affricates.

Several non-specialist sources (the First Peoples' Heritage Language and Culture Council, the British Columbia Ministry of Education, and the University of British Columbia Museum of Anthropology) classify Witsuwit'en as one language and Babine as a distinct language, either on its own or together with Carrier proper under the name Dakelh. Experts on the languages reject this classification. All agree that the differences between Babine and Witsuwit'en are small and that the major split is between Babine and Witsuwit'en on the one hand and Carrier proper on the other hand. The distinction is due to the fact that speakers of Babine and of Carrier proper call themselves and their language Dakelh but that speakers of Witsuwit'en do not.[3]

Like most other native languages of British Columbia, Babine–Witsuwit'en is an endangered language. It is spoken by a minority of the population, primarily elders. There are 161 fluent and 159 partial speakers of the Babine dialect[4] and 131 fluent and 61 partial speakers of the Witsuwit'en dialect.[5] At most a handful of children speak the language.[6]


Witsuwit'en Consonants[7]
  Labial Alveolar Palatal (labial-)
Uvular Glottal
Central Lateral
Nasal m n
Stop plain p t c q ʔ
aspirated (pʰ) kʷʰ
ejective (pʼ) kʷʼ
Affricate plain ts
aspirated tsʰ tɬʰ
ejective tsʼ tɬʼ
Fricative voiced z ʁ
voiced s ɬ ç χ h
Approximant l j w

The aspirated and ejective labials are rarer than other consonants.

Words and phrases[edit]

Witsuwit'en Southern Carrier English
lhok lhook fish
ne’ 'ama mother
lhk'iy lhuk’i one
nek nankoh two
tak'iy tak’ih three
Hadï So'endzin Hello. How are you?
Sne kal yëgh Thank you

Source: First Voices

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Babine–Witsuwit'en at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Babine". Glottolog. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  3. ^ Poser, William J. (2011) The Carrier Language: a brief introduction. Prince George, British Columbia: College of New Caledonia Press. Page 8, footnote 15.
  4. ^ First People's Language Map of British Columbia Nedut’en (Babine): State of the Language
  5. ^ First People's Language Map of British Columbia Witsusit'en: State of the Language
  6. ^ The Status of the Native Languages of British Columbia Yinka Déné Language Institute 2007
  7. ^ Wright, Hargus & Davis (2002:45)


  • Hargus, Sharon (2007) Witsuwit'en Grammar: Phonetics, Phonology, Morphology. Vancouver: UBC Press.
  • Kari, James (1975) Babine, a New Athabaskan Linguistic Grouping, ms. Alaska Native LanguagezCenter, Fairbanks, Alaska.
  • Kari, James and Sharon Hargus (1989)Dialectology, Ethnonymy and Prehistory in the Northwest Portion of the 'Carrier' Language Area, ms. Alaska Native Language Center, Fairbanks, Alaska, and University of Washington, Seattle, Washington.
  • Story, Gillian L. (1984) Babine and Carrier Phonology: A Historically Oriented Study. Arlington, Texas: Summer Institute of Linguistics.
  • Wright, Richard; Hargus, Sharon; Davis, Katharine (2002), "On the categorization of ejectives: data from Witsuwit'en", Journal of the International Phonetic Association 32 (1): 43–77, doi:10.1017/S0025100302000142 

External links[edit]