Gwich’in language

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Native to Canada, United States
Region Northwest Territories, Yukon, Alaska
Ethnicity Gwich'in people
Native speakers
370 in Canada (2011 census)
300 in United States  (2007)[1]
Latin (Northern Athabaskan alphabet)
Official status
Official language in
 Northwest Territories (Canada)[2]
Language codes
ISO 639-2 gwi
ISO 639-3 gwi
Glottolog gwic1235[3]
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters.

The Gwich’in language is the Athabaskan language of the Gwich’in indigenous people. It is also known in older or dialect-specific publications as Kutchin, Takudh, Tukudh, or Loucheux. In the Northwest Territories and Yukon of Canada, it is used principally in the towns of Inuvik, Aklavik, Fort McPherson, Old Crow, and Tsiigehtchic (formerly Arctic Red River). There are about 430 Gwich’in speakers in Canada out of a total Gwich’in population of 1,900.

In Alaska, Gwich’in is spoken in Beaver, Circle, Fort Yukon, Chalkyitsik, Birch Creek, Arctic Village, Eagle, and Venetie, Alaska. About 300 out of a total Alaska Gwich’in population of 1,100 speak the language.

It is an official language of the Northwest Territories.

The ejective affricate in the name Gwich’in is usually written with symbol U+2019 RIGHT SINGLE QUOTATION MARK, though the correct character for this use (with expected glyph and typographic properties) is U+02BC MODIFIER LETTER APOSTROPHE.


Gwich’in is a member of the Northern Athabaskan subgroup of the Athabaskan language family, in greater the Na-Dene family of languages. It shares the Han-Kutchin subdivision with the Hän language.


There are several dialects of Gwich’in, including Fort Yukon Gwich’in, Arctic Village Gwich’in, Western Canada Gwich’in (Takudh, Tukudh, Loucheux), and Arctic Red River.



The consonants of Gwichʼin in the standard orthography are listed below (with IPA notation in brackets):

Labial Interdental Alveolar Retroflex Palatal Velar Glottal
central lateral plain labialized
Nasal voiced m  /m/ n  /n/
voiceless nh  /n̥/
Plosive voiced b  /b/ d  /d/ dr  /ɖ/ g  /ɡ/ gw  /ɡʷ/
voiceless t  /t/ tr  /ʈ/ k  /k/ kw  /kʷ/  /ʔ/
ejective t’  /tʼ/ tr’  /ʈʼ/ k’  /kʼ/
nasal release nd  /dⁿ/
Affricate voiced ddh  /dð/ dz  /dz/ dl  /dɮ/ dj  /dʒ/
voiceless tth  /tθ/ ts  /ts/ tl  /tɬ/ ch  /tʃ/
ejective tth’  /tθʼ/ ts’  /tsʼ/ tl’  /tɬʼ/ ch’  /tʃʼ/
nasal release nj  /dʒᶮ/
Fricative voiced v  /v/ dh  /ð/ z  /z/ zhr  /ʐ/ zh  /ʒ/ gh  /ɣ/ ghw  /ɣʷ/
voiceless th  /θ/ s  /s/ ł  /ɬ/ shr  /ʂ/ sh  /ʃ/ kh  /x/ h  /h/
Approximant voiced l  /l/ r  /ɻ/ y  /j/ w  /w/
voiceless rh  /ɻ̥/


  • short
    • a [a]
    • e [e]
    • i [i]
    • o [o]
    • u [u]
  • long
    • aa [aː]
    • ee [eː]
    • ii [iː]
    • oo [oː]
    • uu [uː]
  • nasal vowels are marked by an ogonek accent, e.g., ą
  • low tone is optionally marked with a grave accent, e.g., à
  • high tone is never marked

Gwich’in language in place names[edit]

The Porcupine River, a 916-kilometre (569 mi) tributary of the Yukon River in Canada and the United States, is called Ch’ôonjik[4] in Gwich’in.


  1. ^ Gwich’in at Ethnologue (17th ed., 2013)
  2. ^ Official Languages of the Northwest Territories (map)
  3. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Gwich'in". Glottolog 2.2. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  4. ^ Holton, Gary (July 16, 2013). "Alaska Native Language Archive: Alaska Place Names". University of Alaska Fairbanks. Retrieved November 3, 2013. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Firth, William G., et al. Gwìndòo Nànhʼ Kak Geenjit Gwichʼin Ginjik = More Gwichʼin Words About the Land. Inuvik, N.W.T.: Gwichʼin Renewable Resource Board, 2001.
  • Gwichʼin Renewable Resource Board. Nànhʼ Kak Geenjit Gwichʼin Ginjik = Gwichʼin Words About the Land. Inuvik, N.W.T., Canada: Gwichʼin Renewable Resource Board, 1997.
  • McDonald. A Grammar of the Tukudh Language. Yellowknife, N.W.T.: Curriculum Division, Dept. of Education, Government of the Northwest Territories, 1972.
  • Montgomery, Jane. Gwichʼin Language Lessons Old Crow Dialect. Whitehorse: Yukon Native Language Centre, 1994.
  • Northwest Territories. Gwichʼin Legal Terminology. [Yellowknife, N.W.T.]: Dept. of Justice, Govt. of the Northwest Territories, 1993.
  • Norwegian-Sawyer, Terry. Gwichʼin Language Lessons Gwichyàh Gwichʼin Dialect (Tsiigèhchik–Arctic Red River). Whitehorse: Yukon Native Language Centre, 1994.
  • Peter, Katherine, and Mary L. Pope. Dinjii Zhuu Gwandak = Gwichʼin Stories. [Anchorage]: Alaska State-Operated Schools, Bilingual Programs, 1974.
  • Peter, Katherine. A Book of Gwichʼin Athabaskan Poems. College, Alaska: Alaska Native Language Center, Center for Northern Educational Research, University of Alaska, 1974.
  • Yukon Native Language Centre. Gwichʼin Listening Exercises Teetlʼit Gwichʼin dialect. Whitehorse: Yukon Native Language Centre, Yukon College, 2003. ISBN 1-55242-167-8

External links[edit]