Ahtna language

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Native to United States
Region Alaska (Copper River region)
Ethnicity 500 Ahtna (1995)[1]
Native speakers
80 (2007)[1]
Latin (Ahtna alphabet)
Language codes
ISO 639-3 aht
Glottolog ahte1237[2]
Pre-contact distribution of Ahtna

Ahtna or Ahtena is the Na-Dené language of the Ahtna ethnic group of the Copper River area of Alaska. The language is also known as Copper River or Mednovskiy.

The Ahtna language consists of four different dialects. Three of the four are still spoken today. Ahtna is closely related to Dena'ina.

The similar name "Atnah" occurs in the journals of Simon Fraser and other early European diarists in what is now British Columbia as a reference to the Tsilhqot'in people, another Northern Athapaskan group.

Use and revitalization efforts[edit]

There are 80 speakers out of a population of 500, and the language is facing extinction. However, many younger people are learning Ahtna to try to keep the language alive. The Ya Ne Dah Ah School in Sutton, Alaska teaches the Ahtna language as a part of its curriculum.[3][4] As of 2010, a digital archiving project of Ahtna was underway.[5] The subsistence and fishing rights activist Katie John (1915-2013) of Mentasta helped develop an Ahtna alphabet in the 1970s[6] and recorded a pronunciation guide of the Mentasta Dialect.[7] [8]

Dialects and bands[edit]

There are four main dialect divisions and eight bands (tribal unions):[9]

  • Lower Ahtna (own name Atnahwt’aene)
    • Chitina/Taral Band
    • Tonsina/Klutina Band
  • Central Ahtna or Middle Ahtna (own name Dan’ehwt’aene)
    • Gulkona/Gakona Band
  • Western Ahtna (own name Tsaay Hwt’aene)
    • Tyone/Mendeltna Band
    • Cantwell/Denali Band
  • Upper Ahtna (own name Tatl’ahwt’aene)
    • Sanford River/Chistochina Band [10]
    • Slana/Batzulnetas Band
    • Mentasta Band [7]

Vocabulary comparison[edit]

The comparison of some animal names in the three Athabaskan languages:[11]

Ahtna Tanacross Lower Tanana meaning
udzih wudzih bedzeyh caribou
ggax gah gwx rabbit
tsa’ tsá’ tso’ beaver
dzen dzenh dzenh muskrat
niduuyi niidûuy niduuy lynx
debae demee deba Dall sheep
sos shos sresr bear
dliigi dlêg dlega squirrel
łuk’ae łuk’a łuk’a salmon


  1. ^ a b Ahtna at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Ahtena". Glottolog. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  3. ^ "Case Studies, The Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development". Retrieved 2012-09-09. 
  4. ^ "Ahtna Athabascan Language Rejuvenation and Curriculum Program". Chickaloon Village Traditional Council. Retrieved 2013-07-07. 
  5. ^ "Digital Archive Project". Ahtna Heritage Foundation Cultural Center Projects. Retrieved 2013-07-07. 
  6. ^ "Fishing Rights, Language and Culture Advocate, Katie John, Walks On". Indian Country Today Media Network. 2013-06-03. Retrieved 2013-07-07. 
  7. ^ a b "Ahtna Language, Mentasta Dialect, Recorded by Katie John". Yukon Native Language Centre. 2008. Retrieved 2013-07-07. 
  8. ^ Mary Beth Smetzer, "Katie John, advocate for indigenous Rights, Dies", Fairbanks News-Miner, May 31, 2013. Retrieved 14 June 2014.
  9. ^ Native American Tribal Arts & Architecture, SUBARCTIC ARTS
  10. ^ Ahtna language, Chistochina Dialect
  11. ^ "Ahtna Noun Dictionary" by John E. Smelcer (2009)

External links[edit]