Dane-zaa language

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Danezaa ZaageɁ (ᑕᓀᖚ ᖚᗀᐥ)
Native toCanada
RegionBritish Columbia, Alberta
Ethnicity1,700 Dane-zaa[1]
Native speakers
220, 13% of ethnic population (2016 census)[2]
Language codes
ISO 639-3bea
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.

Dane-zaa, known in the language as Danezaa ZaageɁ (syll: ᑕᓀᖚ ᖚᗀᐥ) and once known as Beaver, is an Athabascan language of western Canada. It means "people-regular language." About one-tenth of the Danezaa people speak the language.

Beaver is closely related to the languages spoken by neighboring Athabaskan groups, such as Slavey, Sekani, Sarcee, Chipewyan, and Kaska.


The dialects of Dane-zaa language are two main groups. Dialects that developed high tone from stem-final glottalic consonants are called high-marked and dialects that developed low tone low-marked. From north to south are as follows:[4]

Use and number of speakers[edit]

A 1991 estimate gave 300 total speakers out of a population of 600 Dane-zaa people.[5] As of 2007, Dane-zaa Zaageʔ was spoken "in eastern British Columbia (in the communities of Doig River (Hanás̱ Saahgéʔ), Blueberry, Halfway River, Hudson Hope, and Prophet River) and in northwestern Alberta (in the communities of Horse Lakes, Clear Hills, Boyer River (Rocky Lane), Rock Lane, and Child Lake (Eleske) Reserves)."[6] A 2011 CD by Garry Oker features traditional Beaver language chanting with world beat and country music.[7]

Language Loss[edit]

English is now the first language of most Dane-zaa children, and of many adults in the Dane-zaa communities. Dane-zaa Zaageʔ was the primary language until the grandparents and parents started to send their children to school in the 1950s. English only became dominant in the 1980s. Because the language is orally based, Dane-zaa Zaageʔ becomes increasingly endangered as the fluent speakers pass away.

Language Documentation[edit]

The Rev Alfred Campbell Garrioch (1848-1934) was a Christian missionary of the Anglican Church Missionary Society (CMS) who worked with the Beaver. He was born in Manitoba in Canada in 1848. In 1876 he established a Church Mission Society mission and Indian children training school at Fort Vermilion, under the name of Unjaga Mission. He learnt and analysed the Beaver language and translated the Gospel of Mark into Beaver. In the mid 1880s he visited England where he had his work in the Beaver language printed. In 1886 Garrioch returned to mission work among the Beaver Indians. In 1892 he returned to Manitoba. In 1905 he retired from active work and settled at Portage-le-Prairie (Portage La Prairie) in Manitoba. In 1925 he wrote 2 autobiographical accounts of his life called The Far and Furry North and in 1929 A Hatchet Mark in Duplicate. He died in 1934.

In 1885 the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (SPCK) published a Primer and a Vocabulary in the Beaver Indian Language. In 1886 SPCK published a Manual of Devotion in the Beaver Indian Language and also published his Gospel of Mark in syllabic characters with syllabarium, supplementary syllabarium, chapter headings and illustrations. In 1886 the British and Foreign Bible Society (BFBS) published his Gospel of Mark as "Ootech oochu Takehniya-Tinkles St. Mark" in Roman characters without the illustrations. This has been digitised and is now freely available online on YouVersion[8] and BibleSearch.[9]

In 1968 John chapter 3 was translated by Marshall and Jean Holdstock and published as "Lǫ́ǫ́se nadááse" by Scripture Gift Mission.

In 2004-2011, the language as spoken by the elders of the Beaver First Nations communities in Alberta and British Columbia, Canada was collected as part of the DoBeS Beaver documentation project. The intent was to document an endangered language from a place names' perspective, collecting place names along with stories of culturally relevant locations and personal migration stories, allowing for the exploration of spatial expressions in the language. These materials, along with other grammatical and pedagogical items, are held in the DoBeS Archive and are available for download, subject to agreeing to the terms of access.



Dane-zaa has 35 consonants:

  Bilabial Dental Alveolar Postalveolar
/ Palatal
Velar Glottal
central lateral
Nasal m   n        
Plosive unaspirated p   t     k  
ejective         ʔ
Affricate unaspirated   ts̪ ts    
aspirated   ts̪ʰ tsʰ tɬʰ tʃʰ    
ejective   ts̪ʼ tsʼ tɬʼ tʃʼ    
Fricative voiceless   s ɬ ʃ (x) h
voiced   z ɮ ʒ ɣ  
Approximant         j w  


Dane-zaa has 10 phonemic vowels.

  Front Central Back
Close full i   u
reduced ɪ   ʊ
Mid oral e   o
nasal   õ
Open reduced   ɜ  
full   a  

Two vowels contrast oral and nasal qualities.


  1. ^ "Aboriginal Ancestry Responses (73), Single and Multiple Aboriginal Responses (4), Residence on or off reserve (3), Residence inside or outside Inuit Nunangat (7), Age (8A) and Sex (3) for the Population in Private Households of Canada, Provinces and Territories, 2016 Census - 25% Sample Data". www12.statcan.gc.ca. Government of Canada. Retrieved 2017-11-23.
  2. ^ "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. Retrieved 2017-11-23.
  3. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Beaver". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  4. ^ Julia Colleen Miller 2013. The phonetics of tone in two dialects of Dane-z̲aa (Athabaskan).
  5. ^ "Ethnologue report for language code: bea". Ethnologue. Retrieved 2012-10-18.
  6. ^ "Beaver". MultiTree. Retrieved 2012-10-18.
  7. ^ "Local Aboriginal Artist Performing at CD Release Celebration (Garry Oker)". Aboriginal Business Centre. 2011-03-15. Archived from the original on 2013-01-15. Retrieved 2012-10-18.
  8. ^ https://www.bible.com/en-GB/bible/1664/mrk.1
  9. ^ https://bibles.org/bea-BEA1886/Mark/1


External links[edit]