Dane-zaa language

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Native to Canada
Region British Columbia, Alberta
Ethnicity 1,560 Danezaa in 5 of 7 communities (2014, FPCC)[1]
Native speakers
160 in 5 of 7 communities[2] (2014, FPCC)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3 bea
Glottolog beav1236[3]
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters.

Beaver, also known as Tsattine and by the people themselves as Danezaa (ᑕᓀᖚ Dane-zaa, Dunneza) or Dane-zaa Zaageʔ ("people-regular language"), is an Athabascan language of western Canada. About half 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]

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. ^ a b Beaver at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ Figure is for 5 of 6 communities in British Columbia. Number in Alberta unreported.
  3. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Beaver". Glottolog. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  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. Retrieved 2012-10-18. 


External links[edit]