Jump to content

Gwichʼin language

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
(Redirected from Gwich'in language)
Dinjii Zhuʼ Ginjik
Native toCanada, United States
RegionCanada (Northwest Territories, Yukon), United States (Alaska)
Ethnicity3,000 Gwichʼin people (2007)
Native speakers
ca. 560 (2007–2016)[1]
  • Western
  • Eastern
Latin (Northern Athabaskan alphabet)
Official status
Official language in
Canada (Northwest Territories)[2]
United States(Alaska)[3]
Language codes
ISO 639-2gwi
ISO 639-3gwi
Gwich'in is classified as Severely Endangered by the UNESCO Atlas of the World's Languages in Danger
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.
PeopleDinjii Zhuu Gwichʼin
LanguageDinju Zhuh Kʼyuu
CountryGwichʼin Nành,
Allan Hayton reciting the story "Tǫǫ Oozhrii Zhìt Tsyaa Tsal Dhidii" (Boy in the Moon) in Gwich'in.
A sign in the Fort McPherson identifies the city by its original Gwichʼin name, Teetł'it Zheh

The Gwichʼin language (Dinju Zhuh Kʼyuu)[4] belongs to the Athabaskan language family and is spoken by the Gwich'in First Nation (Canada) / Alaska Native People (United States). It is also known in older or dialect-specific publications as Kutchin, Takudh, Tukudh, or Loucheux.[5] Gwich'in is spoken primarily in the towns of Inuvik, Aklavik, Fort McPherson, and Tsiigehtchic (formerly Arctic Red River), all in the Northwest Territories and Old Crow in Yukon of Canada.[6] In Alaska of the United States, Gwichʼin is spoken in Beaver, Circle, Fort Yukon, Chalkyitsik, Birch Creek, Arctic Village, Eagle, and Venetie.[7][failed verification]

The ejective affricate in the name Gwichʼin 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 ʼ MODIFIER LETTER APOSTROPHE.

Written Gwichʼin[edit]

The missionary Robert McDonald first started working on the written representation of Van Tat and Dagoo dialects Gwichʼin. He also produced a Bible and a hymn book which was written in Gwichʼin in 1898. McDonald used English orthography as his model when representing Gwichʼin. This was unusual for missionaries at the time: other missionaries were translating the Bible from French into languages such as northern Slavey.[8] After 1960, Wycliffe Bible translator Richard Mueller introduced a new modified spelling system. The purpose of his writing system was to better distinguish the sounds of the Gwichʼin language. Later on, Mueller's writing system was officially adopted by the Yukon Territory. The new writing system helped preserve the Gwichʼin language: previously, young people found it difficult to understand written Gwichʼin.[9]

Current status[edit]

Few Gwichʼin speak their heritage language as a majority of the population shifts to English. According to the UNESCO Interactive Atlas of the World's Languages in Danger, Gwichʼin is now "severely endangered." There are about 260 Gwichʼin speakers in Canada out of a total Gwichʼin population of 1,900. About 300 out of a total Alaska Gwichʼin population of 1,100 speak the language.[4]

In 1988, the NWT Official Languages Act named Gwich'in as an official language of the Northwest Territories, and the Official Languages of Alaska Law as amended declared Gwich'in a recognized language in 2014.[4]

The Gwich'in language is taught regularly at the Chief Zzeh Gittlit School in Old Crow, Yukon.[7]

Projects are underway to document the language and enhance the writing and translation skills of younger Gwich'in speakers. In one project, lead research associate and fluent speaker Gwichʼin elder Kenneth Frank works with linguists and young Gwich'in speakers affiliated with the Alaska Native Language Center at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks to document traditional knowledge of caribou anatomy (Mishler and Frank 2020).[10]

Endangerment factors[edit]

Residential schools[edit]

Gwich’in is spoken by many First Nations and residential schools played a factor in creating a cultural disruption and a language shift. During the time that residential schools were open their main goal was to change the way indigenous communities operated entirely. Another goal of the residential schools was to wipe out the indigenous culture and replace it with the European culture, also causing the indigenous children to abandon their heritage language. This process was done by taking the children away from their families and placing them in a school. Fortunately, the Gwich’in and the Dinjii Zhuh culture did survive the residential schools. Residential schools were a big situation that had and do still cause cultural disruptions.[9]


There are two main dialects of Gwichʼin, eastern and western, which are delineated roughly at the Canada–US border.[11] There are several dialects within these subgroupings, including Fort Yukon Gwichʼin, Arctic Village Gwichʼin, Western Canada Gwichʼin (Takudh, Tukudh, Loucheux), and Arctic Red River. Each village has unique dialect differences, idioms, and expressions. The Old Crow people in the northern Yukon have approximately the same dialect as those bands living in Venetie and Arctic Village, Alaska.

Gwich’in speakers located in Old Crow speak several dialects including Kâachik and Tâachik. They are spoken in Johnson Creek village.[8]



The consonants of Gwichʼin in the standard orthography are listed below (with IPA notation in brackets):[7]

Labial Inter-
Alveolar Retroflex Palatal Velar Glottal
plain sibilant lateral plain labial
plain (p ⟨b⟩) ⟨ddh⟩ t ⟨d⟩ ts ⟨dz⟩ ⟨dl⟩ ʈʂ ⟨dr⟩ ⟨j⟩ k ⟨g⟩ ⟨gw⟩ ʔ ⟨ʼ⟩
aspirated tθʰ ⟨tth⟩ ⟨t⟩ tsʰ ⟨ts⟩ tɬʰ ⟨tl⟩ ʈʂʰ ⟨tr⟩ tʃʰ ⟨ch⟩ ⟨k⟩ kʷʰ ⟨kw⟩
ejective tθʼ ⟨tthʼ⟩ ⟨tʼ⟩ tsʼ ⟨tsʼ⟩ tɬʼ ⟨tlʼ⟩ ʈʂʼ ⟨trʼ⟩ tʃʼ ⟨chʼ⟩ ⟨kʼ⟩
prenasalized ⁿd ⟨nd⟩ ⁿdʒ ⟨nj⟩
Fricative voiced v ⟨v⟩ ð ⟨dh⟩ z ⟨z⟩ ʐ ⟨zhr⟩ ʒ ⟨zh⟩ ɣ ⟨gh⟩ ɣʷ ⟨ghw⟩
voiceless (f ⟨f⟩) θ ⟨th⟩ s ⟨s⟩ ɬ ⟨ł⟩ ʂ ⟨shr⟩ ʃ ⟨sh⟩ x ⟨kh⟩ ⟨khw⟩ h ⟨h⟩
Sonorant voiced (m ⟨m⟩) n ⟨n⟩ l ⟨l⟩ ɻ ⟨r⟩ j ⟨y⟩ w ⟨w⟩
voiceless ⟨nh⟩ ɻ̥ ⟨rh⟩


Front Back
short long short long
Close ɪ ⟨i⟩ ⟨ii⟩ ʊ ⟨u⟩ ⟨uu⟩
Mid ɛ ⟨e⟩ ⟨ee⟩ ɔ ⟨o⟩ ⟨oo⟩
Open ə ⟨a⟩ ⟨aa⟩
  • Nasal vowels are marked with an ogonek, e.g. [ą]
  • Low tone is marked with a grave accent, e.g. [à]
  • High tone is never marked


Verb configuration[edit]

A verb in Gwich’in contains smaller word parts that come together to make a verb. A verb can be composed by using a stem, which is then accompanied by smaller word parts, i.e. prefixes. A prefix gives off a lot of information. It informs an individual about whether the word is in the past or present tense. A prefix can also inform the individual about the number of people participating. The stem can be found at the end of the word and the prefix follows right behind the stem when reading a verb read from the right to left, so full understanding is obtained.[12]

In popular culture[edit]

In the PBS Kids television show Molly of Denali, the main character Molly comes from a family of Gwich'in background, and therefore uses words in the Gwich'in language such as 'Mahsi' Choo' throughout the show.[13] Molly shares her Gwich'in background with the show's creative producer, Princess Daazhraii Johnson.[14]


  1. ^ Gwichʼin at Ethnologue (21st ed., 2018) Closed access icon
  2. ^ "Official Languages of the Northwest Territories" (PDF). Office of the Northwest Territories Official Languages Commissioner. Archived from the original on March 23, 2012. Retrieved Jun 14, 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  3. ^ Chappell, Bill. "Alaska OKs Bill Making Native Languages Official". The Two-Way. npr. Retrieved Jun 14, 2021.
  4. ^ a b c "Gwichʼin". Ethnologue. Retrieved 2018-03-15.
  5. ^ McDonald, Robert (1972) [1911]. A Grammar of the Tukudh Language (PDF). Yellowknife, NT: Department of Education, Government of the Northwest Territories. Retrieved 12 July 2022.
  6. ^ Firth, William G. (2010) [1991]. Teetłʼit Gwìchʼin Kʼyùu Gwiʼdìnehtłʼèe Nagwant Trʼagwàłtsàii [A Junior Dictionary of the Teetl'it Gwich'in Language] (PDF) (2nd ed.). Department of Culture and Communications, Government of the Northwest Territories. ISBN 978-1-896337-12-8.
  7. ^ a b c "Yukon Native Language Centre". Yukon Native Language Centre. Archived from the original on 15 March 2018. Retrieved 15 March 2018.
  8. ^ a b Loovers, Jan Peter Laurens (2011-03-09). "People of the Lakes: Stories of Our Van Tat Gwich'in Elders/Googwandak Nakhwach'ànjòo Van Tat Gwich'in, by Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation and Shirleen Smith". Reviews. Arctic. 64 (1): 118. doi:10.14430/arctic4086. ISSN 1923-1245.
  9. ^ a b McFadyen Clark, Annette (19 June 2020). "Dinjii Zhuh (Gwich'in)". The Canadian Encyclopedia. Historica Canada. Retrieved 12 July 2022.
  10. ^ Mishler, Craig (Fall 2014). Turner-Bogren, Betsy; Fahnestock, Judy; Wiggins, Helen (eds.). "Linguistic Team Studies Caribou Anatomy". Arctic Social Sciences Program. Witness the Arctic. Vol. 18, no. 3. Fairbanks, AK: Arctic Research Consortium of the United States. pp. 12–16. Retrieved 12 July 2022.
  11. ^ "Did you know Gwich'in is severely endangered?". Endangered Languages. Retrieved 2018-03-15.
  12. ^ "Gwicfi'in Language Dictionary" (PDF) (Fourth ed.). Gwich'in La11fJuage Centre. March 2003.
  13. ^ Northrop, Daphne. "Molly of Denali says 'Mahsi' Choo'".
  14. ^ "Meet the Alaska Natives Who Gave 'Molly of Denali' an Authentic Voice".

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.
  • Mishler, Craig, ed. Neerihiinjìk: We Traveled From Place to Place: The Gwich’in Stories of Johnny and Sarah Frank. 2nd ed. Fairbanks: Alaska Native Language Center, 2001.
  • Mishler, Craig and Kenneth Frank, eds. Dinjii Vadzaih Dhidlit: The Man Who Became a Caribou. 2nd ed. Hanover, N.H.: IPI Press, 2020.
  • 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.
  • Scollon, Ronald. A Sketch of Kutchin Phonology. University of Hawaii, 1975.
  • 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]