Gwich’in language

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Dinjii Zhu’ Ginjik
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.

Current status[edit]

Few Gwichʼin speak their indigenous Gwich’in language. There are two main dialects of Gwich’in, eastern and western, which are delineated roughly at the United States-Canadian border. 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. According to the UNESCO Interactive Atlas of the World's Languages in Danger, Gwich’in is now a "severely endangered" language, with fewer than 150 fluent speakers in Alaska and another 250 in northwest Canada. Projects are underway to document the language, and to enhance the writing and translation skills of younger Gwich'in speakers. In one project lead research associate and fluent speaker Gwich’in elder, Kenneth Frank, works with linguists that include 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.[4]


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  //
Plosive voiced b  /p/ d  /t/ dr  /ʈ/ g  /k/ (gw  //)  /ʔ/
voiceless t  // tr  /ʈʰ/ k  // (kw  /kʷʰ/)
ejective t’  // tr’  /ʈʼ/ k’  //
prenasalized nd  /ⁿd/
Affricate voiced ddh  // dz  /ts/ dl  // dj  //
voiceless tth  // ts  /ts/ tl  // ch  //
ejective tth’  /tθʼ/ ts’  /tsʼ/ tl’  /tɬʼ/ ch’  /tʃʼ/
prenasalized nj  /ⁿdʒ/
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
  • nasal vowels are marked with an ogonek, 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[5] in Gwich’in.


Caribou vadzaih are an integral part of First Nations and Inuit oral histories and legends including the Gwich'in creation story of how Gwich’in people and the caribou separated from a single entity.[6] The caribou is the cultural symbol and a keystone subsistence species of the Gwich'in, just as the buffalo is to the Plains Indians.[4] Elders have identified at least 150 descriptive Gwich'in names for all of the bones, organs, and tissues "Associated with the caribou's anatomy are not just descriptive Gwich'in names for all of the body parts including bones, organs, and tissues as well as "an encyclopedia of stories, songs, games, toys, ceremonies, traditional tools, skin clothing, personal names and surnames, and a highly developed ethnic cuisine."[4]


  1. ^ Gwich’in at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ Official Languages of the Northwest Territories (map)
  3. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Gwich'in". Glottolog. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  4. ^ a b c Mishler, Craig (2014), Arctic Research Consortium of the United States (ARCOS), retrieved 11 January 2015  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  5. ^ Holton, Gary (July 16, 2013). "Alaska Native Language Archive: Alaska Place Names". University of Alaska Fairbanks. Retrieved November 3, 2013. 
  6. ^ "Vuntut Gwich'in", First Voices, 2001–2013, retrieved 17 January 2014 

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]