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Lower Tanana language

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Lower Tanana
Menhti Kenaga
Native toUnited States
RegionAlaska (middle Yukon River, Koyukuk River)
Ethnicity400 Tanana (2007)[1]
Native speakers
1 (2020)[1]
Latin (Northern Athabaskan alphabet)
Official status
Official language in
Language codes
ISO 639-3taa
ELP(Lower) Tanana

Lower Tanana (also Tanana and/or Middle Tanana) is an endangered language spoken in Interior Alaska in the lower Tanana River villages of Minto and Nenana. Of about 380 Tanana people in the two villages, about 30 still speak the language. As of 2010, “Speakers who grew up with Lower Tanana as their first language can be found only in the 250-person village of Minto.”[3] It is one of the large family of Athabaskan languages, also known as Dené.

The Athabaskan (or Dené) bands who formerly occupied a territory between the Salcha and the Goodpaster rivers spoke a distinct dialect that linguists term the Middle Tanana language.


  • Toklat area dialect (Tutlʼot)
  • Minto Flats-Nenana River dialect: Minto (Menhti) and Nenana (Nina Noʼ)
  • Chena River dialect: Chena Village (Chʼenoʼ)
  • Salcha River dialect: Salcha (Sol Chaget)

Vocabulary samples[edit]

  • dena “man”
  • trʼaxa “woman”
  • setseya “my grandfather”
  • setsu “my grandmother”
  • xwtʼana “clan”
  • ddheł “mountain”
  • tu “black bear”
  • tsonee "brown bear"
  • bedzeyh “caribou”
  • łiga “dog”
  • beligaʼ “his/her dog”
  • kʼwyʼ “willow”
  • katreth “moccasin”
  • trʼiyh “canoe”
  • yoyekoyh “Northern Lights”
  • tena “trail”
  • khwnʼa “river”
  • t’eede gaay “girl” (Middle Tanana)



Labial Dental Alveolar Post-
Retroflex Palatal Velar Glottal
plain sibilant lateral
Plosive plain p t ts k ʔ
aspirated tθʰ tsʰ tɬʰ tʃʰ tʂʰ
ejective tθʼ tsʼ tɬʼ tʃʼ tʂʼ
Fricative voiceless θ s ɬ ʃ x h
voiced ð z ɣ
Sonorant w n l j


Vowel sounds in Tanana are /a æ ɪ~i ʊ~u ə/.

Front Central Back
Close ɪ ~ i ʊ ~ u
Mid ə
Open æ a


In a 2008–2009 project, linguist Siri Tuttle of the University of Alaska's Native Language Center “worked with elders to translate and document song lyrics, some on file at the language center and some recorded during the project.”[4]

“The Minto dialect of Tanana ... allows speakers to occasionally change the number of syllables in longer words.”[4]


  1. ^ a b "ANLPAC 2020 Report to the Governor and Legislature" (PDF). commerce.alaska.gov. 2020. Retrieved April 27, 2024.
  2. ^ Chappell, Bill (April 21, 2014). "Alaska OKs Bill Making Native Languages Official". NPR. Archived from the original on January 16, 2021. Retrieved July 8, 2021.
  3. ^ Christopher Eshleman (November 9, 2010). "Neal Charlie dies at 91. Minto elder, former chief kept language culture alive". Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. Archived from the original on January 29, 2013. Retrieved September 15, 2012.
  4. ^ a b Christopher Eshleman (September 13, 2010). "Fairbanks Daily News-Miner - Alaska Native Language Center linguist helps document dialects". Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. Archived from the original on December 3, 2010. Retrieved September 15, 2012.


  • Charlie, Teddy. 1992. Ode Setl'oghwnh Da': Long After I Am Gone, Fairbanks: Alaska Native Language Center. ISBN 1-55500-045-2
  • Kari, James, Isabel Charlie, Peter John & Evelyn Alexander. 1991. Lower Tanana Athabaskan Listening and Writing Exercises, Fairbanks: Alaska Native Language Center.
  • Tuttle, Siri. 1998. Metrical and Tonal Structures in Tanana Athabaskan, Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Washington.
  • Tuttle, Siri. 2003. Archival Phonetics: Tone and Stress in Tanana Athabaskan. University of Alaska Fairbanks.

External links[edit]