Tutchone language

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Native to Canada
Region Yukon
Ethnicity 2,500 (1,100 Northern Tutchone, 1,400 Southern Tutchone; 2007)[1]
Native speakers
350 (2011 census)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3 Either:
tce – Southern
ttm – Northern
Glottolog tutc1236[2]

Tutchone is a Athabaskan language spoken by the Northern and Southern Tutchone First Nations in central and southern regions of Yukon Territory, Canada. Tutchone belongs to the Northern Athabaskan linguistic subfamily and has two primary varieties, Southern and Northern. Although they are sometimes considered separate languages, Northern and Southern Tutchone speakers are generally able to understand each other in conversation, albeit with moderate difficulty.[3]

Southern Tutchone is spoken in the Yukon communities of Aishihik, Burwash Landing, Champagne, Haines Junction, Kloo Lake, Klukshu, Lake Laberge, and Whitehorse.[4]

Northern Tutchone is spoken in the Yukon communities of Mayo, Pelly Crossing, Stewart Crossing, Carmacks, and Beaver Creek.[5]


The consonants and vowels of Northern Tutchone and their orthography are as follows:[6]


Labial Inter-
Alveolar Post-
Retroflex Velar Glottal
central lateral Plain Labialized
Nasal [m] m [n] n
Stop [t]
[] t’ [] k’ kʷʼ kw’
[ᵐb] mb [ⁿd] nd
Affricate []
[tθʼ] tth’ [tsʼ] ts’ [tɬʼ] tl’ [tʃʼ] ch’
[ⁿdʒ] nj
Fricative [θ]

[h] h
Approximant [j] y [ɻ] r [w] w


Front Central Back
High [i] i [u] u
Mid [e] e [ə] ä [o] o
Low [a] a

Vowels are differentiated for nasalization and high, mid, and low tone.

Nazalized: į, ų, ę, ą̈, ǫ, ą

High Tone: í, ú, é, ä́ , ó, á

Mid Tone: ī, ū, ē, ǟ, ō, ā

Low Tone: unmarked


Southern (Dän kʼè)

  • Aishihik dialect
  • Tàaʼan dialect
  • Klukshu dialect
  • Kluane dialect

Northern (Dän kʼí)

  • Big Salmon dialect
  • Pelly Crossing dialect
  • Mayo dialect
  • White River dialect

Vocabulary comparison[edit]

The comparison of some words in the two languages.[7]

Northern Southern meaning
łu ¹ ~ łyok ² łu fish
łígī łä̀chʼi one
łä́ki łä̀ki two
tadechʼi tayke three
łénínchʼi dùkʼwän four
hulákʼo kä̀jän five
èkúm ä́kų̀ my house
ninkúm nkų̀ your (sg.) house
ukúm ukų̀ his/her house
dàkúm dákų̀ our house
dàkúm dákų̀ your (pl.) house
huukúm kwäkų̀ / kukų̀ their house

¹ Big Salmon dialect ² Pelly Crossing dialect

Revitalization efforts[edit]

Tutchone is considered to be an endangered language, as its speaker population is shifting rapidly to English. In a 2011 census, Northern Tutchone was reported to have 210 speakers, and Southern Tutchone 140 speakers.[8][9]

Tutchone language classes have been taught in Yukon schools since the early 1980ʼs. Southern Tutchone language classes are included in the curriculum for students grades K-12 in schools at Kluane Lake, and three elementary schools in Whitehorse have language programs for Southern Tutchone. The St. Elias Community School in Haines Junction also offers Southern Tutchone language classes to students from K-12: one teacher handles K-4, another grades 5-12.[10]

In 2009, kindergarten classes in Haines Junction began learning Southern Tuchone in a bi-cultural program.[11]

In popular culture[edit]

Jerry Alfred's "Etsi Shon" (Grandfather song), sung in Northern Tuchone, won a Juno Award in the Best Aboriginal Album category in 1996.[12][13]

Since 2011 the Adäka Cultural Festival, an annual multi-disciplinary arts and culture festival, has been held in Whitehorse. Celebrating First Nations arts and culture, with a specific focus on Yukon First Nations, 'Adäka', in the Southern Tutchone language, means 'coming into the light'.[14]


  1. ^ a b Southern at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
    Northern at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Tutchone". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History. 
  3. ^ Krauss, M. E. and V. Golla. (1981). Northern Athapaskan Languages. Handbook of North American Indians, Vol. 6: Subarctic, ed. by June Helm, 67–85. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution.
  4. ^ "Did you know Southern Tutchone is severely endangered?". Endangered Languages. Retrieved 2017-11-01. 
  5. ^ "Did you know Northern Tutchone is severely endangered?". Endangered Languages. Retrieved 2017-11-01. 
  6. ^ McClellan, Catharine (1978). "Tutchone". Handbook of North American Indians: Subarctic. Government Printing Office. p. 493. ISBN 9780160045783. 
  7. ^ http://www.firstvoices.com/en/Southern-Tutchone
  8. ^ "Tutchone, Northern". Ethnologue. Retrieved 2017-11-01. 
  9. ^ "Tutchone, Southern". Ethnologue. Retrieved 2017-11-01. 
  10. ^ Yukon First Nations Education Resources. (2015). First Nations programs & partnerships. Web. www.yesnet.yk.ca
  11. ^ "Launch of Southern Tutchone Bi-cultural School Program" (PDF). Yukon Government News Release. 2009-10-15. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2012-06-08. Retrieved 2012-11-27. 
  12. ^ Lynn Van Matre (1966-08-01). "Jerry Alfred & the Medicine Beat Etsi Shon". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 2012-11-27. 
  13. ^ "Juno Awards Database". junoawards.ca. Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. Archived from the original on 2013-12-03. Retrieved 20 January 2012.  External link in |work= (help)
  14. ^ "Adäka Cultural Festival". Travel Yukon. Retrieved 13 November 2016. 

External links[edit]