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Dene suline

Other names

Dëne súline, dëne suliné, dene, dene soun'liné, dene suliné, montagnais

Spoken in ...

Canada: in the Northwest Territories, Saskatchewan, Alberta and Manitoba.

Number of speakers

Approximately 4,000.

Legal status

Non-specific protection.

English and French are Canada's official languages. The scope of the country's federal legislation on its native tongues is very limited, merely granting them the same status as that conferred upon the languages spoken by immigrants.


CAMPBELL, L. (1997) American Indian Languages. The Historical Linguistics of Native America. Oxford/New York: Oxford University Press; chapter 4.

LECLERC, J. (2007) L'aménagement linguistique dans le monde. Quebec: TLFQ, Université Laval.

MCMASTER, G. (2000) 'Project to save dying Chipewyan language'. Folio, vol. 37, no. 9.

MITHUN, M. (2001) The Languages of Native North America. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

Produced by the Endangered Language Study Group (Grup d'Estudi de Llengües Amenaçades or GELA) of the General Linguistics Department of the University of Barcelona.


By the middle of the 19th century, the Athapaskan languages had been studied in sufficient depth for linguists to conclude that they constituted a language family. In the 20th century, Eyak, a language about which little had previously been known, was found to have many lexical and grammatical similarities to the Athapaskan tongues and was duly associated with them. A number of linguists (e.g. Mithun, 2001) are of the opinion that Tlingit is of the same genetic origin as the Athapaskan languages and Eyak, making the concept of an Athapaskan-Eyak-Tlingit family perfectly feasible. However, other linguists (e.g. Campbell, 1997) believe that Tlingit's grammatical resemblance to the Athapaskan languages and Eyak is attributable to borrowing and geographic proximity.

The territory in which the Athapaskan-Eyak-Tlingit languages are spoken stretches from Alaska to Mexico. The family's origins are thought to lie in inland Alaska, from where it spread to the west and south.

In 1686, at the York Factory trading post, Chipewyan became the first Athapaskan language encountered by European colonists. It was also the first that they documented. Lists of the language's vocabulary compiled in the mid-18th century still exist today.

Chipewyan has speakers in all age groups, including children. Many of the Chipewyan are bilingual in Cree.

Chipewyan is seriously endangered in the city of Cold Lake in northern Alberta, where, in the year 2000, only the community's over-60s spoke it fluently and the younger generations' knowledge of the language ranged from partial, at best, to virtually none. A language immersion programme was thus established in schools in the city.

The name Chipewyan comes from a Cree term. The language was referred to as Montagnais by French missionaries.

Number system

Direction in which language is written

Left to right



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