About the Southern Tutchone language

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Southern Tutchone, one of seven Athapaskan languages in the Yukon, is spoken in the southwestern part of the territory. The Southern Tutchone have always been highly mobile. Aboriginally, they moved about in small groups, annually adjusting their movements to changes in the ranges of caribou or moose, to salmon runs, or to ranges of fur-bearing animals. Their traditional areas ranged from the Teslin River in the east to the White River in the west, and from the lower Tatshenshini in the south to the Nisling River in the north. Today there are settlements at Aishihik, Burwash Landing, Champagne, Haines Junction, Kloo Lake, Klukshu, Lake Laberge and Whitehorse. Many of the Southern Tutchone people continue to spend part of the year in subsistence activites, hunting, fishing and trapping in their traditional ranges, such as around Dalton Post, Hutshi Lakes, Bear Lake, and the Nisling Valley.

Documentation and Literacy

The first systematic notation of the language was by Daniel Tlen, a Burwash native. He returned to his home community in the 1970’s after studying linguistics at the University of Victoria and began recording relatives and friends. Assisted by Jessie Joe, Mary Jacquot, Copper Lilly Johnson and Lena Johnson, he compiled language lessons, a basic noun dictionary, and a collection of stories and songs in Southern Tutchone.

Literacy Workshops for Southern Tutchone have been held since 1984. Native speaker Margaret Workman documented her language and culture at the Yukon Native Language Centre for more than twenty years before retiring in 2004. She prepared and read the Southern Tutchone texts which are heard on the interactive place names CD Dákeyi. She prepared the material for a noun dictionary which will appear in print and on CD as a database with sound file examples for each entry. YNLC currently offers more than two dozen print and multimedia titles in and on Southern Tutchone. These include Language Lesson Booklets and Tapes, multimedia Computer Books and corresponding Print Story Booklets, and reports on the literacy workshops.

School Programs

There are or have been seven Southern Tutchone elementary school programs in the Yukon, at Kluane Lake School in Destruction Bay, at St Elias School in Haines Junction, and in Whitehorse at Elijah Smith, Takhini, Hidden Valley, Selkirk and Whitehorse Elementary schools. There is a secondary school Southern Tutchone program in Haines Junction, and Southern Tutchone language and culture courses are given in Whitehorse at Porter Creek and FH Collins.


There are distinct differences among the several dialects but all speakers can understand each other without any difficulty. The language has a rich sound system. Some dialects have as many as 43 consonants, including glottalized stops and affricates and ł (voiceless-l). All dialects have seven vowels, three diphthongs, and four tones: plain, low, rising, and falling.

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