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Dena’ina language: Wikis


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Spoken in United States
Region Alaska (Cook Inlet region, Lake Clark, Lake Iliamna)
Total speakers 75
Language family Dené-Yeniseian
Writing system Latin (Dena'ina variant)
Language codes
ISO 639-1 None
ISO 639-2 ath
ISO 639-3 tfn

Dena’ina (sometimes spelled Tanaina, pronounced /də ˈnaɪ ˌnɐ/) is the Athabaskan language of the region surrounding Cook Inlet. It is geographically unique in Alaska as the only Alaska Athabaskan language to include territory which borders salt water. Four dialects are usually distinguished:

  1. Upper Inlet, spoken in Eklutna, Knik, Susitna, Tyonek
  2. Outer Inlet, spoken in Kenai, Kustatan, Seldovia
  3. Iliamna, spoken in Pedro Bay, Old Iliamna, Lake Iliamna area
  4. Inland, spoken in Nondalton, Lime Village

Of the total Dena'ina population of about 900 people, only 75-95 members still speak Dena’ina. James Kari has done extensive work on the language since 1972, including his edition with Alan Boraas of the collected writings of Peter Kalifornsky in 1991. Joan Tenenbaum also conducted extensive field research on the language in the 1970s.



The word Dena'ina is composed of the dena, meaning 'person' and the human plural suffix ina. While the apostrophe which joins the two parts of this word ordinarily indicates a glottal stop, most speakers pronounce this with a diphthong, so that the second syllable of the word rhymes with English 'nine' (as in the older spelling Tanaina).

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Dena'ina is one of seven Alaska Athabaskan languages which does not distinguish phonemic tone.



The consonants of Dena’ina in practical orthography, with IPA equivalents indicated in square brackets.

  Labial Dental Palatal Velar Uvular Glottal
plain lateral sibilant
Nasal m [m] n [n]            
Plosive and
unaspirated (b [b]) d [t] dl [tɬ] dz [ts] j [tʃ] g [k] gg [q] ' [ʔ]
aspirated   t [tʰ] tl [tɬʰ] ts [tsʰ] ch [tʃʰ] k [kʰ] q [qʰ]  
ejective   t' [tʼ] tl' [tɬʼ] ts' [tsʼ] ch' [tʃʼ] k' [kʼ] q' [qʼ]  
Fricative voiceless (f [f])   ɬ [ɬ] s [s] sh [ʃ] x [x] h [χ] ĥ [h]
voiced v [v]   l [l] z [z] zh [ʒ] ŷ [ɣ] gh [ʁ]  
Approximant       (r [ɹ]) y [j]    

R is only found in English loanwords.


The 4 vowels of Dena’ina. Note that high vowels are lowered in the environment of a uvular consonant.

  Front Central Back
Close i   u
Mid   e [ə]  
Open   a  

External links


  • Balluta, Alex & Gladys Evanoff. 2004. Dena'ina Qenaga Du'idnaghelnik (Dena'ina Words Sound Pretty). Dena'ina Phrases 1: Nondalton Dialect, ed. by Olga Müller. Fairbanks: Alaska Native Language Center; Anchorage: Alaska Native Heritage Center. [1]
  • Chickalusion, Maxim, et al. 1980. Q'udi Heyi Niłch'diluyi Sukdu'a: "This Years Collected Stories.(Dena'ina Stories from Tyonek and Illiamna Lake). Anchorage: National Bilingual Materials Development Center.
  • Ellanna, Linda & Andrew Balluta. 1992. Nuvendaltin Quht'ana: The People of Nondalton. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press.
  • Johnson, Walter. 2004. Sukdu Neł Nuhtghelnek: I'll Tell You A Story: Stories I Recall From Growing Up On Iliamna Lake. Fairbanks: Alaska Native Language Center.
  • Kalifornsky, Peter. 1991 "K'tl'egh'i Sukdu, A Dena'ina Legacy: The Collected Writings of Peter Kalifornsky" edited by James Kari and Alan Boraas. Fairbanks: Alaska Native Language Center.
  • Kari, James. 1975. A classification of the Tanaina dialects. Anthropological Papers of the University of Alaska 17:49-55.
  • Kari, James. 2007. Dena'ina Topical Dictionary. Fairbanks: Alaska Native Language Center.

ISBN 978-1-55500-091-2.

  • Kari, James, Priscilla Russell Kari and Jane McGary. 1983. Dena’ina Ełnena: Tanaina Country. Fairbanks: Alaska Native Language Center. Includes good bibliography and many photographs.
  • Kari, Priscilla Russell. 1987. Tanaina Plantlore: Dena’ina K’et’una. 2nd ed. Anchorage: Alaska Park Service. Ethnobotany and much other cultural information.
  • Mithun, Marianne. 1999. The languages of Native North America. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-23228-7 (hbk); ISBN 0-521-29875-X.
  • Osgood, Cornelius. 1937. Contributions to the Ethnography of the Tanaina. Yale University Publications in Anthropology, 16.
  • Stephan, Sava. 2005. Upper Inlet Dena’ina Language Lessons, ed. by James Kari. Anchorage: Alaska Native Heritage Center. [2]
  • Tenenbaum, Joan. 1978. Morphology and semantics of the Tanaina verb. (Doctoral dissertation, Columbia University).
  • Tenenbaum, Joan. 2006. Dena'ina Sukdu'a 3rd ed. Fairbanks: Alaska Native Language Center. ISBN 1-55500-090-8.
  • Townsend, Joan B. 1981. “Tanaina.” In June Helm, ed., Subarctic: Handbook of North American Indians, vol. 6. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution.
  • Wassillie, Albert. 1980. Nuvendaltun Ht’ana Sukdu’a: Nondalton People’s Stories. Anchorage: National Bilingual Materials Development Center.


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