Athapaskan Languages

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Athapaskan Languages


(or Athabascan Languages), a group of languages which, until the European conquest, were spoken by the population of the interior regions of Alaska, the northwestern half of present-day Canada, and also parts of the territory of the present-day southwestern and southern states of the USA and northern Mexico.

There are nine subgroups: (1) Tanaina (Alaska); (2) Koyukon (Alaska); (3) Ingalik (Alaska); (4) Ahtena (Alaska); (5) Kutchin and Han (Alaska and Canada); (6) Tanana and Nabesnatana (Alaska), Carrier (British Columbia), Dogrib, Hare, Chipewyan, and Slave (Canada, from the Mackenzie River to Hudson Bay); (7) Beaver, Sarsi, Kaska, Sekani (to the west and southwest of Great Slave Lake in Canada); (8) Pacific Coast subgroup (California and Oregon)—Umpqua, Galice, Applegate, Chasta-Costa, Hupa, Tolowa, Mattole, Kato, Wailaki, Sinkyone, etc.; (9) Apachean subgroup (Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and the states of Chihuahua and Coahuila in northern Mexico), including Navaho (northeastern Arizona and northwestern New Mexico) and the Apache languages. The languages of subgroups 1 to 7 are classed together under the term “northern Athapaskan languages” based on geographical distribution.

The Athapaskan languages belong to the Nadene family, along with the Eyak, Tlingit, and Haida languages (Pacific coast of Alaska and Canada); Eyak is often included in the Athapaskan languages. Some linguists propose a relationship between Nadene and the Sino-Tibetan languages. Athapaskan languages are spoken by no more than 250,000 people. These languages are characterized by a rich con-sonantism, including glottalized and breathy lateral consonants. Tone is phonemic. The agglutinative structure has traces of a root isolating system (the monosyllabic quality of morphemes, their weak lack of fusion, tones, etc.). The verb contains an obligatory set of prefixes (person and number of the subject and of objects, the spatial characteristics of the action, etc.) and optional suffixes. The noun has possessive prefixes (“my,” “thy,” etc.). Syntactic functions of the noun are expressed analytically.


Petitot, E. Dictionnaire de la langue Dènè-Dindjiè. Paris, 1876.
Li, Fang-kuei. Mattole, an Athabaskan Language. Chicago, 1930.
Morice, A. G. The Carrier Language, vols. 1–2. Modling, 1932.
Studies in the Athapaskan Languages. Berkeley-Los Angeles, 1963.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
Other missionaries adapted Evans's system to Inuktitut, to Blackfoot, and to several northern Athapaskan languages, including Gwichin, Slavey, and Chipewyan.
The most fully developed of all Canadian syllabic scripts was created in 1885 by an Oblate missionary, Adrien-Gabriel Morice (1859-1938), for the Athapaskan language Dakelh, spoken in northern British Columbia.