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This article is about the Native American language family. For any of the ships called "HMCS Athabaskan" see the disambiguation page HMCS Athabaskan.

Athabaskan or Athabascan (also Athapascan or Athapaskan) is the name of a large group of distantly related Native American peoples, also known as the Athabasca Indians or Athapaskes, located in two main Southern and Northern groups in western North America, and of their language family. The Athabaskan family is the largest family in North America in terms of number of languages and the number of speakers. In terms of territory, only the Algic language family covers a larger area.

The 24 Northern Athabaskan languages are spoken throughout the interior of Alaska and the interior of northwestern Canada in the Yukon and Northwest Territories as well as in the provinces of British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Several Athabaskan languages are official languages in the Northwest Territories, including Chipewyan, Dogrib or Tlicho, Gwich'in, and Slavey.

The seven Pacific Coastal Athabaskan languages are spoken in southern Oregon and northern California. Isolated from the northern and coastal languages, the six Southern Athabaskan languages, including the different Apache peoples and Navajo, are spoken in the American Southwest and the northwestern part of Mexico.

Eyak and Athabaskan form a language group called Athabaskan-Eyak. Tlingit is said to be related to this group to form the Na-Dené stock.

The word Athabaskan is an anglicized version of the Cree name for Lake Athabasca in Canada.



Family division


The Athabaskan language family is often considered to have three main branches: Northern, Pacific Coast, and Southern. However, there is some discussion of whether the Pacific Coast languages and the Northern languages actually each form valid autonomous groupings. The Northern branch is particularly problematic. Due to the failure of the usual criteria of shared innovation and systematic phonetic correspondences to provide well-defined subgroupings, the Athabaskan family (especially the Northern branch) has been called a "cohesive complex" by Michael Krauss (1973, 1982). Therefore, the Stammbaumtheorie model (family tree) of genetic classification may be inappropriate. The languages of the Southern branch are much more homogeneous and are mostly probably a valid genetic subgrouping.

Below is a small outline of the Athabaskan family, excluding languages, dialects/sub-languages, and subdialects. This outline follows mostly the classification of Keren Rice as seen in Mithun (1999). The various branches are areal, but not necessarily genetic. At this time, the details of the Athabaskan family tree should be regarded as tentative.

I. Northern

A. Central Alaskan – Yukon
B. Southern Alaskan
C. Central British Columbia
D. Kwalhioqua-Tlatskanai
E. Northwestern Canada
F. Sarci
G. Tsetsaut

II. Pacific Coast

A. California
B. Oregon

III. Southern

A. Plains Apache
B. Western Apachean
C. Eastern Apachean

Expanded outline

Below is the full expanded outline of the Athabaskan family, including languages, dialects, and subdialects.

Northern Athabaskan
  • Central Alaska – Yukon subgroup
1. Deg Xinag (a.k.a. Deg Hit’an, Ingalik, Ingalit)
  • Lower Yukon River
  • Middle Kuskokwin
2. Gwich’in (a.k.a. Gwitch’in, Kutchin, Loucheux, Loucheaux, Takudh, Tukudh)
  • Alaskan Gwich’in (a.k.a. Western Gwich’in)
  • Canadian Gwich’in (a.k.a. Eastern Gwich’in)
3. Hän (a.k.a. Han, Moosehide, or Dawson)
4. Holikachuk (a.k.a. Innoko)
5. Koyukon (a.k.a. Ten’a)
  • Lower Koyukon
  • Central Koyukon
  • Upper Koyukon
6. Tanacross (previously considered a dialect of Lower Tanana)
7. Lower Tanana (a.k.a. Tanana or Minto)
  • Minto-Tolovana-Toklat-Nenana-Wood River
- Minto-Tolovana
- Toklat
- Nenana
- Wood River
  • Chena
  • Salcha-Goodpastor
8. Upper Tanana
  • Nabesna Upper Tanana
  • Tetlin Upper Tanana
  • Northway Upper Tanana
  • Scottie Creek
  • Canadian Upper Tanana
9. Tutchone
  • Southern Tutchone
  • Northern Tutchone
10. Upper Kushokwin (a.k.a. Kolchan or McGrath Ingalik)
  • Southern Alaskan subgroup
1. Ahtna (a.k.a. Atna, Ahtena, or Copper River)
  • Central Copper River Ahtna
  • Lower Copper River Ahtna
  • Mentasta (a.k.a. Upper Ahtna)
  • Western Ahtna
2. Dena’ina (a.k.a. Tanaina)
  • Lower Inlet Dena’ina
- Outer Inlet
- Iliamna
- Inland
  • Upper Inlet Dena’ina
  • Central British Columbia subgroup
1. Babine (a.k.a. North Carrier, Babine Carrier, Northern Carrier, Babine-Witsuwit’en, Bulkley Valley, Lakes District, Western Carrier)
  • Babine (a.k.a. Nadot’en, Nedut’en, Nat’oot’en)
  • Takla
  • Witsuwit’en (a.k.a. Wetsuwet’en, Wets’uwet’en, Wet’suwet’en)
  • Moricetown
  • Francois Lake
2. Dakelh (a.k.a. Carrier, Dakelhne, Takelne, Takulli, Taculli, Takulie, Porteur, Nagailer)
  • Central Carrier (a.k.a. Upper Carrier)
  • Southern Carrier (a.k.a. Lower Carrier)
3. Chilcotin (a.k.a. Chilcotin-Nicola, Tinneh, Tsilhqot’in)
  • Kwalhioqua-Tlatskanai subgroup
1. Kwalhioqua-Clatskanie (a.k.a. Kwalhioqua-Tlatskanie)
  • Willapa (a.k.a. Willoopah)
  • Suwal-Clatskanie
- Suwal
- Clatskanie (a.k.a. Tlatskanie)
  • Northwestern Canada subgroup
1. Beaver (a.k.a. Tasttine, Dunneza, Gens de Castor)
2. Chipewyan (a.k.a. Dene, Yellowknife, Montagnais, "Northern Indians")
3. Dogrib (a.k.a. Tli Cho, Tłįchǫ or Thlingchadine)
4. Sekani
5. Slavey (a.k.a. Slave, Slavey-Hare-Bearlake-Mountain, Slave-Hare-Bearlake-Mountain, Dine, or Dene)
  • South Slavey (a.k.a. Slavey)
- Slavey (a.k.a. Slavey proper, South Slavey, Southern Slavey)
- Mountain
  • Bearlake-Hare (a.k.a. North Slavey)
- Bearlake
- Hare (a.k.a. Kawchottine)
6. Tahltan (a.k.a. Nahanni or Tahltan-Tagish-Kaska)
  • Tahltan (a.k.a. Nahanni)
  • Kaska (a.k.a. Nahanni, Cassiar)
  • Tagish
  • Sarsi subgroup
1. Sarsi (a.k.a. Sarcee, Tsuu T’ina, or Tsuut’ina)
  • Tsetsaut subgroup
1. Tsetsaut (a.k.a. Ts’ets’aut)
Pacific Coast Athabaskan
  • California Athabaskan subgroup
1. Hupa (a.k.a. Hoopa-Chilula)
  • Hupa
  • Chilula-Whilkut
- Chilula
- Whilkut
2. Mattole-Bear River
  • Mattole
  • Bear River
3. Eel River
  • Sinkyone-Wailaki-Nongatl-Lassik-Cahto
- Sinkyone
- Wailaki
- Nongatl
- Lassik
- Cahto (a.k.a. Kato)
  • Bear River
  • Oregon Athabaskan subgroup
1. Upper Umpqua
2. Rogue River (a.k.a. Tututni or Lower Rogue River)
  • Upper Coquille
- Coquille
- Flores Creek
  • Tututni
- Tututunne
- Mikwunutunne
- Joshua (a.k.a. Chemetunne)
- Sixes
- Pistol River (a.k.a. Chetleshin)
- Wishtenatin (a.k.a. Khwaishtunnetunnne)
  • Euchre Creek
  • Chasta Costa (a.k.a. Illinois River, Chastacosta, Chasta Kosta)
3. Galice-Applegate
  • Galice
  • Applegate (a.k.a. Nabiltse)
4. Tolowa
  • Chetco
  • Smith River
Southern Athabaskan (a.k.a. Apachean)
  • Plains Apache subgroup
1. Plains Apache (a.k.a. Kiowa-Apache, Nai’sha)
  • Western Apachean subgroup
1. Chiricahua-Mescalero
3. Navajo (a.k.a. Navaho, Diné)
4. Western Apache (a.k.a. Coyotero Apache)
  • Dilzhę́’é (a.k.a. Dilzhe’eh, Dilzhe’e, Tonto)
  • White Mountain
  • San Carlos
  • Eastern Apachean subgroup
1. Jicarilla
2. Lipan

Areal list

Below is a list of all of the Athabaskan languages and their geographic locations.

  • Alaska: Ahtna, Deg Hit’an, Dena’ina, Gwich’in, Hän, Holikachuk, Koyukon, Lower Tanana, Tanacross, Tsetsaut, Upper Kushokwin, Upper Tanana
  • Yukon Territory: Gwich'in, Hän, Kaska, Mountain (Slavey), Tagish, Tutchone, Upper Tanana
  • Northwest Territories: Bearlake, Chipewyan, Dogrib, Gwich’in, Hare, Mountain, Slavey
  • Nunavut: Chipewyan
  • British Columbia: Babine, Beaver, Carrier, Chilcotin, Kaska, Nicola, Sekani, Slavey, Tagish, Tahltan, Tsetsaut
  • Alberta: Beaver, Chipewyan, Sarsi, Slavey
  • Saskatchewan: Chipewyan
  • Washington: Chilcotin, Kwalhioqua-Clatskanie (Willapa, Suwal), Nicola
  • Oregon: Galice-Applegate (Galice, Applegate), Kwalhioqua-Clatskanie (Clatskanie), Rogue River (Chasta Costa, Euchre Creek, Tututni, Upper Coquille), Tolowa, Upper Umpqua
  • Northern California: Eel River, Hupa, Mattole-Bear River, Tolowa
  • Utah: Navajo
  • Colorado: Jicarilla, Navajo
  • Arizona: Chiricahua, Navajo, Western Apache
  • New Mexico: Chiricahua, Mescalero, Jicarilla, Lipan, Navajo
  • Texas: Mescalero, Lipan
  • Oklahoma: Chiricahua, Jicarilla, Plains Apache
  • Northwestern Mexico: Chiricahua




A recent reconstruction of proto-Athabaskan consists of 40 consonants (Cook 1981; Krauss & Golla 1981; Krauss & Leer 1981; Cook & Rice 1989), as detailed below:

  Bilabial Alveolar Post-alveolar Palatal Velar Uvular Glottal
central lateral plain labial
Stop unaspirated            
Affricate unaspirated          
Fricative voiceless    


External links


  • Campbell, Lyle. (1997). American Indian languages: The historical linguistics of Native America. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-509427-1.
  • Cook, Eung-Do. (1981). Athabaskan linguistics: Proto-Athapaskan phonology. Annual Review of Anthropology, 10, 253–273.
  • Cook, Eung-Do. (1992). Athabaskan languages. In W. Bright (Eds.), International encyclopedia of linguistics (pp. 122–128). Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-1950-5196-3.
  • Cook, Eung-Do; & Rice, Keren. (1989). Introduction. In E.-D. Cook & K. Rice (Eds.), Athapaskan linguistics: Current perspectives on a language family (pp. 1–61). rends in linguistics, State-of-the-art reports (No. 15). Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter. ISBN 0-8992-5282-6.
  • Hoijer, Harry. (1938). The southern Athapaskan languages. American Anthropologist, 40 (1), 75–87.
  • Hoijer, Harry. (1956). The Chronology of the Athapaskan languages. International Journal of American Linguistics, 22 (4), 219–232.
  • Hoijer, Harry. (1963). The Athapaskan languages. In H. Hoijer (Ed.), Studies in the Athapaskan languages (pp. 1–29). Berkeley: University of California Press.
  • Hoijer, Harry (Ed.). (1963). Studies in the Athapaskan languages. University of California publications in linguistics (No. 29). Berkeley: University of California Press.
  • Hoijer, Harry. (1971). The position of the Apachean languages in the Athpaskan stock. In K. H. Basso & M. E. Opler (Eds.), Apachean culture history and ethnology (pp. 3–6). Anthropological papers of the University of Arizona (No. 21). Tucson: University of Arizona Press.
  • Hymes, Dell H. (1957). A note on Athapaskan glottochronology. International Journal of American Linguistics, 23 (4), 291–297.
  • Krauss, Michael E. (1964). The proto-Athapaskan-Eyak and the problem of Na-Dene, I: The phonology. International Journal of American Linguistics, 30 (2), 118–131.
  • Krauss, Michael E. (1965). The proto-Athapaskan-Eyak and the problem of Na-Dene, II: The morphology. International Journal of American Linguistics, 31 (1), 18–28.
  • Krauss, Michael E. (1968). Noun-classification systems in the Athapaskan, Eyak, Tlingit and Haida verbs. International Journal of American Linguistics, 34 (3), 194–203.
  • Krauss, Michael E. (1969). On the classification in the Athapascan, Eyak, and the Tlingit verb. Baltimore: Waverly Press, Indiana University.
  • Krauss, Michael E. (1973). Na-Dene. In T. A. Sebeok (Ed.), Linguistics in North America (pp. 903–978). Current trends in linguistics (Vol. 10). The Hague: Mouton. (Reprinted as Krauss 1976).
  • Krauss, Michael E. (1976). Na-Dene. In T. A. Sebeok (Ed.), Native languages of the Americas (pp. 283–358). New York: Plenum. (Reprint of Krauss 1973).
  • Krauss, Michael E. (1979). Na-Dene and Eskimo. In L. Campbell & M. Mithun (Eds.), The languages of native America: Historical and comparative assessment. Austin: University of Texas Press.
  • Krauss, Michael E. (1980). On the history and use comparative Athapaskan linguistics. Fairbanks, AL: University of Alaska, Native Language Center.
  • Krauss, Michael E. (1986). Edward Sapir and Athabaskan linguistics. In W. Cowan, M. Foster, & K. Koerner (Eds.), New perspectives in language, culture, and personality (pp. 147–190). Amsterdam: Benjamins.
  • Krauss, Michael E.; & Golla, Victor. (1981). Northern Athapaskan languages. In J. Helm (Ed.), Subarctic (pp. 67–85). Handbook of North American Indians (Vol. 6). Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution.
  • Krauss, Michael E.; & Leer, Jeff. (1981). Athabaskan, Eyak, and Tlingit sonorants. Alaska Native Language Center research papers (No. 5). Fairbanks, AK: University of Alaska, Alaska Native Language Center.
  • Leer, Jeff. (1979). Proto-Athabaskan verb stem variation I: Phonology. Alaska Native Language Center research papers (No. 1). Fairbanks, AK: Alaska Native Language Center.
  • Leer, Jeff. (1982). Navajo and comparative Athabaskan stem list. Fairbanks, AK: University of Alaska, Alaska Native Language Center.
  • Mithun, Marianne. (1999). The languages of Native North America. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-23228-7 (hbk); ISBN 0-521-29875-X.
  • Sapir, Edward. (1915). The Na-Dene languages, a preliminary report. American Anthropologist, 17 (3), 534–558.
  • Sapir, Edward. (1916). Time perspective in aboriginal American culture: A study in method. Anthropology series (No. 13), memoirs of the Canadian Geological Survey 90. Ottawa: Government Printing Bureau.
  • Sapir, Edward. (1931). The concept of phonetic law as tested in primitive languages by Leonard Bloomfield. In S. A. Rice (Ed.), Methods in social science: A case book (pp. 297–306). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Sapir, Edward. (1936). Linguistic evidence suggestive of the northern origin of the Navaho. American Anthropologist, 38 (2), 224–235.
  • Saville-Troike, Muriel. (1985). On variable data and phonetic law: A case from Sapir's Athabaskan correspondences. International Journal of American Linguistics, 51 (4), 572–574.
  • Sturtevant, William C. (Ed.). (1978–present). Handbook of North American Indians (Vol. 1-20). Washington, D. C.: Smithsonian Institution. (Vols. 1–3, 16, 18–20 not yet published).

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