About Dena'ina

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The content of this page was developed from the data of Dr. James Kari. The conversion work was undertaken as part of the DATA (Dena'ina Archiving, Training, and Access) project, a 3-year project organized by LINGUIST List in collaboration with the Alaska Native Language Center and funded by the National Science Foundation, under grant OPP-0326805.

The initial audio digitization was funded by the University of Alaska President's Special Projects Fund.


Dena'ina is an Athabascan language spoken in the region of upper Cook Inlet, Alaska. The name 'Dena'ina' means 'the people'; The most common variant spelling for the language is Tanaina (Ethnologue TFN).

Dena'ina is unique among the Northern Athabascan languages for several reasons. Unlike other Athabascan languages, Dena'ina is spoken in a maritime coastal environment, bordered to the north by the mountains of the Alaska Range. Its near neighbors are two Athabascan languages and two Eskimo languages: Ahtna Athabascan to the east; Deg Xinag (Ingalik) Athabascan to the north; Yup'ik Eskimo to the west; and Pacific Coast (Alutiiq) Eskimo to the south. Its relative geographic isolation, as well as its contact with Eskimo, an unrelated language family, has fostered the development of a lexicon and structural features which differ substantially from those of other Athabascan languages.

The four principal dialect groupings are: Upper Inlet (spoken in Matanuska-Susitna valley and Tyonek), Outer Inlet (spoken formerly in Kustatan and on the Kenai peninsula), Iliamna (spoken at Pedro Bay and Iliamna), and Inland (spoken at Nondalton, Stony River and Lime Village). The major dialect division is between Upper Inlet and the other dialects (Kari 1975). Dialect divisions largely reflect contact with neighboring languages.

Like many Athabascan languages, Dena'ina is severely endangered. Although speaker counts vary, some sources report that there are fewer than 75 speakers of Dena'ina left. One of its 4 dialects is already extinct; and Mithun (2001: 348) notes that of the remaining 3 dialects, one has fewer than 20 speakers and the other 2 have no speakers under 60 years of age. However, a number of vigorous community-led revitalization efforts have arisen in recent years, offering hope that this unique Athabascan language can be preserved and renewed in the 21st century.

Follow the path of the Dena'ina Data

  1. Get started: Summary of the Dena'ina conversion
  2. Digitize audio data: Audio pages (Classroom)
  3. Convert characters to Unicode: Conversion page (Classroom)
  4. Align text: Interlinearized glossed text pages (classroom)
  5. Store data: XML pages (classroom)
  6. Render data: Stylesheets pages (classroom)

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