Chipewyan Dënesųłıné

The Dënesųłıné language is spoken in a large territory including northern Manitoba, northern Saskatchewan, north-eastern Alberta, south-eastern North-West Territories, and the south-western edge of Nunavut.

The language has a long history of many competing writing systems, including at least three versions of syllabics, and many Roman orthographies. Today, different regions of the Dëne territory have different standards, some Roman, some Syllabics.

Note: There are several Roman Orthography conventions on this site that may require further explanation. On the charts below, there is lots of phonetic terminology that may not be familiar to everyone.

ISO 639-3 language code: chp


The 2006 Canadian Census (2001 figures in parentheses) indicates 765 (935) Chipewyan speakers, to which would have to be added a portion of the 11,130 (10,585) who are reported as Dene speakers. According to Howe and Cook, there are 15,000.


  bilabial interdental alveolar alveolar affricate lateral palato-alveolar palatal velar velar rounded glottal
voiceless stop b ddh d dz dl j   g   ɂ/ʔ
aspirated stop   tth t ts ch/c   k –/kw  
ejective stop   tth’ t’ ts’ tł’ ch’/c’   k’    
voiced fricative   dh   z       gh –/ghw  
voiceless fricative   th   s ł sh/sy   x/hh   h
nasal m   n              
resonant     r   l   y   w  


  front central back
high ı/i – ıı/ii   u – uu
mid e/(ε,e) – ee/(εε,ee) ë / ɛ o – oo
low   a – aa  


  • Where two versions of the same sound are separated with a slash, the first is NWT, the second is Saskatchewan.
  • There has been some confusion as to the nature of the mid-front vowel /e/. The problem is, that there are three different pronuncations for two underlying vowels. Li’s analysis is used in Saskatchewan, where they write the letter ‹e› for the sound [e], and ‹ε› for the two sounds [ε] and [ǝ]. Cook’s analysis, as employed in the NWT, writes the letter ‹e› for the sounds [e] and [ε], and ‹ë› for [ǝ]. Occasionally, the distinction is ignored altogether, and all three sounds: [e] [ε] [ǝ] are written ‹e›.
  • High tone is á, low tone is unmarked.
  • Nasal vowels are indicated by the ogonek ą
  • In the NWT, the glottal stop /ʔ/ has tall capital ‹Ɂ› and short lowercase ‹ɂ› forms. In Saskatchewan, there is only one symbol, a caseless ‹ʔ›
  • In the NWT, the voiceless velar fricative is written ‹x› while in Saskatchewan it is ‹hh›.
  • In the NWT, the vowel ‹ı› is undotted.
  • Phonetically /l/ and /y/ are classified in the resonants row, but in the language, /l/ is the voiced partner of /ł/, and /y/ is the voiced counterpart of /sh/. There is some variation between /y/ and /zh/.
  • Only very conservative dialects/speakers retain the rounded velar consonants gw, kw, kw’, xw, and ghw. Others write these as gu, ku, etc.
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Last Modified: 26-Aug-2011