South Slavey Language

The Dene language (sometimes called Dené Dháh or Dene Zhatıé) is spoken in the south-western North-West Territories, north-western Alberta and north-eastern British Columbia. There are four “Slavey” dialects/languages: South Slavey, Hare, Mountain, and Bear Lake. Usually they are divided into two orthographical groups: South Slavey and North Slavey (a combination of the other three). However, each community could be said to have its own dialect.

The division of Slavey dialects is based largely on the way each one pronounces the old Proto-Athapaskan sounds *dz *ts *ts’ *s and *z.

Proto-Athapaskan South Slavey Bear Lake Hare Mountain
*dz ddh gw gw/b b
*ts tth kw f p
*ts’ tth’ kw’ w’ p’
*s th/dh wh/w w f/v

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: xsl

Syllabics Information


The 2006 Canadian Census (2001 figures in parentheses) indicates 2,310 (2,120) South Slavey 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 3,850 speakers of all Slavey dialects.

Roman Orthography Consonants

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

Roman Orthography: Vowels

  front central back
high ı   u
mid-high ee   o
mid-low e    
low   a  


  • In Alberta, nasal vowels are written with an ‹n›: [ã] is ‹an›. In the nwt nasal vowels are marked with an ogonek: ‹ą›.
  • To distinguish the sounds /an/ from /ãn/, Alberta Slavey uses an underline accent to “de-nasalise” the vowel: /a/ + /n/ is ‹aṉ› — /ã/ is ‹an›.
  • High tone is indicated by an acute accent ‹á›. Low tone is unmarked.
  • In the NWT, the glottal stop ‹ɂ› has tall capital and short lowercase forms.
  • 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/.
  • The sounds /tł/ and /tł’/ can also be found written ‹tl› and ‹tl’›.
  • In the NWT, the ‹ı› is undotted
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Last Modified: 26-Aug-2011