Han Language

This language is spoken by the Hän Hwëch’in people on both sides of the Alaska-Yukon border, in the Dawson city area. The writing system follows the typical Dene system of marking tone and nasalisation, where there can be up to three diacritics per vowel ‹ą̈̀›. Two slightly different versions of this writing system: Alaskan and Yukon. The few differences will be discussed in the table below.

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: haa


The Canadian Census does not individually count Hän speakers. According to Howe and Cook, there are less than 5 in Canada. There are 7 speakers in the United States (U.S. Census)

Yukon Orthography Consonants

  bilabial interdental alveolar alveolar affricate palato-alveolar lateral retroflex palatal velar glottal
lenis stop b ddh d dz j dl dr   g  
fortis stop   tth t ts ch tl tr   k  
ejective stop   tth’ t’ ts’ ch’ tl’ tr’   k’
voiced fricative   dh   z zh   zr   gh  
voiceless fricative   th   s sh ł sr   kh h
voiced nasal m   n              
voiceless nasal     nh              
nasalised stop mb   nd   nj          
voiced resonant w         l r y    
voiceless resonant wh           rh yh    

Yukon Orthography Vowels

  front central back
high i - ii   u - uu
high-mid e - ee ë - ëë o - oo
low-mid   ä - ää  
low   a - aa  


  • The Alaskan orthography is different on a number of accounts.
    • The high-mid central vowel [ɜ] is written ‹ë› in grammatical prefixes, but ‹ö› elsewhere.
    • The voiced resonants are written double at the end of a word, while the voiceless resonant in the same position is written with a single letter. Thus Yukon ‹khay› would be Alaska ‹khayy›.
    • Vowels are written double when at the end of a word.
    • The voiceless resonant /wh/ is written ‹hw› in Alaska.
    • Glottal stops are not written at the end of a word following a syllable with a low tone vowel.
  • The glottal stop ‹’› is not written word initially.
  • Tone is as follows: high tone is unmarked, low tone is indicated by the gràve accent, rising tone is written with a cǎron accent, a falling tone by a cîrcumflex. Tone diacritics can also appear over the letter ‹n›.
  • Nasalised vowels are indicated by a subscript ǫgonek accent.
  • The diphthong ‹ay› is pronounced as if it were ‹äy› [ʌj].
  • The exact status of the vowels /ä/ and /a/ is unclear. One source treats /ä/ as a low front vowel and /a/ as English as a low back vowel, while another source reverses the pronunciations. The positions I have assigned to these vowels in the table above is based on the informal pronunciation guide in Eagle Han Huch’inn Hòdök.
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©2008 Chris Harvey/Languagegeek
Last Modified: 02-Jan-2009