Resources | DANE-ZAA ZÁÁGÉʔ (BEAVER LANGUAGE)
We call our language Dane-zaa Záágéʔ, which translates as "people-regular language" in English. It is also known as the Beaver Language, because of the name the Europeans gave our people during the fur trade.
Dane-zaa Záágéʔ is a member of the Athabaskan language family, which is one of the largest in North America. It includes the Navajo language of the American Southwest, Hupa, spoken along the Pacific Coast of California and Oregon, and many languages of Alaska and Canada. Dane-zaa Záágéʔ is closely related to the languages spoken by our neighboring Athabaskan groups, such as Dene Dháh (Alberta Slavey), Sekani, Tsuut'ina (Sarcee), Dene Sųłiné (Chipewyan), and Dene Zā́gé' (Kaska).
Dane-zaa Záágéʔ is spoken at Hanás̱ Saahgéʔ (Doig River), Blueberry, Halfway River, and Prophet River in British Columbia as well as at the Boyer River (Rocky Lane) and Child Lake (Eleske) Reserves in Alberta.
English is now the first language of most Dane-zaa children, and of many adults in our communities. Dane-zaa Záágéʔ was our primary language until our grandparents and parents started to send our children to school in the 1950s. English only became dominant in the 1980s. Because our language is orally based, Dane-zaa Záágéʔ becomes increasingly endangered as our fluent speakers pass away.
Revitalizing Dane-zaa Záágéʔ
One thing lacking right now is, start slowly dying off, is our language.
But we are fighting that. We try to bring it back.
Gerry Attachie, 2005 (DZVMCDV-7-22-05-01)
Documenting our Elders telling stories in Dane-zaa Záágéʔ for this website project is just one of the ways that we are working to preserve our language. Learning how to write it down is another way that we are preserving it.
Alphabetic and syllabic writing systems were developed for Dane-zaa Záágéʔ by early Anglican and Catholic missionaries in the 1800s, but the most systematic orthographic work has been conducted by Marshall and Jean Holdstock. Since 1962, they have worked with Billy Attachie, Sam Acko, and other speakers at Hanás̱ Saahgéʔ (Doig River) to analyze the sound system of our language and develop a writing system for it. With assistance from Wycliff Bible Translators and the Summer Institute of Linguistics, the Holdstocks conducted a Beaver Literacy Project between 1976 and 1994. They worked with our community and produced a Dictionary as well as a number of introductory books.
In 1999 we revived the Beaver Literacy Project to make language materials available for use on computers. With support from NENAS (North East Native Advancing Society), we worked with the Holdstocks to produced An Introduction to Conversational Beaver. This multimedia resource allows students to hear and read our language at the same time.
Our language experts Billy Attachie and Madeline Oker continue to work with our community and linguists such as Dr. Patrick Moore and Julia Miller to document our language and keep it alive. Check out our Dane-zaa Záágéʔ pronunciation guide to learn the sounds used in our alphabet.
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