The Verb System of Tetsot'ine Yatie (Yellowknife): Lutselk'e, Dettah, and Ndilo dialects

Regions: North Slave Region, South Slave Region

Tags: social sciences, aboriginal language, linguistics, phonology

Principal Investigator: Jaker, Alessandro M (10)
Licence Number: 16030
Organization: Alaska Native Language Center
Licenced Year(s): 2017 2016
Issued: Jan 27, 2017

Objective(s): To better understand the verb system of the Chipewyan dialects native to the area north and east of Great Slave Lake.

Project Description: The goal of this project is to better understand the verb system of the Chipewyan dialects native to the area north and east of Great Slave Lake--these dialects are the most different from all other Chipewyan (Dene Suline) dialects, and are referred to (by many speakers) as Tetsot'ine Yatie. These dialects are unique in having lost many intervocalic consonants that are still pronounced in the southern dialects (in Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba), and also show effects of language contact with both Tlicho and North Slavey. From a linguistic perspective, the research team want to understand how losing certain consonants may have affected the complex Dene conjugation system.

Elicitation sessions with the principal investigator’s (PI's) primary informant as well as other Dettah and Ndilo elders will take place at the Goyatiko Language Centre in Dettah. Elders will be recruited by the Executive Director of Goyatiko. The research team will also have one or two youth assistants to sit in on interviews, learn how to use recording equipment, and help to organize and analyze the data. In Lutselk'e, the research team will recruit participants through the community language coordinator.

In verb paradigms in Dene languages, many contrasts in meaning are signaled by vowel length, tone, and/or nasality. These diacritical markings are challenging for speakers to hear and write, but have never been systematically documented. Therefore, this project may ultimately lead to a more consistent spelling which both language learners and language teachers can use. In addition, as part of the project the PI will train youth in Dettah, Ndilo, and Lutselk'e to use recording equipment and language documentation software such as Toolbox, ELAN, and Audacity. That is, the team will learn about verbs in the Chipewyan (Tetsot'ine / Dene Suline) language by working with elders, and will include youth as assistants to help record elders, organize, and analyze the data.

During the month of March 2017, the PI will spend 4 weeks teaching Dene literacy classes, for both Wiiliideh (Tlicho) and Tetsot'ine (Chipewyan) speakers, at Goyatiko Language Centre in Dettah. These classes will rely heavily on the research the PI has done on these local Dene languages over the past 10 years, including the current project. The PI will also give a presentation at the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre entitled "Is the Yellowknife Language Extinct?", which also relates to the current project. The results of this research will be compiled in the form of a verb grammar book, to be published through the Alaska Native Language Center, which will be shared with local communities, and most likely used in future classes. Finally, the PI will continue to meet periodically with the Goyatiko Language Society board of directors, the Akaitcho Territory Government language committee, and the Yellowknives Dene First Nation chief and council, to discuss this and other ongoing work at Goyatiko.

The fieldwork for this study will be conducted from January 27, 2017 to October 31, 2017.