Gwich’in – The endangered language of Canada

Gwich’in is one of the endangered aboriginal languages spoken in Canada. This is due to the widespread use of English. The Gwich’in language can also be referred to as Kutchin, Dinjii Zhu’ Ginjik, Loucheux, Takadh or Tukudh. Gwich’in falls under the Athabaskan group of families under Northern Athabaskan languages. It is a subdivision of Han-Kutchin languages. Gwich’in has been taught in Chief Zzeh Gittlit School, which is in Old Crow since the 1970s. Gwich’in is mainly spoken in the North West territories of Canada, North East Alaska and in Yukon Canada. In Alaska, it is spoken in Fort Yukon, Birch Creek, Venetie, Circle, Beaver, Eagle, Alaska and Chalkyistic. The people who live in Old Crow refer to themselves as Van Tat-Gwich’in, which means people who live in the midst of lakes.

There are about 300 people who speak the language. Most of these people tend to be elderly though you can find different age groups of people who still speak the language on a regular basis. Only a small percentage of the people can speak the language fluently. The larger majority of speakers have some knowledge of the language but do not fully understand it. The language has various dialects. This includes West Canada Gwich’in, Arctic Red River, Fort Yukon Gwich’in and Arctic Village Gwich’in.

The younger generation are more familiar with the new Gwich’in spelling system that was developed in the 1960s by Richard Mueller, while the older generation are more familiar by the spelling system developed by Archdeacon Robert McDonald in the 1870s. McDonald was a missionary with the Church of England and he translated the bible, book of common prayer and hymnal into the Gwich’in language with the help of the local people. These texts are still currently being used in church by the middle aged and the older generation. Younger people find it hard to read the writings since the spelling system use by McDonald was inconsistent. The new spelling system developed by Mueller was adopted by the Yukon Language Center in the 1970s and is being used to write different Canadian dialects.

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