The Northern Tutchone language of Canada

The Northern Tutchone language is spoken in the Yukon territory in Canada. Northern Tutchone is a variation of the Tutchone language, that is divided into Northern Tutchone and Southern Tutchone. Tutchone is an Athabaskan language. Northern Tutchone speakers can be found at Mayo, Carmacks, Stewart Crossing, Beaver Creek and the Pely Crossing, in the northern part of Yukon. Groups of Northern Tutchones also lived at Big Salmon and Fort Selkirk, when fishing was still being carried out along the Yukon River. However, when the river boats stopped being operational, the Northern Tutchones relocated to Pelly and Carmacks.

Alternate names for Northern Tutchone are Selkirk and Masset. As of 2007, the ethnic population of the Northern Tutchones was 1, 100, out of which only 200 people could speak the language. UNESCO classified the language as being definitely endangered. This is because most young people do not want to learn the language, as they would rather learn English. Most Northern Tutchone speakers are the older generation. Northern Tutchone has several dialects. This includes Pelly Crossing dialect, White River dialect, Mayo dialect and Big Salmon dialect.

Efforts have been made to keep the language alive. This includes musical recordings by Jerry Alfred. Thomas Canham, a Church of England missionary, made efforts in the 1890s to document the language. Most of the materials which he worked on are still in manuscript form. He was able to publish a Wood Indian Dictionary in 1898. Thomas was based at Fort Selkirk for several years. Language dictionaries for the Selkirk and Mayo languages were published in the 1970s. John Ritter developed an orthography for Northern Tutchone. He worked with the Yukon Native Language Center. There are more than 20 publications in the Northern Tutchone language, all of which can be found at the Yukon Native Language Center. There are booklets, workshop reports, tapes and computer books, which can be accessed online. A number of school programs have also been put in place in the Northern Yukon territory, so as to help children learn the language. There are also Literacy Workshops, which have been held since 1984, to create more awareness about the language.

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