Slavey is an Athabaskan language spoken among the Slavey and Sahtu people of Canada in the Northwest Territories where it also has official status. The language is written using Canadian Aboriginal syllabics or the Latin script.
North Slavey and South SlaveyNorth Slavey is spoken by the Sahtu people in the Mackenzie District along the middle Mackenzie River from Tulita north, around Great Bear Lake, and in the Mackenzie Mountains of the Canadian territory of Northwest Territories. The dialect has around 800 speakers.
Northern Slavey is an amalgamation of three separate dialects:
- ᑲᑊᗱᑯᑎᑊᓀ K’áshogot’ıné
- ᓴᑋᕲᒼᑯᑎᑊᓀ Sahtúgot’ıné
- ᗰᑋᑯᑎᑊᓀ Shıhgot’ıne
Some communities are bilingual, with the children learning Slavey at home and English when they enter school. Still other communities are monolingual in Slavey The dialect has around 1000 speakers.
Alternate names: Slavi, Slave, Dené, Mackenzian
The division of Slavey dialects is based largely on the way each one pronounces the old Proto-Athapaskan sounds *dz *ts *ts’ *s and *z.
ConsonantsThe consonant inventories in the dialects of Slavey differ considerably. The table above lists the 30 consonants common to most or all varieties. Hare lacks aspirated affricates, which have lenited into fricatives, whereas Mountain lacks . In addition, for some speakers of Hare, an alveolar flap has developed into a separate phoneme.
The most pronounced difference is however the realization of a series of consonants that varies greatly in their place of articulation:
|Voiced fricative / semivowel|
In Slavey proper, these are dental affricates and fricatives; comparative Athabaskan work reveals this to be the oldest sound value. Mountain has labials, with the voiceless stop coinciding with pre-existing. Bearlake has labialized velars, but has lenited the voiced fricative to coincide with pre-existing. The most complicated situation is found in Hare, where the plain stop is a labialized velar, the ejective member is replaced by a sequence, the aspirated affricate has turned into a fricative, and both the voiceless and voiced fricatives have been lenited to.
Phonological processesThe following phonological and phonetic statements apply to all four dialects of Slavey.
- Unaspirated obstruents are either voiceless or weakly voiced, e.g.
- * → or
- Aspirated obstruents are strongly aspirated.
- Ejectives are strongly ejective.
- When occurring between vowels, ejectives are often voiced, e.g.
- * → or
- is usually strongly velarized, i.e..
- Velar obstruents are palatalized before front vowels, e.g.
- * →
- * →
- * →
- Velar fricatives may be labialized before round vowels.
- * The voiceless fricative is usually labialized, e.g.
- ** →
- * The voiced fricative is optionally labialized and may additionally be defricated e.g.
- ** → or or
- Velar stops are also labialized before round vowels. These labialized velars are not as heavily rounded as labial velars, e.g.
- * →
- * →
- Lateral affricates are generally alveolar, but sometimes velar, i.e.
- * → or
- * → or
- * → or
- may be velar or glottal, i.e.
- * → or
- ə or
- nasal vowels are marked with an ogonek accent, e.g.
- South Slavey does not have the vowel.
Tones are both lexical and grammatical.
Lexical: 'along' vs. 'rabbit'
Syllable structureSlavey morphemes have underlying syllable structures in the stems: CV, CVC, CVnC, V, and VC. The prefixes of the stem occur as Cv, CVC, VC, CV, and C.
|Stem structure||Example||English gloss|
|Prefix structure||Example||English gloss|
|VC||ah-||second-person singular subject|
MorphologySlavey, like many Athabascan languages, has a very specific morpheme order in the verb in which the stem must come last. The morpheme order is shown in the following chart.
|Position 00||Object of incorporated postposition|
|Position 0||Incorporated postposition|
|Position 4||Incorporated stem|
|Position 6||Direct Object|
A Slavey verb must minimally have positions 13 and 14 to be proper. Here are some examples:
Person, number and gender
GenderSlavey marks gender by means of prefixation on the verb theme. There are three different genders, one of which is unmarked; the other two are marked by prefixes ' and '. However, only certain verb themes allow gender prefixes.
' is used for nouns which mark location in either time or space. The gender pronoun can be a direct object, an oblique object or a possessor. Here are examples of each:
- kú̜e̒ godetl’e̒h
“S/he is painting the house"
- ko̜̒e̒ gocha
“in the shelter of the house"
- ko̜̒e̒ godeshi̜te̒ee
“floor of the house"
Some examples of these areal nouns are house, land, river, and winder.
' marks wood, leaves and branches. This gender is optional: some speakers use it and others do not. Examples of its use are as follows:
- Tse de̜la
“wood is located"
- ʔo̜̒k’ay t’oge de̒ʔo̜
“A bird’s nest is located"
- Tse ts’edehdla̒
“S/he is splitting wood"
NumberSlavey marks number in the subject prefixes in position 12. The dual is marked by the prefix łe̒h- /łe- /le-.
The plural is marked with the prefix go-.
PersonSlavey has first, second, third, and fourth person. When in position 12, acting as a subject, first-person singular is /h-/, second-person singular is /ne-/, first-person dual/plural is /i̒d-/, and second person plural is marked by /ah-/. Third person is not marked in this position
When occurring as a direct or indirect object, the pronoun prefixes change and fourth person becomes relevant.
First-person singular takes se-.
Second-person singular takes ne-
Third person is marked by be-/me-
Fourth person is marked by ye-
ClassificationLike most Athabaskan languages, Slavey has a multitude of classifications. There are five basic categories that describe the nature of an object. Some of these categories are broken up further.
|Class||Description||Locative prefix||Active Prefix||Examples|
|1a||One dimensional slender, rigid and elongated objects||Ø-to||∅-tí͔,-tǫ, -tǫ́||gun, canoe, pencil|
|1b||One directions flexible objects, ropelike; plurals||∅-ɫa||∅-ɫee, -ɫa, -ɫee||thread, snowshoes, rope|
|2a||two dimensional flexible||h-chú||h-chuh, -chú, -chu||open blanket, open tent, paper|
|2b||Two dimensional rigid objects||N/A||N/A||no specific lexical item|
|3||Solid roundish objects; chunky objects||∅-ʔǫ||∅-ʔáh, -ʔǫ, -ʔá||ball, rock, stove, loaf of bread|
|4a||Small containerful||∅-kǫ||∅-káh, -kǫ, -kah||pot of coffee, puppies in a basket, cup of tea|
|4b||Large containerful||h-tǫ||h-tí͔h, -tǫ, tǫ́||full gas tank, bucket of water, bag of flour|
|5||Animate||∅-tí͔||∅-téh, -tí͔, -té, h-téh, -tį||Any living thing|
"A clothlike object is in the water"
Tense and aspect
TenseSlavey has only one structural tense: future. Other tenses can be indicated periphrastically.
An immediate future can be formed by de- inceptive in position 9 plus y-
“s/he is just ready to go"
“it is just starting to heal"
AspectSlavey has two semantic aspects: perfective and imperfective.
Perfective is represented in position 11.
"S/he started off."
- whá goyįdee
"S/he talked for a long time."
The perfective can also be used with a past tense marker to indicate that at the point of reference, which is sometime in the past, the event was completed
- Kǫ́e gohtsį
“He had built a house"
Imperfective indicates that the reference time precedes the end of the event time.
“s/he sing, s/he is singing"
- Kǫ́e gohtsį begháyeyidá
“I saw him building a house"
Word orderSlavey is a verb-final language. The basic word order is SOV.
- Dene ?elá thehtsi̜̒
"The man made the boat"
- tli̜ ts’ǫ̀dani káyi̜̒ta
"The dog bit the child"
Oblique objects precede the Direct object.
- T’eere denǫ gha ?erákee?ee wihsi̜
"The girl made a parka for her mother."
CaseSlavey has no case markings. To differentiate between subject, direct object, and oblique objects, word order is used. The subject will be the first noun phrase, and the direct object will occur right before the verb. The oblique objects are controlled by postpositions.Possessive pronoun prefixes are found in Slavey. These pronouns have the same forms as the direct and oblique object pronouns. The prefixes are listed below with examples.
''se-'' first-person singular
''ne-'' second-person singular
''be-/me-'' third-person singular
- melįé nátla
“His/her dog is fast."
- bekée whihtsį
“I made his/her slippers."
''ye-'' fourth person
- yekée whehtsį
“S/he made his/her slippers."
''ʔe-'' unspecified possessor
''naxe-/raxe-'' first-person plural, second-person plural.
''ku-/ki-/go-'' third-person plural
- kulí̜é rała
“Their dog is fast."
- goyúé k'enáʔeniihtse
“I washed their clothes."
ConjunctionsThere are both coordinating and subordinating conjunctions in Slavey.
''gots'éh'' "and, and then"
- tse tádiihtth į gots'ę goyíi naehddhí
“I cut some wood and then I warmed myself up inside."
- dene ʔéhdá jíye kanįwę gots'ę ʔéhdá daʔuʔa
“Some people will pick berries and some will fish."
''kúlú, kólí, kúú, kóó, ékóó, góa'' “but"
- ʔekó͔ náohtlah nehthę góa nehji
“I want to go there but I'm afraid."
- sine ts'ó͔dane gogháiidá kúlú dedine gołį ʔajá
“I was supposed to watch the children but he did it instead."
''ʔenįdé, nįdé, ndé, néh'' “if, when, whenever"
- ʔįts'é gehk'é nįdé segha máhsi
“If they shoot a moose, I'll be grateful."
- dora bekwí ohts'í nįwę nįdé yehts'í
“Whenever Dora wants to comb my hair, she combs it."
- shuruhté were selejée daderéʔ o͔ ʔagúlá
“Before I went to bed, I filled to woodbox."
''-ts'ę'' “since, from"
- segó͔łį gots'ę jo͔ deneilé
“I lived here since I was born."
-''hé'' “because, so"
- se wehse yihé godihk'o͔ yíle2
“Because the wood is wet, I can't make fire."
Relative clausesThere are three important parts to a relative clause. There is the head, which is the noun that is modified or delimited. The second part is the restricting sentence. The sentence modifies the head noun. The last part is the complementizer.
- ʔeyi goyidee I híshá
“the man whom I talked to is tall."
- lį gah hedéhfe I gháyeyidá
“I saw the dog that chased the rabbit."
StatusNorth and South Slavey are recognized as official languages of the Northwest Territories; they may be used in court and in debates and proceedings of the Northwest Territories legislature. However, unlike English and French, the government only publishes laws and documents in North and South Slavey if the legislature requests it, and these documents are not authoritative.
In 2015, a Slavey woman named Andrea Heron challenged the territorial government over its refusal to permit the ʔ character, representing the Slavey glottal stop, in her daughter's name, Sakaeʔah, despite Slavey languages being official in the NWT. The territory argued that territorial and federal identity documents were unable to accommodate the character. Heron had registered the name with a hyphen instead of the ʔ when her daughter was born, but when Sakaeʔah was 6, Ms. Heron joined a challenge by a Chipewyan woman named Shene Catholique-Valpy regarding the same character in her own daughter's name, Sahaiʔa.
Also in 2015, the University of Victoria launched a language revitalization program in the NWT, pairing learners of indigenous languages including Slavey with fluent speakers. The program requires 100 hours of conversation with the mentor with no English allowed, as well as sessions with instructors in Fort Providence.