The Status of the Language

The status of Dakelh varies considerably from community to community. At one extreme is Lheidli T'enneh, where there are only a handful of fluent speakers, all of them elderly. A few younger people speak the language less fluently. No one under the age of 45 speaks Lheidli dialect.

Several other communities are similar, though the number of speakers is larger and the age of the younger speakers is a little bit lower. For example, in Saik'uz (Stoney Creek), most people over the age of fifty can speak the language. Many people in their thirties understand the language fairly well, but they cannot speak it. The only exception is a 35-year old who was raised by her grandparents.

The communities in which Dakelh is in the best shape are the remotest communities. In the Tl'azt'en Nation, most people over the age of twenty speak the language, although the younger people often do not speak it very fluently. The same is true of Lhoosk'us (Kluskus), where there are teenagers who speak the language.

Although there are communities like Tache and Lhoosk'us in which the majority of people speak the language, Dakelh is dying everywhere, since even in these communities very few children can speak the language. Where the only speakers of a language are elders, it is obvious that the language is about to die. When there are many speakers, including younger people, it may seem that the language is healthy. However, if the youngest speakers of a language are twenty years old, unless they pass it on to their own children and create a new generation of speakers, the language is just as sure to die as a language spoken only by elders. The only difference is that it will take longer for the language to die because the youngest speakers have longer to live. Seen in this light, Dakelh is on its deathbed everywhere, though the final hour is much closer in some communities than in others.

The situation of Dakelh is not unusual; almost all of the native languages of British Columbia are dying. For further information on the status of the languages of British Columbia, see BC Language Status.

The decline of our native languages is part of a global phenomenon. Throughout the world, the languages of indigenous people are threatened, dying, or dead. In Canada and the United States together 187 native languages are still spoken. Of these, 149 are no longer being learned by children; 80% of the languages are on their deathbed. In Australia, of the 250 aboriginal languages still spoken, 90% are on the verge of extinction. For the world as a whole, it is estimated that of the approximately 6,000 languages now spoken, 3,000 will become extinct in the course of the twenty-first century.

For further information on endangered languages, see the bibliography on endangered languages.

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Yinka Déné Language Institute © 2006