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Tahltan Language


Task One: Tahltan Language

The Tałtan language is a south-western dialect of the Dene Language Family. Dene is part of the larger Na-Dene Language. Tałtān remains alive in the Tahltan communities of Iskut, Telegraph Creek and Dease Lake, British Columbia. However, it is an endangered language. In terms of language viability Tałtan has less than 20 native speakers; the majority of the fluent speakers are over the age of 60.

Traditionally Tałtan, like all Na-Dene languages, is an oral language. Oral meaning it is traditionally passed on from one generation to the next solely through verbal communication. It has only been very recently that a Tałtan practical orthography (writing system) has been developed and introduced.

Na-Dene Language Family

The Na-Dene Language family is a Native North American Language that is spoken from as far north, as what is now known, as Alaska, into Canada, the South-eastern United States and Mexico. Na-Dene is considered to be the second largest language group on the North American continent and it includesl the Haida, Tlingit, Eyak and the northern and southern Dene.

Tahltan belongs to the northern Dene. There are at least 21 recognized Dene dialects and many variations within each group. In the Tałtan dialect there are three variations; Iskut, Dease and Telegraph. For more information on the geography of the greater Na-Dene Language refer to map in fig. 1.

Na-Dene Language
Na-Dene Language

Fig 1. The distribution of the Na-Dene Languages throughout North America. Map courtasy of wikapedia.

For a more indepth information on the various Indigenous Language's throughout North America  go to: 

For an indepth look at the Indigenous Languages of British Columbia, Canada go to:

The Importance of a Writing System in Contemporary Tałtan Society

The importance of a writing system as a teaching aid for contemporary Tałtan language programs, courses and lessons is very significant. Over the last century the Tałtan have evolved from an oral tradition to one that is dependent predominantly on the English writing system. Through this process, the younger generations have become accustomed to applying a major emphasis on the visual aspects of formal learning and techniques were developed to accommodate these skills. These techniques include the ability to visualize the written word in the process of learning to read and write.

This adaptation is very useful and in most cases we do it unconsciously. The visualization technique is not only practical in learning to read and write new words in our first language, but it can also be very useful in learning to speak a second language. Therefore, it is very important to understand that learning to read and write in the newly developed Tałtan orthography, would be very beneficial in learning to speak the Tałtan language.

Thus, the first phase of the learning process is dedicated to becoming familiar with the phonetic symbols that represent the Tałtan practical orthography while at the same time, begin building a Tałtan vocabulary.
It is important to note that learning to read and write as a child can take years, but learning to read and write in a second language ussually takes about two (2) weeks to one (1) month depending on how hard you work at it.

Tałtan Language Program
Tahltan Central Government
PO Box 69
Tatl’ah (Dease), BC VOC 1L0
Phone: (250) 771-32274

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