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THE SLAVEY LANGUAGE

The Slavey language is listed as one of the eight official languages of the Northwest Territories. However, there are two standard dialects of Slavey – South and North Slavey. South Slavey is the primary dialect in the Deh Cho region and North Slavey is predominant in the Sahtu region. There are also localized sub-dialects in each region. Dialects of Slavey are also spoken in parts of northern Alberta and British Columbia.

South Slavey
According to the Canada Census, there were approximately 2400 mother tongue speakers of the South Slavey language in Canada in 1996. The majority of these speakers live in the Deh Cho region.

South Slavey is one of the stronger languages in the NWT. Although the home language to mother tongue ratio dropped between 1986 and 1996, the 1996 Census notes that 59% of those people who learned South Slavey as a first language still speak it regularly at home.

However, according to statistics from the Language Report (1992), decline in language use is occurring rapidly among the three living generations, with the most significant decline occurring between parents and children. For this report, one hundred and ninety three (193) people in the communities of Dene text image 1 (Fort Liard), Dene text image 2 (Fort Providence), Dene text image 3 (Fort Simpson), and Dene text image 4 (Hay River Reserve) were interviewed. Of this group:

  • all of the respondents over the age of 45 were fluent in their language;
  • 70% of the respondents between the ages of 25 to 44 were also fluent; and
  • slightly over 20% of the respondents under the age of 25 were fluent.

This data indicates that fluency has dropped from 100% among the grandparents to 20% among the grandchildren. Again, most of this drop has occurred between parents (70% fluency) and their children (20%) fluency. With a high fluency rate among middle-aged adults, there is good potential for retention and revitalization within families. But if this decline continues, very few of the young people today will have a language to share with their own children in the future.

The Deh Cho benefits from having only one indigenous Aboriginal language. Slavey people are still a majority in this region and, through land claims and self-government processes, may have the authority and resources to support language retention and revitalization initiatives.

The Deh Cho Language Plan proposes a language revitalization strategy that incorporates the following key elements.

  • Active involvement of elders in all language and cultural initiatives.
  • Integration of language, cultural, and healing initiatives.
  • Language nests for pre-schooler and their parents.
  • Language promotion, particularly among young parents.
  • Establishment of a Deh Cho Cultural and Language Institute to coordinate and support all language activities.
  • Development of Slavey language radio and television broadcast facilities.

chart - South Slavery Language Fluency


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