In the Yukon, the Tlingit language is spoken primarily in the communities of Carcross and Teslin. Tlingit is spoken as well by the native people living in the Atlin, B.C. area, and by large numbers of Alaskan natives who live in coastal settlements stretching along the Alaskan panhandle from Yakutat to Ketchikan. In spite of the geographic range of the language there is relatively little dialect diversity and all speakers can understand each other.
Fluent Yukon Tlingit speakers are generally aged 65 and older, although many Tlingit who are in the 50-65 age range do understand a certain amount of the language. No Yukon children are learning Tlingit as a first language.
Tlingit is distantly related to Eyak, an extinct language from the Alaskan coast, and to the Athapaskan family. Tlingit began spreading into the interior perhaps two to three centuries ago. The coastal Tlingit people controlled trade between Europeans and Athapaskans. Trade relationships were reinforced by marriage and the coastal language and culture spread into the interior. The clan system is strongest in those areas closest to the Tlingit. Many southwestern Yukon Athapaskan people are related to Tlingit people. Some Southern Tutchone Elders also speak Tlingit.
Elementary school programs in the Tlingit language are available in Carcross and Teslin. The Teslin program has run for more than twenty-five years. See current Tlingit Language teachers.
Around twenty publications in and on Tlingit are currently available from the Yukon Native Language Centre. These include Language Lesson Booklets and Tapes (versions by Emma Sam, Teslin, by Lucy Wren, Carcross, and by Margaret Bob, Teslin), multimedia Computer Books and corresponding Print Story Books for both Teslin and Carcross school programs, and several reports on literacy workshops. There are three publications by Angela Sidney, one on place names, one on stories, and one on genealogy (see also Tagish). The Alaskan linguist Dr. Jeff Leer has played an important role in the development of YNLC Tlingit publications. He has instructed many literacy sessions in the Yukon. The results of an extensive project with Elizabeth Nyman of Atlin produced Gágiwduł.àt: Brought Forth to Reconfirm: The Legacy of a Taku River Tlingit Clan, an impressive work on the history and geography of the Taku River Tlingit. In the summer of 2001, the Interior Tlingit Noun Dictionary, a joint project between Dr. Leer and Centre staff Doug Hitch and John Ritter, was released. This website now contains significant Tlingit audio material in the form of story books and language lessons.
Click on the Tlingit sentences below to hear them spoken by Emma Sam. They come from the booklet and tape set, Tlingit Language Lessons, Teslin Dialect (1994, p.29). Rest the cursor over the sentence to see the English translation.