Indigenous languages ​​in Canada (2023)

There are around 70 different indigenous languages ​​in Canada, divided into 12 different language families. While in many places the transmission of languages ​​from one generation to the next has declined, the realization of this has prompted indigenous peoples to strive to revitalize and preserve their languages. (see also Revival of Canada's Indigenous Languages.) Canada, and North America in general, represents a highly complex language area, with numerous languages ​​and a large linguistic diversity. Indigenous languages ​​are widespread and are official languages ​​in the countryNunavutIt is inNorthwest Territories, whileYukonrecognizes the importance of the territory's indigenous languages. On February 5, 2019, the Canadian government submitted the applicationIndigenous Languages ​​Act, which aims to protect and revitalize indigenous languages ​​in Canada.

There are around 70 different indigenous languages ​​in Canada, divided into 12 different language families. While in many places the transmission of languages ​​from one generation to the next has declined, the realization of this has prompted indigenous peoples to strive to revitalize and preserve their languages. (See also Revival of Indigenous Languages ​​in Canada.) Canada, and North America in general, represents a very complex language area with numerous languages ​​and great linguistic diversity. Indigenous languages ​​are widespread in Nunavut and the Northwest Territories and are official languages ​​during the Yukon recognizes the importance of the territory's indigenous languages. On February 5, 2019, the Canadian government introduced the Indigenous Languages ​​Act, which aims to protect and revitalize Indigenous languages ​​in Canada.

Geographic Distribution

The distribution of language families, or languages ​​with a common ancestor, varies widely across Canada. Languages ​​from two families, Algonquian and Iroquois, are traditionally found east ofLago Winnipeg.NOgrasslands, there are speakers of the Algonquian, Siouan, and Dene (Atapasca/Athabasca/Atabascan and Tlingit) languages, while speakers of the Dene, Inuit, and Algonquian languages ​​inhabit theSubarktisch. To the province ofBritish ColumbiaLanguages ​​are also spoken in the Salishan, Tsimshian, Wakashan, Dene (Athapaskan/Athabaskan/Athabascan and Tlingit) and Algonquian families. Related languages ​​can be found in other regions.

The Algonquian, Iroquois, Dene, Siouan, and Salishan languages ​​are also spoken in the United States; and languages ​​closely related to Inuit are spoken in the United States and SiberiaGreenlandThe Dene languages ​​are believed to be related to the Yenisei languages ​​of Siberia.

The concentration of language families in thepacific northwestsuggests that the west is a linguistically ancient area and the most likely staging area for successive south-east migrations of speakers, a view supported byarchaeologicaland ethnological findings. In contrast, Central and Eastern Canada is dominated by the Algonquian family and specifically by two languages,CreemiAnishinaabemowin/Ojibua. This situation indicates that the newer language is spreading in the West.

Language families and language areas

Linguists classify languages ​​into language families or language groups that share a common ancestor and constitute genealogical groups. These classifications are based on shared vocabulary, phonetic correspondences, word structures, and other features of the languages. Families are sometimes divided into larger groups called "stocks". Researchers John Wesley Powell andEdward Sapirinitial assessments made. Sapir influenced the grouping of language families into stocks.

IndigenousLanguages ​​in Canada are generally classified into 12 families. The families listed below have been recognized by linguists for some time. Contemporary linguists are increasingly usingIndigenousNames for languages ​​and made more and more precise classifications into different languages.

The languages ​​listed here are based on the division intoEthnologyand a variety of other sources. It is important to note that the sources do not agree on what counts as a language and what counts as a dialect, nor on names or spellings. In many places, the names of indigenous languages ​​are substitutedEnglishlanguage names. Alternative names and spellings are shown with slashes between names; Dialects are in brackets.


There are many Algonquian languages ​​in the United States and Canada, and there are Algonquian language communities in both countries. Some of these languages ​​in Canada are:

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  • Blackfoot (two dialects: Pikanii, Siksika)
  • Cree(dialects: Plains Cree/Nehiyawewin/ ᓀᐦᐃᔭᐍᐏᐣ, Woods Cree/Nthithawīwin, Moose Cree, Swampy Cree, Northern East Cree, Southern East Cree) and closely related Montagnais (Western Montagnais dialects: Piyekwâkamî, Betsiamites;
  • Oriental Mountains: Innu-Aimûn) Naskapi, Atikamekw/Nēhinawēwin/Nehirâmowin);
  • Delaware (Selection: Munsee)
  • Mi'kmaq, Maliseet-Passamaquoddy
  • Anishinaabemowin/Ojibwe (Dialects: Algonquin, Central, Eastern, Nipissing Algonquin, Northwestern, Odawa, Oji-Cree/Severn Ojibwe, Gafanhotos, Western Grasshoppers), Potawatomi/Neshnabemowen, Western Abenaki

Michifis a Creole based on Cree and French.

In April 2019, aVideovonCape BretonMi'kmaq teenager Emma Stevens sings "Blackbird".Mi'kmaqquickly became known. The cover of the Beatles classic was produced by Emma's teacher Carter Chiasson, translated by teacher Katani Julian and her father Albert "Golydada" Julian, and recorded by Emma and her classmates at Allison Bernard Memorial High Schoolin the housingFirst Nation, Cape Breton. They translated the song into Mi'kmaq to raise awareness of the consequences of the dangerindigenous languagesduring the UN International Year of Indigenous Languages ​​2019. The video went viral and received critical acclaim from public figures including original composer Sir Paul McCartney, as well as a tweet fromPrime Minister of Canada,justin trudeau.

Dene (Athapaskan/Athabaskan/Athabascan + Tlingit)

The Dene languages ​​include those classified as Tlingit and Athapaskan/Athabaskan/Athabascan (often called Dene). Besides Tlingit, the Dene languages ​​spoken in Canada and the United States are:

  • Dane-Zaa/Biber
  • Dakelh/bearers/ᑕᗸᒡ
  • Tsilhqot'in/Chilcotin
  • Witsuwit'en/Babine-Witsuwit'en
  • Dene Su̜ɬiné/Cipewian
  • Slavey del Sur/Dene Zhatié/Dene Dhah
  • Tɬi̜cho̜ Yatìi/Dogrib
  • creak
  • He/Han (ext. Dawson)
  • Tsuut'ina/Sarcee/Sarsi
  • Scanner/Scanner/Scanner
  • Dene / North Slavey (Dialect Bearlake / Déli̜ne, Hare / K'ásho, Mountain / Súhta / Síhta)
  • Tahltan/Tāɬtān
  • Kaska/Danezagé'
  • daily
  • North Tutchone
  • Tutchone do Sul
  • Alto Tanana


Languages ​​of this family are spoken in Canada, the United States, Greenland, and Siberia. Some of these languages ​​in Canada are:

  • Oeste canadense Inuktun (dialetos Siglitun, Inuinnaqtun, Natsilingmiut)
  • Some Canadian Inuktitut (Kivalliq, Aivilik, North Baffin, South Baffin, Nunavik, Nunavut dialects) (S.SimulatorInuktitut)

Haad Kil/Haidaa Kil/Haida (Insel)

Haida is spoken in both Alaska and British Columbia. Dialects in Canada are Skidegate and Masset.


The languages ​​of the Iroquois family are spoken in Canada and the United States. The Cayuga, Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Seneca, and Tuscarora groups make up the Six Nations.

Languages ​​include Cayuga (two dialects), Mohawk (multiple dialects), Oneida, Onondaga, Seneca, Tuscarora, and Wendat.

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Ktunaxa/Kutenai/Kootenai (Aislado)

Ktunaxa is spoken in Canada, with some speakers also in the United States.


Salishan languages ​​are found in Canada and the United States. Some of them include:

  • Nuxalk/Bella Coola
  • Éy7á7juuthem/ʔayʔjuθəm-SaɬuɬtxC(dialects Comox, Slammon, Homalco, Klahoose),
  • Halkomelem (Halq'eméylem, Hul'q'umi'num', Halq'eméylem),
  • semilla de lushoot,
  • SENÖTEN/Saanich/North Straits Salish,
  • St’at’imcets/Lillooet,
  • Okanagan-Colville (various dialects),
  • Schaschishalhem/Sechelt,
  • Secwepemctsin/Shuswap,
  • Squamish/Sqwxwumish/Skwxwu7mesh
  • Straits (various dialects)
  • Nɬeʔkepmxcín/Thompson


There are many different types of Siouan languages, including Nakoda/Stoney, Assiniboine/Nakota, Lakota (Teton), and Dakota/Sioux (Yankton, Santee).


The Tsimshian languages ​​are found primarily in British Columbia, with a few speakers in Alaska. These include Sm'algyax./Coast Tsimshian, Ski:xs/Sgüüx.s/Southern Tsimshian, Gitsenimx./Gitxsan/Gitksan, and Nisga'a/Nishga/Nass.


The Wakashan languages ​​are found in Canada, with some speakers in the United States. These include:

  • Xenaksialak'ala/Haisla
  • Hailhzaqvla/Heiltsuk-Oowekyala (dialetos Heiltsuk/Bella Bella, Oowekyala)
  • anything
  • Nu-chah-nulth/Nootka
  • Diitiidʔaatx/Ditidaht/Nitinat/Nitinaht

There are also speakers of Creole languages ​​or languages ​​formed through contact between speakers of unrelated languages. Chinook Wawa/Jerga Chinookemerged as a commercial language. It combines elements of Chinook, Nuu-chah-nulth and Canadian French.

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In addition to the genealogical groupings described above, languages ​​can also show similarities to one another due to contacts between language speakers. EITHERnorth west coastNorth America has long been recognized as a language area in which the languages ​​are somewhat similar despite belonging to different language families. On the northwest coast of Canada, the languages ​​of the Wakashan and Salishan, Tlingit and Haida families share many features, along with languages ​​of several languages ​​of the United States (Chimakuan, Lower Chinook, Alsea, Siuslaw, Takelma, Kalapuya languages). , Coos, some Athabaskans of the Pacific coast), although genealogically unrelated. For example, the languages ​​of this area have a large number of consonants, and many of them have tones (a difference in meaning can be marked by differences in the tone of a word; for example, in the Dene language Tɬi̜cho̜ Yatiì ( Dogrib),Shemeans "gloves" andthemmeans "hook" - the only difference between them is that "hook" is of lower pitch (marked with a serious accent) than "gloves"). Many present duplicates (St'át'imcets/Lillooet: s-qCI am 'mountain', s-qCam-qCa mountain range'; what worksC'bleed', cíʔ-cʔiʕ'C"Everything bleeds").

language diversity

Indigenous languages ​​in Canada show great diversity in their structures. In terms of sounds, they range from a very small number to a large number of sounds. Cayuga (Iroquois family) has a small number of distinct sounds with 10 consonants and six vowels. Nishnaabemwin, a variety ofAnishinaabemowin/Ojibua, has about 18 consonants, three short vowels and four long vowels. At the other extreme is Witsuwit'en, a Dene language, with 35 consonants and six vowels. Lilloet/St'át'imcets/Lil'wat (Salishan family) has 44 consonants and eight vowels; and Oowekyala (Wakashan family) has 45 consonants, four simple vowels, three glottalized vowels, and three long vowels.

Words in many indigenous languages ​​tend to be complex, often expressing in a single word what is common in languages ​​such asEnglishmiFrench.These languages ​​are often referred to as polysynthetic, where words are made up of several significant parts. Examples ofInuktitut(South Baffin variety) and Nuu-chah-nulth (Wakashan family) exemplify this. Significant parts (morphemes) are separated by hyphens in the words shown here, including translations of these morphemes.

Inuktitut (South Baffin type)

  • taqa-ju-mmari-alu-u-junga
  • fatigue-participle-really-the-same-being-1 person singular participle
  • 'I'm very tired'


  • ʔaapinis-ʔʔiiʃ-ʔaɬ
  • apple-consumption-want-3 Subject Person. Plural indicative mood
  • "You want to eat apples"

Many indigenous languages ​​mark distinctions not found in languages ​​like English and French. For example, Passamaquoddy-Maliseet (Algonquian) and other Algonquian languages ​​distinguish two types of first-person plural, one called inclusive and one called exclusive. The inclusive includes the speaker and the listener (we, you and I, leave tomorrow morning), while the exclusive does not include the listener (we, my family, and you are not part of my family, we leave tomorrow morning). . Passamaquoddy-Malisee uses the pronounNilunfor the inclusive and the pronounKillunfor the exclusive

The Algonquian languages ​​also have two classes of nouns called animate and inanimate. The Blackfoot examples show animate and inanimate nouns. The singular and plural suffixes used depend on whether the noun is animate or inanimate:

unique animation

animated plural







let's go

'lines' (plural)


'the one' (animated)

em oms

'the' (animated)

uniquely inanimate

unbelebter Plural

It is what it is








when in

'it' (inanimate)


'the' (inanimate)

In Dakelh/Carrier (Dene family) the form of the numbers differs depending on what is being counted. This is illustrated for numbers two and three:










do not eat





that's it


compared to

Many languages ​​have what are called classification verbs, with different verb stems depending on the type of object involved. The Dene languages ​​are known for this. The following elements are called verb stems in Witsuwit'en (Denefamily). These forms do not represent complete words:

singular object

plural objects

cheer (live)



animate (dead, comatose)


- Ö

like cloth (unfolded)















compact, abstract, eat


- Ö

like a rope

- Ö

- Ö



- Ö

deep container


- Ö

Satin tank

- Wo

-le, -qat

Many indigenous languages ​​have suffixes indicating agent control. The following examples are from Halkomelem, a Salishan language, where the suffix- blessingsindicates that the action is knee-jerk and random or uncontrolled.


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  • q'waqw-aθet 'I of the club'
  • Reflexionsclub
  • q'waqw-namət 'Autoclub viewable'
  • Club limited reflection control

Some languages ​​have words that indicate varying degrees of proximity, as in Blackfoot (Algonquin):


Proximity to the speaker but not to the addressee.


Proximity neither to the speaker nor to the addressee

once again

Proximity of the speaker and proximity or familiarity with the addressee


Proximity or familiarity with the addressee but not proximity with the speaker


Proximity and familiarity with the speaker

Many languages ​​have words expressing the type of evidence on which an assertion is based, known as evidence. Gitksan, a Tsimshian language, has several of these:

direct evidence observed by the speaker


sorry John

'John prepares (processes, cleans, smokes, preserves) fish.'

indirect evidence (hearing)


Thanks John

'I heard that John eats fish.'

indirect evidence based on knowledge of what usually happens


sihon-ima-t Johannes

'John can/should eat fish.'

The variety and variety of indigenous languages ​​in Canada helps to understand how the languages ​​can be similar and how they can differ.


Languages ​​often have many varieties or dialects, and Canada's indigenous languages ​​are no exception. Many of these languages ​​have multiple dialects that are more or less mutually intelligible, especially when the language is spread over a large area. For example,CreeIt is considered a single language with eight or more variants spoken in dozens of communitiesreservationsvonRocky Mountainsdeep insideQuebecmiLabrador;miAnishinaabemowin/Ojibua, with several dialect variants, is found in many communities in central Canada.

Although not all varieties of a language are understood by all speakers, linguistic features identify varieties as a single language. When speakers of one language rarely use that language to communicate with speakers of a related language variant, mutual intelligibility can decrease and the dialects are recognized as different languages ​​rather than different variants of a single language.

Some of the languages ​​and dialects have very few native speakers, and some have no known speakers. In many communities, people are working with materials written in and about the language to restore it.

indigenous sign languages

Indigenous languages ​​in Canada (1)

In addition to the spoken word, some indigenous cultures have historically used sign languages ​​to communicate. Although indigenous sign languages ​​are known to only a small number of people, American Sign Language and Quebec Sign Language have largely replaced indigenous sign languages ​​in Canada (see also deaf culture). Efforts are being made in various indigenous communities to revitalize these lost communication systems.

Did you know?
The Urban Society for Aboriginal Youth (USAY) has partnered with an augmented and virtual reality company called Mammoth to create Thunder VR, an immersive appblack footLanguage preservation and culture learning tool. The virtual reality game based on a Blackfoot graphic novel calledDonner, tells the old Blackfoot tale of a man who loses his wife and must travel a great distance to challenge the Spirit of Thunder (Ksistsikoom) to win her back.Donnerwas developed by USAY Youth andPricesold man Randy Bottle (Saakokoto). Narrated by Saakokoto, the high-tech game aims to teach a new generation of students the endangered language of the Blackfeet and has been described as a "mixture" of lore and technology. USAY and Mammoth, two Calgary-based organizations, have received funding from the Canadian government and plan to bring Thunder VR along with 27 Oculus Go headsets to Calgary schools in Fall 2019. Thunder VR is available for free download on Oculus Go.

speech revitalization

Many Indigenous languages ​​in Canada are endangered due to a history of restrictive colonial policies such as thatshe indian miresidential schoolswhich forbade the speaking of these mother tongues. 2016,Statistics Canadareported that there are only about 500 or fewer speakers for about 40 indigenous languages ​​in Canada. Indigenous communities and various educational institutions have taken steps to prevent further language loss and preserve indigenous languages. (see also Revival of Canada's Indigenous Languages.)

In an effort to ensure government protection for indigenous languages ​​in Canada, the Prime Ministerjustin trudeauannounced at a meetingFirst Nations gathering(AFN) on December 6, 2016 that his government will introduce legislation to preserve these endangered languages. On February 5, 2019, the Canadian government submitted the applicationIndigenous Languages ​​Act, which aims to protect and revitalize indigenous languages ​​in Canada.

(Video) Why Indigenous Languages Matter and What We Can Do to Save Them | Lindsay Morcom | TEDxQueensU

On April 7, 2022, the Nova Scotia government submitted the applicationMi'kmaw Language Law. This legislation enshrines the Mi'kmaq language as the first language of the province. It also supports efforts to protect and revitalize the language. The law is seen as a step towards reconciliation. comes into force onday of contract, October 1.


1. How the Canadian government is working to revive Indigenous languages
(Breakfast Television)
2. Voices on the Rise: Indigenous Language Revitalization in Alberta - Episode 1
3. This MP wants Indigenous languages to be official in Canada | Your Morning
(CTV Your Morning)
4. Can Canada Save Indigenous Languages from Extinction? | The Agenda
(The Agenda | TVO Today)
5. Five ideas to support Indigenous language revitalization in Canada
6. Lindsay Morcom: A history of Indigenous languages -- and how to revitalize them | TED


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