June 6-7, 2016

hosted by the Goyatıkǫ̀ Language Society

Update: Conference schedule available (updated May 2)

Update: Canadian North offers 20% discount on air travel to conference

Update: Selected handouts, presentations, and papers are now available for download.

The Dene Languages Conference is the world's most important annual conference for the study of Dene (Athabascan) languages, bringing together linguists, educators, language learners, and language activists from all parts of Denendeh and beyond. The theme for this year’s conference is “Language and History”. There will also be a special session on “Standardization and Variation”. This year's conference is co-organized by Alex Jaker and Gary Holton (Alaska Native Language Center) and Mary Rose Sundberg (Goyatıkǫ̀ Language Society), and hosted by the Yellowknives Dene First Nation. The conference is sponsored by Canadian North Airlines and the Government of the Northwest Territories, Department of Education, Culture and Employment.

The conference will be held on June 6th and 7th 2016, at the Explorer Hotel, downtown Yellowknife. Meetings will take place in the Katamavik room, with concurrent sessions in Katamavik A and B, and posters and promotional displays in Katamavik C. 

Download a conference flyer, suitable for printing: [pdf]

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Invited Speakers

  • Keren Rice (University of Toronto)
  • Leslie Saxon (University of Victoria)
  • Michael Krauss (Alaska Native Language Center)
  • James Kari (Alaska Native Language Center)

Keynote speaker:

  • Fred Sangris (Yellowknives Dene First Nation)

Conference Theme: Language and History

Language is in many ways a product of history. Language changes over time, and the languages we speak today are the result of many changes accumulated over thousands of years. At the same time, Dene languages are known to be remarkably conservative, particularly in their verb system, where many seemingly irregular or fossilized patterns provide a direct window into the linguistic past. Finally, learning one’s traditional language creates, for many people, a sense of connection with history, with one’s ancestors, and with one’s traditional lands. Please see the call for papers for more information, including a list of suggested topics which fall under the theme of Language and History.

Special Session: Standardization and Variation

Dene languages, with their many complex symbols and diacritical markings, can be quite challenging to write just by ear, and many language workers have expressed a desire for some form of standardized spelling, which learners can just memorize. At the same time, there is a great deal of variation within each language—in forms used in different villages, by different families, by different generations of speakers, and in formal and informal situations. In this context, standardization also runs the risk of suppressing or marginalizing any dialects other than the ‘standard’. We welcome all viewpoints relating to this topic, both for and against standardization, especially from language workers and language teachers, relating their own experiences with literacy and the role of standardization. Please see the call for papers for more information.

Contact Information

Alex Jaker
email: amjaker [at]
tel: (415) 786-3623


We are please to welcome Canadian North Airlines as a Premier Sponsor. As part of this sponsorship Canadian North has generously agreed to offer discounted airfare between Edmonton and Yellowknife for conference participants; please check the travel page for more information.

The Government of the Northwest Territories, Department of Education, Culture, and Employment provided a major grant to cover conference costs. 

Dominion Diamond has provided generous support through its Ekati Plus Community Development Investment Program.

Yellowknifes Dene First Nation is serving as the conference host. 





About the Conference Name

At the 2012 conference in Bellingham it was suggested that the conference name be changed from Athabaskan to Dene, reflecting a preference for the latter term by many conference participants. It is well-known that the name Athabaskan is not an indigenous term (see this site). For the sake of continuity we will continue to list the former name in parentheses during this time of transition.

Future meetings

The 2017 conference will likely be held in the Southwest, in Apache country. 

Want to host a conference? Contact us or bring your suggestions to the next meeting.


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