The Dene-Yeniseian Hypothesis proposes a genetic relationship between the Na-Dene (or Athabascan-Eyak-Tlingit) languages of North America and the Yeniseian languages of Central Siberia.
Edward J. Vajda of Western Washington University developed this hypothesis between 2006 and 2010. In contrast to previous proposals that link Na-Dene with languages of the Old World, Vajda's hypothesis is based on the identification of systematic parallels between Proto-Na-Dene and Yeniseian languages -- a comparison made possible by recent advances in the historical reconstruction of Na-Dene (or AET) languages.
The D-Y hypothesis was publicly examined at a February 2008 symposium in Fairbanks and Anchorage and was favorably received by a number of prominent experts in Na-Dene languages and historical linguistics.
Guest Lecture by Prof. Edward Vajda
Edward J. Vajda (Western Washington University), the author of the historical linguistic study “A Siberian Link to Na-Dene Languages” (2010) will present a public lecture at UAF. The lecture will be at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, March 27, in Schaible Auditorium in the Bunnell Building. (Speech flier PDF)
The Peopling of the Americas and the Dene-Yeniseian Connection
Data from archaeology, human genetics, and linguistics are providing a clearer understanding of how the American continents were first colonized by peoples from Siberia and Asia’s Pacific Rim. Archeological remains, along with patterns in the distribution of human DNA, reveal much about the first peopling of the Americas. Historical-comparative language studies can add a third perspective. While most languages spoken in North Asia today were brought northward by pastoral peoples relatively recently and show no connection to those spoken in the Americas, the Ket language, spoken by a small group of forest hunters in the Yenisei River area of central Siberia, is related to North America's Tlingit, Eyak, and Athabaskan languages -- a family called Na-Dene. Evidence includes systematic correspondences in consonants, vowels, and tones, as well as parallel verb structure. The presentation discusses the role of linguistic fieldwork in uncovering this link and emphasizes what the comparison adds to our understanding of prehistoric migrations across the Bering Strait region.
Dene-Yeniseian journal is available at ANLC
The current issue (Volume 5, New Series) of the Anthropological Papers of the University of Alaska is titled “The Dene-Yeniseian Connection.” It has been republished as a soft-cover book by the Alaska Native Language Center.
This 369-page APUA volume contains the 18 papers from the Feb. 26-29, 2008, symposium in Alaska plus several contributed papers. The editors are James Kari and Ben Potter.
The 67-page lead article by Edward J. Vajda (Western Washington University) presents extensive evidence for Dene-Yeniseian. Accompanying his paper are primary data on Na-Dene historical phonology by Jeff Leer, along with critiques by several linguistic specialists and articles on a range of topics (archaeology, prehistory, ethnogeography, genetics, kinship, folklore) by experts in these fields.
To buy "The Dene-Yeniseian Connection," go to the entry in the Publications catalog. Bookseller inquiries are welcome.
(Note: Vajda’s earlier article “A Siberian Link with Na-Dene Languages” is no longer available in draft form at this website. The revised version appears in the new book.)
• A sheet of errata from the first printing has been prepared. (PDF)
Dene-Yenesian Workshop: March 24, 2012
ANLC hosted a workshop on the Dene-Yeniseian hypothesis on March 24, 2012. Videos of the presentations are available.
- A highly useful basic Dene-Yeniseian reading list by Edward Vajda is now available at Oxford Bibliographies Online.
- Ed Vajda discusses the landscape of Ket country. (PDF)
- Elena Kryukova's paper discusses "The Ket Language: From Descriptive Linguistics to Interdisciplinary Research."
- Jared Diamond. Deep relationships between languages. Nature, vol. 476 (17), 2011, pp. 291-292. Tracing a common ancestry between languages becomes harder as the connection goes further back in time. A new test has revealed a surprisingly ancient relationship between a central Siberian and a North American language family.
- Eric Hamp's response to Jared Diamond's Nature article. (PDF)