Edward J. Vajda

in Linguistics

ISBN: 9780199772810
Published online October 2011 | | DOI:

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Dene-Yeniseian is a historical-comparative linguistic hypothesis that claims a genealogical relationship between the North American language family Na-Dene and the Yeniseian family of central Siberia. If fully demonstrated, it would constitute the first established language link between an Old World family and one spoken by North America’s First Peoples, placing it alongside Eskimo-Aleut, which is more obviously found on both sides of the Bering Strait. Na-Dene consists of the still widespread Athabaskan (Dene) family, which contains over forty languages; the Tlingit language of Alaska’s Panhandle; and the recently extinct Eyak, once spoken in the region of Yakutat to Cordova, Alaska. Tlingit and Eyak-Athabaskan are the two primary branches of this family. The inclusion of Haida in Na-Dene remains controversial, and in any event, work on the Dene-Yeniseian hypothesis has not uncovered any new potential evidence that Haida is related to Yeniseian. The Yeniseian family in the early 21st century is represented by the critically endangered Ket language, spoken in three closely related dialects by fewer than one hundred elderly speakers out of an estimated twelve hundred ethnic Ket people, most of whom live in small riverside villages in extremely isolated areas of Turukhansk province. The Ket and their extinct relatives—the Yugh, Kott, Assan, Arin, and Pumpokol—formerly lived much farther south along the Yenisei and its tributaries, and substrate river names of Yeniseian origin suggest that these tribes once inhabited an area from north-central Mongolia westward to the Altai Mountains and north to the Angara on the southeastern tip of Lake Baikal, with hydronymic evidence of some Yeniseian dialects at least as far west as the Ob-Irtysh watershed.

Article.  5250 words. 

Subjects: Linguistics ; Anthropological Linguistics ; Language Families ; Psycholinguistics ; Sociolinguistics

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