Dakelh (ᑕᗸᒡ)

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Language Family: Dene (Athabaskan)

Language known as: Carrier , les Porteurs, Takulie, Takelne, Dakelhne

Dakelh is spoken in the central interior of British Columbia. Dakelh territory includes the area along the Fraser River from north of Prince George to south of Quesnel, the Nechako Valley, the areas around Stuart Lake, Trembleur Lake, and Fraser Lake, and the region along the West Road and Blackwater Rivers, west to the Coast Range, including the Kluskus Lakes, Ootsa Lake and Cheslatta Lake. Prince George, Vanderhoof, Fort Saint James, Fraser Lake and Quesnel are in Dakelh territory.

Carrier people refer to themselves as Dakelh. This may be singular or plural. In some dialects, it has the optional plural form Dakelhne. In English, the language is referred to as Dakelh. In Dakelh, the language may be referred to either as Dakelh or by means of a compound with the word for language: dakelhghuni (Nak'albun/Dzinghubun dialect), Dakelhghunik (Stellako dialect), Dakelhghunek (all other dialects). However, the noun is not often used, since in Dakelh one does not say "to speak such and such a language" but rather "to speak in the manner of such and such people". Thus, "He speaks French" is Soo nedo k'un'a yalhduk (Nak'albun/Dzinghubun dialect), literally "he speaks in the manner of French people".

The usual English name Carrier is a translation of the Sekani name for Dakelh people, Aghele. This term is said to be derived from the fact that when a Dakelh man died and had been cremated, his widow would pack around his bones and ashes during the period of mourning. The reason that the English term comes from the Sekani name is that the first Europeans to enter Dakelh territory, members of the Northwest Company party led by Alexander MacKenzie in 1793, passed through Sekani territory before they entered Dakelh territory and so learned about Dakelh people from the Sekani. Furthermore, Sekani people played an important role in the early period of contact between the fur traders and Dakelh people because some Sekani people could speak both Dakelh and Cree and served as interpreters between the fur traders and Dakelh people.

In French Dakelh people are referred to as les Porteurs, which means the same thing as English Carrier and has the same origin. The language is therefore sometimes referred to as Porteur.

Another term sometimes found in older literature is Taculli, with variant spellings such as Takulie. This is a garbled version of Dakelh. Another variant is Takelne. This is a bastardized version of the word Dakelhne "Carrier people" in the writing system used by Father Adrien-Gabriel Morice in his scholarly writing.

The earliest English name for Dakelh is Nagailer, used by the explorer Alexander MacKenzie in his Journal.1

State of the Language


The status of Dakelh varies considerably from community to community. At one extreme is Lheidli T'enneh, where there are only a handful of fluent speakers, all of them elderly. A few younger people speak the language less fluently. No one under the age of 45 speaks Lheidli dialect.

Several other communities are similar, though the number of speakers is larger and the age of the younger speakers is a little bit lower. For example, in Saik'uz (Stoney Creek), most people over the age of fifty can speak the language. Many people in their thirties understand the language fairly well, but they cannot speak it. The only exception is a 35-year old who was raised by her grandparents.

The communities in which Dakelh is in the best shape are the remotest communities. In the Tl'azt'en Nation, most people over the age of twenty speak the language, although the younger people often do not speak it very fluently. The same is true of Lhoosk'us (Kluskus), where there are teenagers who speak the language.

Although there are communities like Tache and Lhoosk'us in which the majority of people speak the language, Dakelh is dying everywhere, since even in these communities very few children can speak the language. Where the only speakers of a language are elders, it is obvious that the language is about to die. When there are many speakers, including younger people, it may seem that the language is healthy. However, if the youngest speakers of a language are twenty years old, unless they pass it on to their own children and create a new generation of speakers, the language is just as sure to die as a language spoken only by elders. The only difference is that it will take longer for the language to die because the youngest speakers have longer to live. Seen in this light, Dakelh is on its deathbed everywhere, though the final hour is much closer in some communities than in others.2

First Nation Population Fluent Speakers Understand or Speak Somewhat Learning Speakers
Lheidli T'enneh Band338062010
Lhoosk'uz Dene Nation1994unknownunknownunknown
Lhtako Dene Nation510185550220
Nadleh Whut'en6419111413
Nak'azdli Band71852192501150
Nazko First Nation8361232511
Saik'uz First Nation91000503080
Stellat'en First Nation6399181635
Takla Lake First Nation66571001000
Tl’azt’en Nation 10165015325757
Ts'il Kaz Koh (Burns Lake)610471220
Ulkatchot'en119482527530
Wet'suwet'en First Nation6213101088
Yekooche First Nation12350307050
Total95506801380764
Footnotes / References