SHI to sponsor lecture on the Dene Languages and the Place of Tlingit in Na-Dene

SHI to sponsor lecture on the Dene Languages and the Place of Tlingit in Na-Dene

Posted By:
Kathy Dye
Kathy Dye
Published On: January 28th, 2021

Free event to be offered virtually

Jan. 28, 2021

(About the Lecturer) (Flyer)

Sealaska Heritage Institute (SHI) will sponsor a free lecture this Tuesday on the Dene languages and the place of Tlingit in Na-Dene.

The lecture, Tlingit and the Dene-Yeniseian Hypothesis, will be given by Dr. Edward Vajda, professor at Western Washington University.

In his talk, Dr. Vajda will give an overview of the Dene-Yeniseian hypothesis, with particular emphasis on Tlingit comparative data from within the Na-Dene family. He will first summarize the morphological evidence supporting a Dene-Yeniseian language family. He will also explore a partly homologous finite verb template and a shared rule for deriving action nominals from it, as well as a shared formula for expressing possession, building postpositional constructions and deriving directional words and demonstrative pronouns. He will also describe the derivational morphology of adjectives.

Because the phonological forms of basic verb, adjective and noun roots in each language have often been altered by fusion with derivational and grammatical affixes, this description of shared morphological structures represents an essential prerequisite to identifying cognates in basic vocabulary that link the two families. A discussion of Dene-Yeniseian sound correspondences and lexical cognates will follow, he wrote.

“Some of these have been uncovered thanks to new insights into morphophonemic patterns that interact with the sound correspondences shared by the two families. In the  last part of the lecture, I will present relevant parallel evidence from human genetics and archaeology in order to locate Dene-Yeniseian origins in place and time,” he wrote.

The talk, which is scheduled at noon on Tuesday, Feb. 2, is part of a lecture series this month that explores the origins and earliest presence of Indigenous populations and cultures in Southeast Alaska from traditional knowledge and various scientific perspectives.

All lectures will be livestreamed at 12 pm Alaska time on SHI’s YouTube channel, and available for viewing on YouTube any time after the livestream (no account required).

This program is provided under the Preparing Indigenous Teachers and Administrators for Alaska Schools (PITAAS) program and funded by the Alaska Native Education Program. The series is also offered as a one-credit course through the University of Alaska Southeast. Contact for more information.  

About the Lecturer

Edward Vajda has been on the faculty of Western Washington University’s Department of Modern and Classical Languages in Bellingham, Washington since 1987. He teaches courses in introductory linguistics, morphology, historical linguistics, Russian language, culture and folklore, and Inner and Northern Eurasia’s indigenous peoples. His research focuses on the languages of Northern Asia and includes original fieldwork with Ket, a language spoken by fewer than 50 people in the remote Yenisei River basin. From 2005 to 2015, he was affiliated with the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology (Leipzig, Germany), where in August 2006 he proposed evidence of a genealogical connection between Yeniseian, the language family to which Ket belongs, and the Na-Dene family of North America, the first widely accepted linguistic link between an Old World and a New World language family. He received his university’s Excellence of Teaching Award in 1992 and Paul J. Olscamp Distinguished Research Award in 2011.

Sealaska Heritage Institute is a private nonprofit founded in 1980 to perpetuate and enhance Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian cultures of Southeast Alaska. Its goal is to promote cultural diversity and cross-cultural understanding through public services and events. SHI also conducts social scientific and public policy research that promotes Alaska Native arts, cultures, history and education statewide. The institute is governed by a Board of Trustees and guided by a Council of Traditional Scholars, a Native Artist Committee and a Southeast Regional Language Committee.

CONTACT: Amy Fletcher, SHI Media and Publications Director, 907.586.9116,


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