In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Dene-Yeniseian

  • Introduction
  • Introductory Works
  • Edited Collections
  • Bibliographies
  • Synchronic Descriptions of Yeniseian Grammar
  • Yeniseian Dictionary Materials and Early Sources
  • Synchronic Descriptions of Na-Dene Grammar
  • Dictionaries of Na-Dene Languages
  • Linguistic Reconstructions of Na-Dene
  • Linguistic Reconstructions of Yeniseian
  • Earlier Hypotheses
  • Relevant Works from Other Fields
  • Critiques

Linguistics Dene-Yeniseian
Edward J. Vajda
  • LAST REVIEWED: 18 August 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 March 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199772810-0064


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.

Introductory Works

Comrie 2010 presents a clear and concise introduction to the Dene-Yeniseian hypothesis. Vajda and Comrie 2010 discusses strong points of the putative evidence and places the hypothesis within the general framework of historical-comparative work. The webpage on Dene-Yeniseian maintained by the Alaska Native Language Center and the University of Alaska at Fairbanks also contains straightforward introductory material on the hypothesis.

  • Alaska Native Language Center, and University of Alaska at Fairbanks. Dene-Yeniseian languages.

    Regularly updated webpage with current information on the hypothesis.

  • Comrie, Bernard. 2010. The Dene-Yeniseian hypothesis: An introduction. In Special issue: The Dene-Yeniseian connection. Edited by James Kari and Ben Potter. Anthropological Papers of the University of Alaska 5.1–2: 25–32.

    A good introduction to the hypothesis for the general reader that provides a broad historical linguistic context. Published by the Alaska Native Language Center.

  • Vajda, Edward J., and Bernard Comrie. 2010. Una relación genealógica entre las lenguas del Nuevo Mundo y de Siberia. In Análisis lingüísticos: Enfoques sincrónico, diacrónico e interdisciplinario. Edited by Rosa María Ortíz Ciscomani, 291–306. Estudios Lingüísticos 2. Hermosillo, Mexico: Universidad de Sonora.

    A basic introduction in Spanish.

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