Languages Overview

The Northwest Territories (NWT) is the only jurisdiction in Canada that names nine (9) official Aboriginal languages alongside English and French through its Official Languages Act. The Act recognizes that many languages are spoken and used by people of the NWT and is committed the preservation, development, and enhancement of the Aboriginal languages.

The NWT Official Languages Act recognizes eleven (11) languages: Chipewyan (Dëne Sųłıné Yatıé), Cree (Nēhiyawēwin), English, French, Gwich’in, Inuinnaqtun, Inuktitut, Inuvialuktun, North Slavey (Sahtúǫt’ı̨ne Yatı̨́), South Slavey (Dene Zhatıé) and Tłı̨chǫ.
Of these languages, nine (9) are Aboriginal and belong to three (3) different language families: Dene, Inuit and Algonquian/Cree.

The five (5) Dene languages are:

  • Chipewyan (Dëne Sųłıné Yatıé), spoken in Łutselk’e, Fort Resolution, Hay River, Fort Smith and Detah;
  • Gwich’in, spoken in Aklavik, Inuvik, Tsiigehtchic, and Fort McPherson;
  • North Slavey (Sahtúǫt’ı̨ne Yatı̨́), spoken in Colville Lake, Fort Good Hope, Norman Wells, Tulit’a, Délı̨ne;
  • South Slavey (Dene Zhatıé), spoken in Sambaa K’e, Fort Liard, Nahanni Butte, Kakisa, Fort Providence, Jean Marie River, Wrigley, and Fort Simpson; and,
  • Tłı̨chǫ Yatıı̀, spoken in Gamètı̀, Wekweètı̀, Whatı̀, Behchokǫ̀, and Wıìlıìdeh, spoken in Ndilǫ and Detah.

The three (3) Inuit languages are:

  • Inuvialuktun, spoken in Sachs Harbour, Paulatuk, Tuktoyaktuk, Aklavik, and Inuvik;
  • Inuinnaqtun, spoken mostly in Ulukhaktok;
  • Inuktitut, whose speakers often live in Yellowknife and regional centers.

The one (1) Algonquian/Cree  language is:

  • Cree (Nēhiyawēwin), spoken mostly in the Fort Smith and Hay River area.

Aboriginal languages are connected to the land and are most frequently spoken in communities throughout the Northwest Territories.

The two (2) Indo-European languages are:

  • English, most people in the NWT also speak English; which can be heard in the capital city, regional centers, and communities.
  • French is more common in Yellowknife, Inuvik, Hay River, and Fort Smith; approximately 3% of the population states that French is their first language.