Diné Bizaad - The Navajo Language

Ya'at eeh! Greetings
The Navajo language, also known as Diné Bizaad, is spoken by approximately 175,000 people in the United States and elsewhere (Gordon, 2005).

Linguistic Affiliation
Navajo is a language of the Apachean subgroup of the Athabaskan branch of the Na-Dené language family, along with Apache. Other Athabaskan languages include Chipewyan, Beaver, Sekani, Carrier, Hupa, Slave, Wailaki, Tagish, and more.
The Athabaskan language family includes approximately 44 different language groups native to the Western U.S. and Canada (Gordon, 2005).

Linguistic Sketch

The number of phonemes in Navajo is disputed, but many scholars agree that there are thirty-three consonants, including a large number of affricates and fricatives, and twelve vowel sounds. Length is phonemic in Navajo, and vowels appear either short, long, or overlong. Navajo syllables carry either a high, low, rising, or falling tone. Falling and rising tone can occur on long syllables. A rising tone is marked in the orthography by the acute accent on the second vowel, while falling is marked by the acute accent on the first syllable.

The Navahos call themselves: “Dine” which means men or people and in conversing with them they will tell you that “Dine” simply means “The People”.

The Apache-Navajo language and the other Athabascan languages belong to an entirely different language family from the Amerindian languages. One crucial difference that separates them from the other Amerindian languages and suggests their affinity to the languages of east Asia is that they are tonal; i.e., words with the same phonemes but spoken with different tones have different meanings. This meant that it was almost impossible for adult outsiders to learn these languages.


Navajo Language lesson By Clayton Long - 5 min.

Yá'át'ééh shik’èí dóó shidine’è (Hello my relatives and my people.)


The short vowels are pronounced as follows:

as in father
as in west
as in sit
o as in low

The long or doubled vowels are pronounced the same, but the sounds are held longer:

aa as in say "aah"
ee as in yeah
ii as in see
      oo as in oh

The combined vowels are pronounced as follows:

ai  as in my
ao as in cow
ei     as in say
oi as in chewy


How do you do! Good. Yah'eh-teh'.
Affectionate greeting. Ah-hah-lah'nih.
Friend. Sih-kiss.'
Grandfather. Shih-chai.'
Grandmother. Shah-mah' tsah'nih.
Mister. Grown man. Hosteen'.
Grown woman. Ah-dzah'nih.
Young man. Dih-neh'.
Young woman. Chih-keh'.
Baby. Ah-wayh'.

More Navajo language links: