Ahtna or Ahtena is the Na-Dené language of the Ahtna ethnic group


Ahtna or Ahtena is the Na-Dené language of the Ahtna ethnic group of the Copper River area of Alaska. The language is also known as Copper River or Mednovskiy.

The Ahtna language consists of four different dialects. Three of the four are still spoken today. Ahtna is closely related to Dena’ina.

The similar name “Atnah” occurs in the journals of Simon Fraser and other early European diarists in what is now British Columbia as a reference to the Tsilhqot’in people, another Northern Athapaskan group.

There are four main dialect divisions and eight sub-divisions of the Ahtna language

  • Lower Ahtna (own name Atnahwt’aene)
    • Chitina/Taral Band
    • Tonsina/Klutina Band
  • Central Ahtna or Middle Ahtna (own name Dan’ehwt’aene)
    • Gulkona/Gakona Band
  • Western Ahtna (own name Tsaay Hwt’aene)
    • Tyone/Mendeltna Band
    • Cantwell/Denali Band
  • Upper Ahtna (own name Tatl’ahwt’aene)
    • Sanford River/Chistochina Band
    • Slana/Batzulnetas Band
    • Mentasta Band

speakers out of a population of 500 Ahtna speaking peoples are still fluent, and the language is facing extinction. However, many younger people are learning Ahtna to try to keep the language alive. The Ya Ne Dah Ah School in Chickaloon, Alaska teaches the Ahtna language as a part of its curriculum.

As of 2010, a digital archiving project of Ahtna was underway. Fishing rights activist Katie John of Mentasta helped develop an Ahtna alphabet in the 1970s, and has recorded a pronunciation guide of the Mentasta Dialect.