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Upper Inlet

Upper Inlet Keywords by Sava Stephan

The Upper Inlet dialect of Dena’ina is the traditional language of the Upper Cook Inlet Basin, including at the communities of Tyonek, Knik, and Eklutna.

For each letter in the Dena’ina alphabet, a set of “keywords” containing that letter is given, illustrating the pronunciation of that letter. Some of the keywords also compare the letter to other letters with similar sounds. Choose a letter in the menu to see and hear the keywords for that letter.

A Message from Sava Stephan

Dach’u shughu dach’u henach’delghesh q’udu. Niłnuch’qelnek ni’eł henach’delgheshi shi’t’i. Dena’inaq’ nayna qadaniłdetnesh ch’u gu qa qeshnash dit.

This here is how we speak. We can tell stories to one another and speak to one another. I say this so that we can understand each other in the Dena’ina language.

Sava Stephan was born in 1920 in Susitna Station. Sava grew up speaking the Dena’ina language. He moved to Tyonek in 1934 along with most of the residents of Susitna Station. Throughout his life Sava worked and traveled throughout the Susitna and Tyonek areas, and he was recognized as an expert on Upper Inlet Dena’ina.

Unique Features of Upper Inlet

Upper Inlet differs from other Dena’ina varieties in that there is no contrast between the sounds dz~j, ts~ch, ts’~ch’, and s~sh. However, these sounds are usually written as they would be pronounced in the other dialects. For example, the words shan ‘summer’ and san ‘stand’ have roughly the same pronunciation in Upper Inlet, beginning with a sound somewhere between sh and s. These letters which are pronounced alike in Upper Inlet are grouped together in the keywords.


  • First Prepared in 1976 by James Kari for the Alaska Native Language Center
  • Revised in 1993, 1994
  • Recorded April 8, 1993 by Sava Stephan
  • Formatted in Powerpoint in 2004
  • Web version 2023