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The story of the Navajo tribe and their language



01. Basic Facts

02. Language Origin

03. Influence of the Westward Expansion

04. Basic Navajo

05. Video

06. Game

Basic facts


  • About 170 000 speakers
  • Spoken in southwest of US, especially in Navajo nation
  • Most widespread Native American language above the US-Mexican-Border
  • Part of the Apalachean group of languages
  • Navajo people call it "Diné bizaad" (people's language)
  • Navajo is the Spanish adaptation of the Tewa Pueblo word "Navahu'u", which originally described a large area of cultivated land




Around 6-4000 BC the ancestors of the Navajo people migrated from Eurasia to North America through the Bering Land Bridge, which existed at that time. They travelled all the way down to an area that is now the part of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah.

The Bering land bridge

Because the Navajo ancestors originally migrated from Eurasia, there are still some languages in Russia that have some similarities to the Navajo language, or to be more precise the Na-Dene language family (group of native North American languages). One example for this is the Yeniseian language family, which is a small, isolated group of languages. There are very few speakers left.

According to Navao Mythology, their homeland lies between 4 sacred mountains, representing four cardinal points and four colours. They called it "Dinétah" (among the people).

The sacred mountains

Dibé Nitsaa (Mountain Hesperus)

Sis Naajaní
(Mount Blanca)

Tsoodzit (Mount Taylor)

(San Francisco Peaks)

Influence of the Westward Expansion



Because of the need of the American government to expand its territory, in 1864 they drove out the Navajo people from their homeland and relocated them to the area of Fort Sumner, New Mexico. The Navajo called this the "Long Walk".

The long walk

A soldier stands guard over Navajo people during the "Long


In 1868, both parties finally signed a Peace Treaty, which granted the Navajo people a protected Reservation on their old homeland, but was significantly smaller than their old terriory. Following this, the Navajos travelled back.

The Peace treaty

Dibé Nitsaa (Mountain Hesperus)

Sis Naajaní
(Mount Blanca)

Tsoodzit (Mount Taylor)

(San Francisco Peaks)

How did the english language respond to the contact?

Due to the Westward Expansion, settlers and Natives were in conflict, but also contact with each other. The result can actually be seen in the language. There are a lot of Native American words in the American English Language. Examples include:
  • Food & Animals:
  • Skunk (from squuncke) - Massachusett Tribe
  • Squash (askútasquash) - Narragansett language
  • Geographical Terms:
  • States: Illinois, Delaware, Massachusett, Iowa, Kansas, Alabama, Missouri, Connecticut
  • Cities: Miami, Montauk, Mobile, Biloxi, Cheyenne, Natchez, Wichita
  • Rivers & Lakes: Erie, Huron, Missouri
  • Mountains & Deserts: Apalachee, Teton, Mohave, Shasta

In contrast to the inclusion of words to the English language, Navajo didn't include English words or terms. Instead, the Navajo people invented new words to describe new objects and later even countries and states.

How did the Navajo Language respond to the contact?

This is a map of the States of the United States of America with their Navajo names.

This is a map of the European countries with their Navajo names.

Basic Navajo


Navajo phrases

  • Yá'át'ééh - Hello
  • Yá'át'ééh abiní - Good morning
  • Ahéhee' - Thank you
  • Haash yinilye? - What is your name?
  • Shí éí ... yinilyé (yinishyé) - My name is ...
  • Ní - you
  • Shi - I
  • Ąąʼ haʼíí baa naniná? - How are you?
  • Bízháneeʼ - lucky
  • Hágooshį́į́ / Hágoónee' - Goodbye
  • Shizhé’é - father
  • Shimá - mother

Navajo puts nouns in differet categories according to which, their place in a sentence is determined.

Verbs can also take the place of our adjectives (e.g. nitsaa (to be large)).
The verb to give changes based on the shape of the object (11 shapes).

Grammar Fun-facts



Translated Lyrics:

In a serene state, the dawn comes,
In a sacred state, the dawn comes
The dawn comes upon Mother Earth,
With all good things, the dawn comes
Dawn comes upon the wide open spaces,
Dawn comes upon the mountains
The dawn brings prayers and songs,
The dawn brings the bluebird
I am all rested in the early dawn,
My whole being is all rested in the dawn
The dawn brings the thinking process
The dawn brings the planning process
The dawn brings life from here forward,
The dawn also brings forth spirituality
The dawn brings long life happiness,
The dawn brings life until old age

A song in navajo

This is what Navajo sounds like.



Diné bizaadísh dinitsʼaʼ?

(Do you speak Navajo?)