Navajo language


Last Updated: 10 years

Navajo (Diné bizaad), pronounced Navaho, is an Athabaskan language of Na-Dené stock spoken in the southwestern United States. It is geographically and linguistically one of the Southern Athabaskan languages although the majority of Athabaskan languages are spoken in northwest Canada and Alaska.

Navajo has more speakers than any other Native American language north of the U.S.–Mexico border, with between 120,000 and 170,700 speakers.

Until after World War II, Navajo was still the main language of communication on the reservation; since then, the use of English has increased and Navajo declined.

The decline of children learning the language renders Navajo an endangered language, in spite of the high number of current speakers.

In 1981, about 85% of the Navajo child population spoke Navajo as their first language. But, more recent surveys show this percentage to have fallen to 25% of the child population.

A 1991 survey of 4,073 students in the Navajo Reservation Head Start program found that 54% of 682 preschoolers are monolingual English speakers, 28% bilingual in English and Navajo, and 18% monolingual Navajo.

This study further noted that at that time, the preschooler staff, although bilingual Navajo speakers, spoke English to the children most of the time. In addition, most parents spoke to the children in English more often than in Navajo; in effect, the preschoolers were in ‘almost total immersion in English.’

In 1986 the tribe created a Navajo-language immersion program at Fort Defiance Elementary School and has initiated other programs. A number of bilingual immersion schools operate within Navajo-speaking regions to preserve and promote usage of the language.

An AM radio station, KTNN, broadcasts in Navajo and English, with programming including music and NFL games. AM station KNDN also broadcasts in Navajo.In 1996, a Super Bowl was broadcast in Navajo; it was the first time the event was carried in a Native American language. Navajo language vocabulary has been expanded to cover modern topics such as “sports, politics, and technology.”

Navajo language keyboards are now available.

The Android Navajo keyboard was introduced Aug. 31, 2013; a Navajo language keyboard has been available for iPhone since Nov. 2012

In 2013, Star Wars (1977) was translated into Navajo, making it the first major motion picture translated into any Native American language