An extinct language is a language that no longer has any speakers,[1] especially if it has no living descendants. In contrast, a dead language is "one that is no longer the native language of any community", even if it is still in use, like Latin.[2]

In the modern period, language death has typically resulted from the process of cultural assimilation leading to language shift, and the gradual abandonment of a native language in favour of a foreign lingua franca.

A language that currently has living native speakers is called a modern language. As of the 2000s, a total of roughly 7,000 natively spoken languages existed worldwide. Most of these are minor languages in danger of extinction; one estimate published in 2004 expected that some 90% of the currently spoken languages will have become extinct by 2050.[3]

Language death

Sisters Maxine Wildcat Barnett (left) and Josephine Wildcat Bigler; two of the final surviving elderly speakers of Yuchi, visiting their grandmother's grave in a cemetery behind Pickett Chapel in Sapulpa, Oklahoma. According to the sisters, their grandmother had insisted that Yuchi be their native language.

Normally the transition from a spoken to an extinct language occurs when a language undergoes language death by being directly replaced by a different one. For example, some Native American languages were replaced by English, French, Portuguese, Spanish, or Dutch as a result of colonization.

In contrast to an extinct language, which no longer has any speakers, or any written use, a historical language may remain in use as a literary or liturgical language long after it ceases to be spoken natively. Such languages are sometimes also referred to as "dead languages", but more typically as classical languages. The most prominent Western example of such a language is Latin, but comparable cases are found throughout world history due to the universal tendency to retain an historical stage of a language as liturgical language.

Historical languages with living descendants that have undergone significant language change may be considered "extinct", especially in cases where they did not leave a corpus of literature or liturgy that remained in widespread use (see corpus language), as is the case with e.g. Old English or Old High German relative to their contemporary descendants, English and German.

Some degree of misunderstanding can result from designating languages such as Old English and Old High German as extinct, or Latin dead, while ignoring their evolution as a language. This is expressed in the apparent paradox "Latin is a dead language, but Latin never died." A language such as Etruscan, for example, can be said to be both extinct and dead: inscriptions are ill understood even by the most knowledgeable scholars, and the language ceased to be used in any form long ago, so that there have been no speakers, native or non-native, for many centuries. In contrast, Old English, Old High German and Latin never ceased evolving as living languages, nor did they become totally extinct as Etruscan did. Through time Latin underwent both common and divergent changes in phonology, morphology, syntax and lexicon and continues today as the native language of hundreds of millions of people, re-named as different Romance languages and dialects (French, Italian, Spanish, Corsican, Asturian, Ladin, etc.). Similarly, Old English and Old High German never died, but developed into various forms of modern English and German. With regard to the written language, skills in reading or writing Etruscan are all but non-existent, but trained people can understand and write Old English, Old High German and Latin. Latin differs from the Germanic counterparts in that an approximation of its ancient form is still employed to some extent liturgically. This last observation illustrates that for Latin, Old English, or Old High German to be described accurately as dead or extinct, the language in question must be conceptualized as frozen in time at a particular state of its history. This is accomplished by periodizing English and German as Old; for Latin, the most apt clarifying adjective is Classical, which also normally includes designation of high or formal register.

Minor languages are endangered mostly due to economic and cultural globalization and development. With increasing economic integration on national and regional scales, people find it easier to communicate and conduct business in the dominant lingua francas of world commerce: English, Chinese, Spanish and French.[4]

In their study of contact-induced language change, American linguists Sarah Grey Thomason and Terrence Kaufman (1991) stated that in situations of cultural pressure (where populations are forced to speak a dominant language), three linguistic outcomes may occur: first - and most commonly - a subordinate population may shift abruptly to the dominant language, leaving the native language to a sudden linguistic death. Second, the more gradual process of language death may occur over several generations. The third and most rare outcome is for the pressured group to maintain as much of its native language as possible, while borrowing elements of the dominant language's grammar (replacing all, or portions of, the grammar of the original language).[5]

Institutions such as the education system, as well as (often global) forms of media such as the Internet, television, and print media play a significant role in the process of language loss.[4] For example, when people migrate to a new country, their children attend school in the country, and the schools are likely to teach them in the majority language of the country rather than their parents' native language.

Language revival

Language revival is the attempt to re-introduce a recently-extinct language in everyday use by a new generation of native speakers. The optimistic neologism "sleeping beauty languages" has been used to express such a hope.[6]

Hebrew is an example of a liturgical language that has successfully been revived for everyday use. The revival of Hebrew has been largely successful due to extraordinarily favourable conditions, notably the creation of a nation state in which it became the official language, as well as Eliezer Ben Yehuda's extreme dedication to the revival of the language, by creating new words for the modern terms Hebrew lacked. Revival attempts for minor languages with no status as liturgical language typically have more modest results. The Cornish language revival is an example of a major successful language revival: after a century of effort there are 3,500 claimed native speakers; enough for UNESCO to change its classification from "extinct" to "critically endangered".

Recently extinct languages

This is a list of languages reported as having become extinct after the year 2000. For a more complete list, see List of extinct languages.

Date Language Language family Region Terminal speakers / Notes
February 2016 Nuchatlaht dialect of Nuu-chah-nulth Wakashan British Columbia, Canada Alban Michael[7]
February 4, 2014 Klallam
Na’klallam, S’klallam
Salishan Washington, United States: northeast Olympic Peninsula, Port Angeles. Hazel Sampson[8]
June 5, 2013 Livonian
Liv, Livõ kel
Uralic Latvia: Kurzeme, west of Kolkasrags, 12 coastal villages; Riga area dispersed. Grizelda Kristina[9]
October 2, 2012 Cromarty dialect of Scots
Black Isle dialect
Germanic Northern Scotland, United Kingdom Bobby Hogg[10]
October 24, 2010 Pazeh
Formosan languages Taiwan: West coast area, east of Tayal, Cholan area, Houli, Fengyuan, Tantzu, Taichung, Tungshih. Pan Jin-yu[11]
August 20, 2010 Cochin Indo-Portuguese Creole
Vypin Indo-Portuguese
Portuguese-based Creole southern India: a few Christian families on Vypeen Island (Vypin Island) in the city of Cochin (Kochi) in Kerala. William Rozario[11]
January 26, 2010 Aka-Bo
Andamanese Andaman Islands, India: east central coast of North Andaman island, North Reef island. Boa Sr.[12]
2009 Nyawaygi Pama–Nyungan Australia: Northeast Queensland, Herberton south to Herbert river headwaters, to Cashmere, at Ravenshoe, Millaa Millaa and Woodleigh, east to Tully Falls. Willie Seaton[13]
November 2009 Aka-Kora
Andamanese Andaman Islands, India: northeast and north central coasts of North Andaman Island, Smith Island. Boro[14]
by 2009 [15] Pataxó Hã-Ha-Hãe unclassified Brazil: Minas Gerais and Bahia states, Pôsto Paraguassu in Itabuna municipality. shifted to Portuguese.
January 21, 2008 Eyak
Na-Dene Alaska, United States: Copper river mouth. Marie Smith Jones[citation needed]
c.2008 (?) Bidyara
Bidjara, Bithara, Bitjara
Pama–Nyungan Queensland, Australia: between Tambo and Augathella, Warrego and Langlo rivers. 20 speakers found in 1981; effectively extinct by 2008
c.2006 (?) A-Pucikwar Andamanese Andaman Islands, India: Straight Island.

10 or fewer speakers found in 2006; was reportedly spoken by 8–10 of total population of 53 individuals on Strait Island.

2005 Osage Siouan Oklahoma, United States Lucille Roubedeaux
2003 Akkala Sami
Ahkkil, Babino, Babinsk
Uralic Kola Peninsula, Russia: Murmanskaya Oblast’, southwest Kola peninsula. Marja Sergina
May 2002 Gaagudju
Abdedal, Abiddul, Gaagudju, Kakadu, Kakakta, Kakdju, Kakdjuan
Arnhem Land languages Northern Territory, Australia: Oenpelli. Big Bill Neidjie
2000 Sowa Malayo-Polynesian Pentecost Island, Vanuatu Maurice Tabi
c.2000 Laua
Trans-New Guinea Papua New Guinea: Central Province, north and west of Laua. one speaker found in 1987
c.2000 Mesmes Semitic Ethiopia: YeDebub Biheroch Biherese na Hizboch State, Gurage, Hadiyya, and Kambaata zones. Last speaker was interviewed by language survey team, aged ~80. He had not spoken the language for 30 years.

See also


  1. ^ Lenore A. Grenoble, Lindsay J. Whaley, Saving Languages: An Introduction to Language Revitalization, Cambridge University Press (2006) p.18
  2. ^ http://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/acref/9780199202720.001.0001/acref-9780199202720-e-799?rskey=GN3YxZ&result=801 The Comcise Oxford Dictionary of Linguistics (2nd edition).
  3. ^ "Study by language researcher, David Graddol". MSNBC. 2004-02-26. Retrieved 2012-03-22.  Ian on Friday, January 16, 2009 61 comments (2009-01-16). "Research by Southwest University for Nationalities College of Liberal Arts". Chinasmack.com. Retrieved 2012-03-22.  . Ethnologue records 7,358 living languages known,"Ethnologue". Ethnologue. Archived from the original on October 5, 2001. Retrieved 2012-03-22.  but on 2015-05-20, Ethnologue reported only 7,102 known living languages; and on 2015-02-23, Ethnologue already reported only 7,097 known living languages.
  4. ^ a b Malone, Elizabeth (July 28, 2008). "Language and Linguistics: Endangered Language". National Science Foundation. Retrieved October 23, 2009. 
  5. ^ Thomason, Sarah Grey & Kaufman, Terrence. Language Contact, Creolization, and Genetic Linguistics, University of California Press (1991) p. 100.
  6. ^ See pp. 57 & 60 in Ghil'ad Zuckermann's A New Vision for "Israeli Hebrew": Theoretical and Practical Implications of Analysing Israel's Main Language as a Semi-Engineered Semito-European Hybrid Language, Journal of Modern Jewish Studies 5: 57–71 (2006). Dr Anna Goldsworthy on the Barngarla language reclamation, The Monthly, September 2014
  7. ^ Jack Knox. "Jack Knox — A silenced tongue: the last Nuchatlaht speaker dies". Times Colonist. 
  8. ^ https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/obituaries/last-native-klallam-speaker-dies-in-port-angeles/2014/02/06/d8108c14-8f70-11e3-878e-d76656564a01_story.html
  9. ^ http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/news/world/europe/article3782596.ece?CMP=OTH-gnws-standard-2013_06_05
  10. ^ "Cromarty fisherfolk dialect's last native speaker dies". BBC News. 2 October 2012. Retrieved 28 February 2017. 
  11. ^ a b http://www.write2kill.in/critiques/people/376.html[permanent dead link]
  12. ^ http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/8498534.stm
  13. ^ https://books.google.com/books?id=L4zytHZWB4QC&pg=PA160
  14. ^ Andamanese tribes, languages die, The Hindu
  15. ^ http://archive.ethnologue.com/16/show_language.asp?code=pth


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External links