An extinct language is a language that no longer has any speakers, especially if the language 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. Languages that currently have living native speakers are sometimes called modern languages to contrast them with dead languages, especially in educational contexts.
In the modern period, languages have typically become extinct as a result of the process of cultural assimilation leading to language shift, and the gradual abandonment of a native language in favour of a foreign lingua franca, largely those of European countries.
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.
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, many 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 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, renamed 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.
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).
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. 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 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.
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|
|February 4, 2014||Klallam
|Salishan||Washington, United States: northeast Olympic Peninsula, Port Angeles.||Hazel Sampson|
|June 5, 2013||Livonian
Liv, Livõ kel
|Uralic||Latvia: Kurzeme, west of Kolkasrags, 12 coastal villages; Riga area dispersed.||Grizelda Kristina|
|October 2, 2012||Cromarty dialect of Scots
Black Isle dialect
|Germanic||Northern Scotland, United Kingdom||Bobby Hogg|
|October 24, 2010||Pazeh
|Formosan languages||Taiwan: West coast area, east of Tayal, Cholan area, Houli, Fengyuan, Tantzu, Taichung, Tungshih.||Pan Jin-yu|
|August 20, 2010||Cochin Indo-Portuguese Creole
|Portuguese-based Creole||southern India: a few Christian families on Vypeen Island (Vypin Island) in the city of Cochin (Kochi) in Kerala.||William Rozario|
|January 26, 2010||Aka-Bo
|Andamanese||Andaman Islands, India: east central coast of North Andaman island, North Reef island.||Boa Sr.|
|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|
|Andamanese||Andaman Islands, India: northeast and north central coasts of North Andaman Island, Smith Island.||Boro|
|by 2009 ||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|
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|
Ahkkil, Babino, Babinsk
|Uralic||Kola Peninsula, Russia: Murmanskaya Oblast’, southwest Kola peninsula.||Marja Sergina|
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|
|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.|
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Extinct languages.|
- Lenore A. Grenoble, Lindsay J. Whaley, Saving Languages: An Introduction to Language Revitalization, Cambridge University Press (2006) p.18
- "BBC - Voices - Your Voice". www.bbc.co.uk. Retrieved 2018-08-10.
- http://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/acref/9780199202720.001.0001/acref-9780199202720-e-799?rskey=GN3YxZ&result=801 The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Linguistics (2nd edition).
- Byram, Michael; Hu, Adelheid (2013-06-26). Routledge Encyclopedia of Language Teaching and Learning. Routledge. ISBN 978-1136235535.
- Walt, Christa Van der (2007-05-01). Living Through Languages: An African Tribute to René Dirven. AFRICAN SUN MeDIA. ISBN 9781920109707.
- Hall, Christopher J.; Smith, Patrick H.; Wicaksono, Rachel (2015-05-11). Mapping Applied Linguistics: A Guide for Students and Practitioners. Routledge. ISBN 978-1136836237.
- "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.CS1 maint: Multiple names: authors list (link). 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.
- Malone, Elizabeth (July 28, 2008). "Language and Linguistics: Endangered Language". National Science Foundation. Retrieved October 23, 2009.
- Thomason, Sarah Grey & Kaufman, Terrence. Language Contact, Creolization, and Genetic Linguistics, University of California Press (1991) p. 100.
- 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
- Jack Knox. "Jack Knox — A silenced tongue: the last Nuchatlaht speaker dies". Times Colonist.
- Charter, David (5 June 2013). "Death of a language: last ever speaker of Livonian passes away aged 103". Retrieved 6 December 2018 – via www.thetimes.co.uk.
- "Cromarty fisherfolk dialect's last native speaker dies". BBC News. 2 October 2012. Retrieved 28 February 2017.
- http://www.write2kill.in/critiques/people/376.html[permanent dead link]
- "Ancient Indian language dies out". 4 February 2010. Retrieved 6 December 2018 – via news.bbc.co.uk.
- Dixon, R.M.W (2010-12-10). I Am a Linguist: With a Foreword by Peter Matthews. ISBN 978-9004192355.
- Andamanese tribes, languages die, The Hindu
- "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2015-01-06. Retrieved 2015-01-18.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
- Adelaar, Willem F. H.; & Muysken, Pieter C. (2004). The Languages of the Andes. Cambridge Language Surveys. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-36275-7.
- Brenzinger, Matthias (ed.) (1992) Language Death: Factual and Theoretical Explorations with Special Reference to East Africa. Berlin/New York: Mouton de Gruyter. ISBN 978-3-11-013404-9.
- Campbell, Lyle; & Mithun, Marianne (Eds.). (1979). The Languages of Native America: Historical and Comparative Assessment. Austin: University of Texas Press. ISBN 0-292-74624-5.
- Davis, Wade. (2009). The Wayfinders: Why Ancient Wisdom Matters in the Modern World. House of Anansi Press. ISBN 0-88784-766-8.
- Dorian, Nancy C. (1978). 'Fate of Morphological Complexity in Language Death: Evidence from East Sutherland Gaelic.' Language, 54 (3), 590-609.
- Dorian, Nancy C. (1981). Language Death: The Life Cycle of a Scottish Gaelic dialect. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. ISBN 0-8122-7785-6.
- Dressler, Wolfgand & Wodak-Leodolter, Ruth (eds.) (1977) 'Language Death' (International Journal of the Sociology of Language vol. 12). The Hague: Mouton.
- Gordon, Raymond G., Jr. (Ed.). (2005). Ethnologue: Languages of the World (15th ed.). Dallas, TX: SIL International. ISBN 1-55671-159-X. (Online version: http://www.ethnologue.com)[permanent dead link].
- Harrison, K. David. (2007) When Languages Die: The Extinction of the World's Languages and the Erosion of Human Knowledge. New York and London: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-518192-0.
- Mithun, Marianne. (1999). The Languages of Native North America. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-23228-7 (hbk); ISBN 0-521-29875-X.
- Mohan, Peggy; & Zador, Paul. (1986). 'Discontinuity in a Life Cycle: The Death of Trinidad Bhojpuri.' Language, 62 (2), 291-319.
- Sasse, Hans-Jürgen (1992) 'Theory of Language Death', in Brenzinger (ed.) Language Death, pp. 7–30.
- Schilling-Estes, Natalie; & Wolfram, Walt. (1999). 'Alternative Models of Dialect Death: Dissipation vs. Concentration.' Language, 75 (3), 486-521.
- Sebeok, Thomas A. (Ed.). (1973). Linguistics in North America (parts 1 & 2). Current Trends in Linguistics (Vol. 10). The Hauge: Mouton. (Reprinted as Sebeok 1976).
- Sharp, Joanne. (2008). Chapter 6: 'Can the Subaltern Speak?', in Geographies of Postcolonialism. Glasgow, UK: SAGE Publications Ltd. ISBN 978-1-4129-0779-8.
- Skutnabb-Kangas, Tove. (2000). Linguistic Genocide in Education or Worldwide Diversity and Human Rights? Mahwah, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. ISBN 0-8058-3468-0.
- Thomason, Sarah Grey & Kaufman, Terrence. (1991). Language Contact, Creolization, and Genetic Linguistics. University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-07893-4.
- Timmons Roberts, J. & Hite, Amy. (2000). From Modernization to Globalization: Perspectives on Development and Social Change. Wiley-Blackwell. ISBN 978-0-631-21097-9.