An extinct language is a language that no longer has any speakers, or that is no longer in current use. Extinct languages are sometimes contrasted with dead languages, which are still known and used in special contexts in written form, but not as ordinary spoken languages for everyday communication. However, language extinction and language death are often equated.
Normally the transition from a spoken to an extinct language occurs when a language undergoes language death while 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 dead language may remain in use for scientific, legal, or ecclesiastical functions. Old Church Slavonic, Classical Armenian, Avestan, Coptic, Biblical Hebrew, New Testament Greek, Ge'ez, Ardhamagadhi, Pali, Sanskrit and Latin are among the many dead languages used as sacred languages. Courses and active teaching still exist for these, as well as Egyptian Hieroglyphs and Maya script.
Sometimes a language that has changed so much that linguists describe it as a different language (or different stage) is called "extinct", as in the case of Old English, a forerunner of Modern English. But in such cases, the language never ceased to be used by speakers, and as linguists' subdivisions in the process of language change are fairly arbitrary, such forerunner languages are not properly speaking extinct.
A language that currently has living native speakers is called a modern language. Ethnologue records 7,358 living languages known, 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.
Hebrew is an example of a nearly extinct spoken language (by the first definition above) that became a lingua franca and a liturgical language that has been revived to become a living spoken language. There are other attempts at language revival. In general, the success of these attempts has been subject to debate, as it is not clear they will ever become the common native language of a community of speakers.
It is believed that 90% of the circa 7,000 languages currently spoken in the world will have become extinct by 2050, as the world's language system has reached a crisis and is dramatically restructuring.
Globalization, development, and language extinction
As economic and cultural globalization and development continue to push forward, growing numbers of languages will become endangered and eventually, extinct. 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 state that in situations of cultural pressure (where populations must 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, immigrants may travel from one country to another, their children then attend school in the country, and the schools may teach them in the official language of the country rather than their native language.
Recently extinct languages
Chronologically, in the 21st century
|Date||Language||Language family||Region||Notes and Terminal speakers|
|February 4, 2014||Klallam
|Salishan||Washington, United States: northeast Olympic Peninsula, Port Angeles.||with the death of Hazel Sampson|
|June 5, 2013||Livonian
Liv, Livõ kel
|Uralic||Latvia: Kurzeme, west of Kolkasrags, 12 coastal villages; Riga area dispersed.||with the death of Grizelda Kristina|
|October 2, 2012||Cromarty dialect of Scots
Black Isle dialect
|Germanic||Northern Scotland, United Kingdom||with the death of Bobby Hogg |
|October 24, 2010||Pazeh
|Formosan languages||Taiwan: West coast area, east of Tayal, Cholan area, Houli, Fengyuan, Tantzu, Taichung, Tungshih.||with the death of 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.||with the death of William Rozario|
|January 26, 2010||Aka-Bo
|Andamanese||Andaman Islands, India: east central coast of North Andaman island, North Reef island.||with the death of 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.||with the death of Willie Seaton|
|Andamanese||Andaman Islands, India: northeast and north central coasts of North Andaman Island, Smith Island.||with the death of 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.||with the death of 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.
||Siouan||Oklahoma, United States||with the death of Lucille Roubedeaux|
Ahkkil, Babino, Babinsk
|Uralic||Kola Peninsula, Russia: Murmanskaya Oblast’, southwest Kola peninsula.||with the death of Marja Sergina|
Abdedal, Abiddul, Gaagudju, Kakadu, Kakakta, Kakdju, Kakdjuan
|Arnhem Land languages||Northern Territory, Australia: Oenpelli.||with the death of Big Bill Neidjie|
|2000||Sowa||Malayo-Polynesian||Pentecost Island, Vanuatu||with the death of 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.|
In alphabetical order
With last known speaker and/or date of death.
- Adai: (late 19th century)
- Aka-Bo: Boa Sr. (2010)
- Akkala Sami: Marja Sergina (2003)
- Alsean family [Alsea: John Albert (1942); Yaquina: (1884)]
- Apalachee: (early 18th century)
- Arwi: (early 19th Century)
- Aruá: (1877)
- Atakapa: (early 20th century)
- Atsugewi: (1988)
- Beothuk: Shanawdithit (a.k.a. "Nancy April") (1829)
- Black Isle dialect: Bobby Hogg (2012)
- Baybayin: (late 19th century)
- Catawban family
- Cayuse: (ca. 1930s)
- Chemakum: (ca. 1940s)
- Chicomuceltec: (late 20th century)
- Chimariko: (ca. 1930s)
- Chitimacha: Benjamin Paul (1934) & Delphine Ducloux (1940)
- Chumashan family: Barbareño language was last to become extinct.
- Coahuilteco: (18th century)
- Cochimí (a Yuman language): (early 19th century)
- Comecrudan family
- Coosan family
- Costanoan languages (a subfamily of the Utian family): (ca. 1940s)
- Cotoname: last recorded from Santos Cavázos and Emiterio in (1886)
- Crimean Gothic: language vanished by the (1800s)
- Cuman: István Varró (1770)
- Dalmatian: Tuone Udaina, (June 10, 1898)
- Esselen: report of a few speakers left in 1833, extinct before the end of the 19th century
- Eyak (a Na-Dené language): Marie Smith Jones, January 21, 2008
- Gabrielino (a Uto-Aztecan language): elderly speakers last recorded in 1933
- Gafat (a South Ethiopian Semitic language): four speakers found in 1947 after much effort, no subsequent record
- Galice-Applegate (an Athabaskan language)
- Galice dialect: Hoxie Simmons (1963)
- Greenlandic Norse: (by the late 15th century (16th century at the latest))
- Modern Gutnish: (by the 18th century)
- Jassic: (17th century)
- Juaneño (a Uto-Aztecan language): last recorded in (1934)
- Kakadu (Gaagudju): Big Bill Neidjie (July 2002)
- Kalapuyan family
- Central Kalapuya
- Ahantchuyuk, Luckimute, Mary's River, and Lower McKenzie River dialects: last speakers were about 6 persons who were all over 60 in (1937)
- Santiam dialect: (ca. 1950s)
- Northern Kalapuya
- Tualatin dialect: Louis Kenoyer (1937)
- Yamhill dialect: Louisa Selky (1915)
- Yonkalla: last recorded in 1937 from Laura Blackery Albertson who only partly remembered it
- Central Kalapuya
- Kamassian: last native speaker, Klavdiya Plotnikova, died in 1989
- Karankawa: (1858)
- Kathlamet (a Chinookan language): (ca. 1930s)
- Kitanemuk (an Uto-Aztecan language): Marcelino Rivera, Isabella Gonzales, Refugia Duran last recorded (1937)
- Kitsai (a Caddoan language): Kai Kai (ca. 1940)
- Kwalhioqua-Clatskanie (an Athabaskan language): children of the last speakers remembered a few words, recorded in (1935 & 1942)
- Clatskanie dialect: father of Willie Andrew (ca. 1870)
- Kwalhioqua dialect: mother of Lizzie Johnson (1910)
- Lipan (Athabaskan): a few native speakers were living in the 1980s, now extinct
- Mahican: last spoken in Wisconsin (ca. 1930s)
- Manx: Ned Maddrell (December 1974) (but is being revived as a second language)
- Mattole-Bear River (an Athabaskan language)
- Bear River dialect: material from last elderly speaker recorded (ca. 1929)
- Mattole dialect: material recorded (ca. 1930)
- Mbabaram: Albert Bennett (1972)
- Mesmes: (one of the West Gurage languages), material from last elderly speaker (who had not spoken it for 30 years) collected ca. 2000
- Miami-Illinois: (1989)
- Mochica: (ca. 1950s)
- Mohegan: Fidelia Fielding (1908)
- Molala: Fred Yelkes (1958)
- Munichi: Victoria Huancho Icahuate (late 1990s)
- Natchez: Watt Sam & Nancy Raven (early 1930s)
- Negerhollands: Alice Stevenson (1987)
- Nooksack: Sindick Jimmy (1977)
- Norn (a Germanic language): extinct by mid-19th century
- Northern Pomo: (1994)
- Nottoway (an Iroquoian language): last recorded (before 1836)
- Pentlatch (a Salishan language): Joe Nimnim (1940)
- Pánobo (a Pano–Tacanan language): (1991)
- Pochutec (Uto-Aztecan: last documented 1917 by Franz Boas
- Polabian (a Slavic language): (late 18th century)
- Sadlermiut: last speaker died in 1902
- Salinan: (ca. 1960)
- Shastan family
- Sirenik: last speaker died of old age in (1997)
- Siuslaw: (ca. 1970s)
- Slovincian (a Slavic language): (20th century)
- Sowa: last fluent speaker died in (2000)
- Subtiaba: was moribund in 1909
- Susquehannock: all last speakers murdered in (1763)
- Takelma: Molly Orton (or Molly Orcutt) & Willie Simmons (both not fully fluent) last recorded in (1934)
- Tasmanian: (late 19th century)
- Tataviam (an Uto-Aztecan language): Juan José Fustero who remembered only a few words of his grandparents' language recorded (1913)
- Teteté (a Tucanoan language)
- Tillamook (a Salishan language): (1970)
- Tonkawa: 6 elderly people in (1931)
- Tsetsaut (an Athabaskan language): last fluent speaker was elderly man recorded in (1894)
- Tunica: Sesostrie Youchigant (ca. mid 20th century)
- Ubykh: Tevfik Esenç (October 1992)
- Most dialects of Upper Chinook (a Chinookan language) are extinct, except for the Wasco-Wishram dialect. The Clackamas dialect became extinct in the (1930s), other dialects have little documentation. (The Wasco-Wishram language is still spoken by five elders).
- Upper Umpqua: Wolverton Orton, last recorded in (1942)
- Vegliot Dalmatian: Tuone Udaina (Italian: Antonio Udina) (10 June 1898)
- Wappo : Laura Fish Somersal (1990)
- Weyto: while attested as living in 1770, 18th century explorers could find no fluent speakers
- Wiyot: Della Prince (1962)
- Yana: Ishi (1916)
- Yola related to English: (mid-19th century)
- Endangered language
- Category:Extinct languages
- Language death
- Language revival
- Language teaching
- Lists of endangered languages
- List of languages by time of extinction
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Extinct languages.|
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The electronic age drives some languages out of existence, but can help save others
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