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Extinct language

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Title: Extinct language  
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Subject: Upper Chinook language, Language, Extinct languages of the Marañón River basin, Taiwanese aborigines, Cotoname language
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Extinct language

Eteocypriot writing, Amathous, Cyprus, 500 to 300 BC. Ashmolean Museum

An extinct language is a language that no longer has any speakers,[1] 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.


  • Language loss 1
  • Globalization, development, and language extinction 2
  • Recently extinct languages 3
  • See also 4
  • References 5
  • Bibliography 6
  • External links 7

Language loss

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, 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.[2]

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.[3][4]

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.[5]

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).[6]

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.[5] 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

With last known speaker and/or date of death.

  1. Adai: (late 19th century)
  2. Aka-Bo: Boa Sr (2010)
  3. Akkala Sami: Marja Sergina (2003)
  4. Alsean family [Alsea: John Albert (1942); Yaquina: (1884)]
  5. Apalachee: (early 18th century)
  6. Arwi: (early 19th Century)
  7. Aruá: (1877)
  8. Atakapa: (early 20th century)
  9. Atsugewi: (1988)
  10. Beothuk: Shanawdithit (a.k.a. "Nancy April") (1829)
  11. Black Isle dialect: Bobby Hogg (2012) [7]
  12. Baybayin: (late 19th century)
  13. Catawban family
  14. Catawba: (before 1960)
  15. Woccon
  16. Cayuse: (ca. 1930s)
  17. Chemakum: (ca. 1940s)
  18. Chicomuceltec: (late 20th century)
  19. Chimariko: (ca. 1930s)
  20. Chitimacha: Benjamin Paul (1934) & Delphine Ducloux (1940)
  21. Chumashan family: Barbareño language was last to become extinct.
  22. Barbareño: Mary Yee (1965)
  23. Ineseño
  24. Island Chumash (Ethnologue)
  25. Obispeño
  26. Purisimeño
  27. Ventureño
  28. Coahuilteco: (18th century)
  29. Cochimí (a Yuman language): (early 19th century)
  30. Comecrudan family
  31. Comecrudo: recorded from children (Andrade, Emiterio, Joaquin, & others) of last speakers in (1886)
  32. Garza: last recorded in (1828)
  33. Mamulique: last recorded in (1828)
  34. Coosan family
  35. Hanis: Martha Johnson (1972)
  36. Miluk: Annie Miner Peterson (1939)
  37. Costanoan languages (a subfamily of the Utian family): (ca. 1940s)
  38. Karkin
  39. Mutsun
  40. Northern Costanoan
  41. Ramaytush
  42. Chochenyo
  43. Tamyen
  44. Awaswas
  45. Rumsen: last recorded speaker died in (1939) in Monterey, California
  46. Chalon
  47. Cotoname: last recorded from Santos Cavázos and Emiterio in (1886)
  48. Crimean Gothic: language vanished by the (1800s)
  49. Cuman: István Varró (1770)
  50. Dalmatian: Tuone Udaina, (June 10, 1898)
  51. Esselen: report of a few speakers left in 1833, extinct before the end of the 19th century
  52. Eyak (a Na-Dené language): Marie Smith Jones, January 21, 2008[8]
  53. Gabrielino (a Uto-Aztecan language): elderly speakers last recorded in 1933
  54. Gafat (a South Ethiopian Semitic language): four speakers found in 1947 after much effort, no subsequent record
  55. Galice-Applegate (an Athabaskan language)
  56. Galice dialect: Hoxie Simmons (1963)
  57. Greenlandic Norse: (by the late 15th century (16th century at the latest))
  58. Modern Gutnish: (by the 18th century)
  59. Jassic: (17th century)
  60. Juaneño (a Uto-Aztecan language): last recorded in (1934)
  61. Kakadu (Gaagudju): Big Bill Neidjie (July 2002)
  62. Kalapuyan family
  63. Central Kalapuya
  64. Ahantchuyuk, Luckimute, Mary's River, and Lower McKenzie River dialects: last speakers were about 6 persons who were all over 60 in (1937)
  65. Santiam dialect: (ca. 1950s)
  66. Northern Kalapuya
  67. Tualatin dialect: Louis Kenoyer (1937)
  68. Yamhill dialect: Louisa Selky (1915)
  69. Yonkalla: last recorded in 1937 from Laura Blackery Albertson who only partly remembered it
  70. Kamassian: last native speaker, Klavdiya Plotnikova, died in 1989
  71. Karankawa: (1858)
  72. Kathlamet (a Chinookan language): (ca. 1930s)
  73. Kitanemuk (an Uto-Aztecan language): Marcelino Rivera, Isabella Gonzales, Refugia Duran last recorded (1937)
  74. Kitsai (a Caddoan language): Kai Kai (ca. 1940)[9]
  75. Klallam:(2014)
  76. Kwalhioqua-Clatskanie (an Athabaskan language): children of the last speakers remembered a few words, recorded in (1935 & 1942)
  77. Clatskanie dialect: father of Willie Andrew (ca. 1870)
  78. Kwalhioqua dialect: mother of Lizzie Johnson (1910)
  79. Lipan (Athabaskan): a few native speakers were living in the 1980s, now extinct
  80. Mahican: last spoken in Wisconsin (ca. 1930s)
  81. Manx: Ned Maddrell (December 1974) (but is being revived as a second language)
  82. Mattole-Bear River (an Athabaskan language)
  83. Bear River dialect: material from last elderly speaker recorded (ca. 1929)
  84. Mattole dialect: material recorded (ca. 1930)
  85. Mbabaram: Albert Bennett (1972)
  86. Mesmes: (one of the West Gurage languages), material from last elderly speaker (who had not spoken it for 30 years) collected ca. 2000
  87. Miami-Illinois: (1989)
  88. Mochica: (ca. 1950s)
  89. Mohegan: Fidelia Fielding (1908)
  90. Molala: Fred Yelkes (1958)
  91. Munichi: Victoria Huancho Icahuate (late 1990s)
  92. Natchez: Watt Sam & Nancy Raven (early 1930s)
  93. Negerhollands: Alice Stevenson (1987)
  94. Nooksack: Sindick Jimmy (1977)
  95. Norn (a Germanic language): extinct by mid-19th century
  96. Northern Pomo: (1994)
  97. Nottoway (an Iroquoian language): last recorded (before 1836)
  98. Pentlatch (a Salishan language): Joe Nimnim (1940)
  99. Pánobo (a Pano–Tacanan language): (1991)
  100. Pochutec (Uto-Aztecan: last documented 1917 by Franz Boas
  101. Polabian (a Slavic language): (late 18th century)
  102. Sadlermiut: last speaker died in 1902
  103. Salinan: (ca. 1960)
  104. Shastan family
  105. Konomihu
  106. New River Shasta
  107. Okwanuchu
  108. Shasta: 3 elderly speakers in 1980, extinct by (1990)
  109. Sirenik: last speaker died of old age in (1997)
  110. Siuslaw: (ca. 1970s)
  111. Slovincian (a Slavic language): (20th century)
  112. Sowa: last fluent speaker died in (2000)
  113. Susquehannock: all last speakers murdered in (1763)
  114. Takelma: Molly Orton (or Molly Orcutt) & Willie Simmons (both not fully fluent) last recorded in (1934)
  115. Tasmanian: (late 19th century)
  116. Tataviam (an Uto-Aztecan language): Juan José Fustero who remembered only a few words of his grandparents' language recorded (1913)
  117. Teteté (a Tucanoan language)
  118. Tillamook (a Salishan language): (1970)
  119. Tonkawa: 6 elderly people in (1931)
  120. Tsetsaut (an Athabaskan language): last fluent speaker was elderly man recorded in (1894)
  121. Tunica: Sesostrie Youchigant (ca. mid 20th century)
  122. Ubykh: Tevfik Esenç (October 1992)
  123. 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).[10]
  124. Upper Umpqua: Wolverton Orton, last recorded in (1942)
  125. Vegliot Dalmatian: Tuone Udaina (Italian: Antonio Udina) (10 June 1898)
  126. Wappo : Laura Fish Somersal (1990)
  127. Weyto: while attested as living in 1770, 18th century explorers could find no fluent speakers
  128. Wiyot: Della Prince (1962)
  129. Yana: Ishi (1916)
  130. Yola related to English: (mid-19th century)
  131. See also


    1. ^ Lenore A. Grenoble, Lindsay J. Whaley, Saving Languages: An Introduction to Language Revitalization, Cambridge University Press (2006) p.18
    2. ^ "Ethnologue". Ethnologue. Retrieved 2012-03-22. 
    3. ^ "Study by language researcher, David Graddol". MSNBC. 2004-02-26. Retrieved 2012-03-22. 
    4. ^ by Ian on Friday, January 16, 2009 61 comments (2009-01-16). "Research by Southwest University for Nationalities College of Liberal Arts". Retrieved 2012-03-22. 
    5. ^ a b Malone, Elizabeth (July 28, 2008). "Language and Linguistics: Endangered Language". National Science Foundation. Retrieved October 23, 2009. 
    6. ^ Thomason, Sarah Grey & Kaufman, Terrence. Language Contact, Creolization, and Genetic Linguistics, University of California Press (1991) p. 100.
    7. ^ Cromarty fisherfolk dialect's last native speaker dies. BBC. 2 October 2012 (retrieved 2 October 2012)
    8. ^ "When nobody understands".  
    9. ^ Science: Last of the Kitsai. Time. 27 June 1932 (retrieved 6 Sept 2009)
    10. ^ Culture: Language. The Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs Reservation of Oregon. 2009 (retrieved 9 April 2009)


    • 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:
    • 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.

    External links

    • The Dodo's Fate: How Languages Become Extinct
    • The Foundation of Endangered Languages
    • Endangered Languages
    • Photos of letters/characters from ancient and living languages featured on exterior walls of Library of Alexandria.
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