Extinct language

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An extinct language is a historical language whose speakers have become extinct or whose speakers have switched to another language ( have assimilated to another language community ).

There are various reasons for the extinction of languages. Extinct languages ​​are to be differentiated from "dead" languages , the speakers of which are not extinct in the actual sense, but represent the historical forerunners of today's languages ​​(e.g. the speakers of Latin are not extinct, but have more and more vulgar Latin over the course of time changed until today's Romance languages emerged.)


Michael E. Krauss gives the 10th millennium BC BC as the approximate climax of language diversity. Since then, the number of languages ​​has been relatively constant at first and has eventually decreased. In addition to smaller extinction events due to battles between tribes or the like, there were also at least three larger ones before the modern era: With the spread of Latin through the expansion of the Roman Empire in Europe. The Etruscan , for example, died out in Italy. Due to the great dominance of the Aztecs and the Inca in Central and South America, Nahuatl and Quechua displaced their neighboring languages until the colonization by Spain .

From the beginning of the European colonial era , the number of extinct and dying languages ​​rose sharply. European languages ​​are increasingly displacing indigenous languages, such as English in North America, Africa, Australia and New Zealand, Spanish in Central and South America, Portuguese in Brazil, French in Canada and Russian in Siberia.

A historical language displacement is assumed for Africa south of the Sahara . Here the Bantu languages ​​have often replaced older languages. In North Africa it was again Arabic that displaced the previous languages, including the important cultural language Coptic .

Another area with a high number of endangered languages ​​is New Guinea . Due to the geographical isolation of individual tribes, the interior of the island had a very high language density. The majority of the approximately 1000 languages ​​are threatened with extinction.


With the help of existing records, attempts are made from time to time to revive an extinct language. One example of this is Manx , which is taught in schools on the Isle of Man and (as of 2005) again has 28 native speakers. Another example is Cornish ( Kernewek ), extinct in 1777, which 300 people can speak again.

The only language successfully revived on a large scale is Hebrew , which for a long time only existed as a written language and liturgical language. Hebrew is now the official language of Israel as Iwrit (New Hebrew) .

It is controversial in linguistics to what extent these revived languages ​​are actually the same, as there has been a break in the natural transmission of language from generation to generation and it is therefore likely that not all aspects and nuances of the original language are included in the grammar and the vocabulary of the revived version could have been incorporated.


See also

Web links

Wiktionary: extinct language  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Tasaku Tsunoda: Language endangerment and Language Revitalization (= Trends in Linguistics Studies and Monographs.. 148). Mouton de Gruyter, Berlin et al. 2005, ISBN 3-11-017662-9 , p. 3 f.