Languages come and go, those languages that go are called extinct languages.
Just like other species, languages can go extinct, sometimes, there is a revivalist movement centuries down the line, which saves it, and other times, not. So which languages are extinct?
12 extinct languages
We spoke about Breton in our previous article- 12 useless languages. In that article we talked about how in 2009, the UN reported that the language was officially considered one of the extinct languages.
Breton was previously the most spoken language in Brittany, a Celtic language, spoken from the descendants of the Britons (a Celtic people who lived in present day Britain). This was up until it began to be overtaken in popularity by French, and over time, French became the dominant language in Brittany.
Breton currently has 500,000 speakers, which classifies it as being extinct. The worst part about that statistic is that almost 75% of Breton speakers are over the age of 60.
Cornish is probably the most famous example when it comes to extinct languages, it was officially declared one of the extinct languages in 1777. Cornish was rarely used by anyone, even the Cornish themselves, until the mid 20th Century.
During the 20th Century, the Cornish language was a target of the Celtic revivalist movement. This movement saw the re-education of Cornish people as to the language their ancestors would’ve spoken.
To date, only 300-400 people are considered to be fluent in the language. This is despite the fact that around 5000 people claim to be able to speak it conversationally.
10. Biblical Hebrew
Biblical Hebrew was the predecessor to the modern Hebrew we know today. It was mainly used by the Israelites of the Tribe of Israel, and is the langauge the original Hebrew Bibles were written in.
However, the modern Torah has been translated into modern-day Hebrew for ease of understanding.
Biblical Hebrew saw a decline after the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem, and the disbursement of the Israelites throughout Europe and North Africa.
Biblical Hebrew only saw more decline during the Holocaust, where Rabbis were the first to die. When Israel was first resettled by the descendants of the Israelites, Modern Jewish was devised.
Modern Hebrew has a much broader range of vocabulary that could be used, as there are 100,000 words in Modern Hebrew, but only 8,000 in Biblical Hebrew.
After the resettlement of Israel, Biblical Hebrew became an extinct language, with people dumping it in favour of Modern Hebrew.
9. Portuguese-based Creole
This isn’t strictly one language, rather referring to multiple creole languages derived from Portuguese. Most of these languages have become extinct languages due to the high degree of difficulty in pronunciation and syntax,
The only major Portuguese-based Creole languages not to become extinct languages are: Cape Verdean and Guinea-Bissau creoles.
These creoles are rather difficult still, even if you speak Portuguese to a high, or native standard.
Anglo-Norman is more of a cheat that anything on this list. Whilst it is considered to be an extinct language, it hasn’t exactly… died out. You could probably understand some Anglo-Norman if your knowledge of English is high.
Anglo-Norman was a dialect of French that was used as the official language of England from 1066-1328. It helped to form a large part (15%) of the Vocabulary in the English language.
Around 300 people keep this language alive, most of these are researchers, who specialise in the Norman era. Interestingly, there are still a few people, segregated from the rest of society, who use Anglo-Norman as their native language in Guernsey.
We, too covered Osage last week, despite the ongoing push from the Osage Tribe elders for the younger generations to learn it, Osage is still an extinct language.
It became extinct due to European influence, the Spanish, French and English brought their languages over when they came to conquer the New World.
This had the affect of diluting the language, to the extent that an Osage tribesman today, even if he spoke Osage, wouldn’t be able to understand his ancestor from 1600.
This makes Osage an extinct language. Even though it may have 15-20 speakers, it is classed as extinct. One just has to hope that the Osage elders are successful with their plans.
6. Andalusian Arabic
Andalusian Arabic is a dialect of Arabic previously spoken in southern Spain by the Moors. Unlike modern Arabic, Andalusian Arabic is very different. Andalusian Arabic is almost incomprehensible to modern Arabic speakers.
During the Spanish Reconquista, Andalusian Arabic was all but annihilated. The Catholics were famous for their brutality against Moorish women and children. Due to /this brutality, most Andalusian Arabic speakers were killed.
This is the reason why Andalusian Arabic is classified as an extinct language.
Berber was a language, previously spoken by the Berber people of Morocco. Interestingly, those Moors who fled, often turned to Berbers for help/This is why Berber ha lexical similarities with Berber.
Over time, thanks to the Arabisation of Morocco, Berber was’t as wide spread. This is because the younger generations saw the progress Arabic could bring for their careers,
It is this neglect that truly made Berber an extinct language.
Sanskrit is one of the oldest languages on this list, and indeed, is one of the oldest languages in the world. Sanskrit is currently spoken by around 25,000 people. This is what classifies the language as an extinct language.
Sanskrit was once the most spoken language in India, thanks in large part to Hindu and Buddhist monks. These Hindu and Buddhist monks used it as their language of religion and communication.
At its peak 2000 years ago, around 200,000 people would’ve spoken Sanskrit.
However, now, this is reduced due to the adoption of other languages such as Hindi and English that were not present in India 2000 years ago.
Whilst Galician-Portuguese may be an extinct language, modern Portuguese and modern Galician are direct descendants of the language. This is the main reason behind the high levels of mutual intelligibility behind the two modern-day languages.
Galician-Portuguese was mainly spoken by the common people in both modern-day Portugal and Galicia.
At its peak, in 1500, 4 million people spoke Galician-Portuguese. This was out of a population of slightly more than 4 million.
Due to the Spanish Reconquista, Galician-Portuguese split into two languages. One that became Galician, and the other that became Portuguese.
2. Ancient Egyptian
Ancient Egyptian is one of the most famous extinct languages, it was previously the language of the Pharaohs of Egypt, including Cleopatra and Tutankhamen.
Ancient Egyptian was likely a Semitic language, related to both (Biblical and Modern) Hebrew and Arabic.
Ancient Egyptian is famous for having been written in hieroglyphics, something that baffles linguists to this day. We currently only have a small understanding of the writing system based of the Rosetta Stone.
This one is a source of contention, its generally agreed that Latin is a dead language, and has been for many years. Latin was famously the language of the Romans, and later the Catholic Church.
Latin is also famous for being the root language of many of the European romance languages. These languages include the likes of French, Italian and Spanish.
Latin became one of the extinct languages on this list, in the mid-20th century. It had previously served as the Lingua Franca throughout the time of the Roman Empire and up until the 17th Century.
After the 17 the Century, the popularity of Latin died down. Catholic Mass was no longer done in Latin. And English took over as the language of commerce.
Gareth Seagull is the editor-in-chief of Raptor Translations Magazine. Before that, he was a language teacher, linguistics professor and later a translator! He currently speaks five European languages.
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