Extinct language

From Infogalactic: the planetary knowledge core
Jump to: navigation, search
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

Sisters Maxine Wildcat Barnett (left) and Josephine Wildcat Bigler; two of the final surviving elderly speakers of Yuchi, visiting their grandmother’s grave in a cemetery behind Pickett Chapel in Sapulpa, Oklahoma. According to the sisters, their grandmother had insisted that Yuchi be their native language.

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,[2] but on 2015-05-20, Ethnologue reported only 7,102 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.[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

Chronologically, in the 21st century

Date Language Language family Region Notes and Terminal speakers
February 4, 2014 Klallam
Na’klallam, S’klallam
Salishan Washington, United States: northeast Olympic Peninsula, Port Angeles. with the death of Hazel Sampson[7]
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[8]
October 2, 2012 Cromarty dialect of Scots
Black Isle dialect
Germanic Northern Scotland, United Kingdom with the death of Bobby Hogg [9]
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[10]
August 20, 2010 Cochin Indo-Portuguese Creole
Vypin Indo-Portuguese
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[10]
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.[11]
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[12]
November 2009 Aka-Kora
Andamanese Andaman Islands, India: northeast and north central coasts of North Andaman Island, Smith Island. with the death of Boro[13]
by 2009 [14] 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, USA: Copper river mouth. with the death of Marie Smith Jones[citation needed]
c.2008 (?) Bidyara
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, USA with the death of Lucille Roubedeaux
2003 Akkala Sami
Ahkkil, Babino, Babinsk
Uralic Kola Peninsula, Russia: Murmanskaya Oblast’, southwest Kola peninsula. with the death of Marja Sergina
May 2002 Gaagudju
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
c.2000 Laua
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.

  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)[15]
  12. Baybayin: (late 19th century)
  13. Catawban family
    1. Catawba: (before 1960)
    2. Woccon
  14. Cayuse: (ca. 1930s)
  15. Chemakum: (ca. 1940s)
  16. Chicomuceltec: (late 20th century)
  17. Chimariko: (ca. 1930s)
  18. Chitimacha: Benjamin Paul (1934) & Delphine Ducloux (1940)
  19. Chumashan family: Barbareño language was last to become extinct.
    1. Barbareño: Mary Yee (1965)
    2. Ineseño
    3. Island Chumash (Ethnologue)
    4. Obispeño
    5. Purisimeño
    6. Ventureño
  20. Coahuilteco: (18th century)
  21. Cochimí (a Yuman language): (early 19th century)
  22. Comecrudan family
    1. Comecrudo: recorded from children (Andrade, Emiterio, Joaquin, & others) of last speakers in (1886)
    2. Garza: last recorded in (1828)
    3. Mamulique: last recorded in (1828)
  23. Coosan family
    1. Hanis: Martha Johnson (1972)
    2. Miluk: Annie Miner Peterson (1939)
  24. Costanoan languages (a subfamily of the Utian family): (ca. 1940s)
    1. Karkin
    2. Mutsun
    3. Northern Costanoan
      1. Ramaytush
      2. Chochenyo
      3. Tamyen
      4. Awaswas
    4. Rumsen: last recorded speaker died in (1939) in Monterey, California
    5. Chalon
  25. Cotoname: last recorded from Santos Cavázos and Emiterio in (1886)
  26. Crimean Gothic: language vanished by the (1800s)
  27. Cuman: István Varró (1770)
  28. Dalmatian: Tuone Udaina, (June 10, 1898)
  29. Esselen: report of a few speakers left in 1833, extinct before the end of the 19th century
  30. Eyak (a Na-Dené language): Marie Smith Jones, January 21, 2008[16]
  31. Gabrielino (a Uto-Aztecan language): elderly speakers last recorded in 1933
  32. Gafat (a South Ethiopian Semitic language): four speakers found in 1947 after much effort, no subsequent record
  33. Galice-Applegate (an Athabaskan language)
    1. Galice dialect: Hoxie Simmons (1963)
  34. Greenlandic Norse: (by the late 15th century (16th century at the latest))
  35. Modern Gutnish: (by the 18th century)
  36. Jassic: (17th century)
  37. Juaneño (a Uto-Aztecan language): last recorded in (1934)
  38. Kakadu (Gaagudju): Big Bill Neidjie (July 2002)
  39. Kalapuyan family
    1. Central Kalapuya
      1. Ahantchuyuk, Luckimute, Mary's River, and Lower McKenzie River dialects: last speakers were about 6 persons who were all over 60 in (1937)
      2. Santiam dialect: (ca. 1950s)
    2. Northern Kalapuya
      1. Tualatin dialect: Louis Kenoyer (1937)
      2. Yamhill dialect: Louisa Selky (1915)
    3. Yonkalla: last recorded in 1937 from Laura Blackery Albertson who only partly remembered it
  40. Kamassian: last native speaker, Klavdiya Plotnikova, died in 1989
  41. Karankawa: (1858)
  42. Kathlamet (a Chinookan language): (ca. 1930s)
  43. Kitanemuk (an Uto-Aztecan language): Marcelino Rivera, Isabella Gonzales, Refugia Duran last recorded (1937)
  44. Kitsai (a Caddoan language): Kai Kai (ca. 1940)[17]
  45. Klallam:(2014)
  46. Kwalhioqua-Clatskanie (an Athabaskan language): children of the last speakers remembered a few words, recorded in (1935 & 1942)
    1. Clatskanie dialect: father of Willie Andrew (ca. 1870)
    2. Kwalhioqua dialect: mother of Lizzie Johnson (1910)
  47. Lipan (Athabaskan): a few native speakers were living in the 1980s, now extinct
  48. Mahican: last spoken in Wisconsin (ca. 1930s)
  49. Manx: Ned Maddrell (December 1974) (but is being revived as a second language)
  50. Mattole-Bear River (an Athabaskan language)
    1. Bear River dialect: material from last elderly speaker recorded (ca. 1929)
    2. Mattole dialect: material recorded (ca. 1930)
  51. Mbabaram: Albert Bennett (1972)
  52. Mesmes: (one of the West Gurage languages), material from last elderly speaker (who had not spoken it for 30 years) collected ca. 2000
  53. Miami-Illinois: (1989)
  54. Mochica: (ca. 1950s)
  55. Mohegan: Fidelia Fielding (1908)
  56. Molala: Fred Yelkes (1958)
  57. Munichi: Victoria Huancho Icahuate (late 1990s)
  58. Natchez: Watt Sam & Nancy Raven (early 1930s)
  59. Negerhollands: Alice Stevenson (1987)
  60. Nooksack: Sindick Jimmy (1977)
  61. Norn (a Germanic language): extinct by mid-19th century
  62. Northern Pomo: (1994)
  63. Nottoway (an Iroquoian language): last recorded (before 1836)
  64. Pentlatch (a Salishan language): Joe Nimnim (1940)
  65. Pánobo (a Pano–Tacanan language): (1991)
  66. Pochutec (Uto-Aztecan: last documented 1917 by Franz Boas
  67. Polabian (a Slavic language): (late 18th century)
  68. Sadlermiut: last speaker died in 1902
  69. Salinan: (ca. 1960)
  70. Shastan family
    1. Konomihu
    2. New River Shasta
    3. Okwanuchu
    4. Shasta: 3 elderly speakers in 1980, extinct by (1990)
  71. Sirenik: last speaker died of old age in (1997)
  72. Siuslaw: (ca. 1970s)
  73. Slovincian (a Slavic language): (20th century)
  74. Sowa: last fluent speaker died in (2000)
  75. Subtiaba: was moribund in 1909
  76. Susquehannock: all last speakers murdered in (1763)
  77. Takelma: Molly Orton (or Molly Orcutt) & Willie Simmons (both not fully fluent) last recorded in (1934)
  78. Tasmanian: (late 19th century)
  79. Tataviam (an Uto-Aztecan language): Juan José Fustero who remembered only a few words of his grandparents' language recorded (1913)
  80. Teteté (a Tucanoan language)
  81. Tillamook (a Salishan language): (1970)
  82. Tonkawa: 6 elderly people in (1931)
  83. Tsetsaut (an Athabaskan language): last fluent speaker was elderly man recorded in (1894)
  84. Tunica: Sesostrie Youchigant (ca. mid 20th century)
  85. Ubykh: Tevfik Esenç (October 1992)
  86. 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).[18]
  87. Upper Umpqua: Wolverton Orton, last recorded in (1942)
  88. Vegliot Dalmatian: Tuone Udaina (Italian: Antonio Udina) (10 June 1898)
  89. Wappo : Laura Fish Somersal (1990)
  90. Weyto: while attested as living in 1770, 18th century explorers could find no fluent speakers
  91. Wiyot: Della Prince (1962)
  92. Yana: Ishi (1916)
  93. Yola related to English: (mid-19th century)

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.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. "Study by language researcher, David Graddol". MSNBC. 2004-02-26. Retrieved 2012-03-22.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. 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)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. 5.0 5.1 Malone, Elizabeth (July 28, 2008). "Language and Linguistics: Endangered Language". National Science Foundation. Retrieved October 23, 2009.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Thomason, Sarah Grey & Kaufman, Terrence. Language Contact, Creolization, and Genetic Linguistics, University of California Press (1991) p. 100.
  7. http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/obituaries/last-native-klallam-speaker-dies-in-port-angeles/2014/02/06/d8108c14-8f70-11e3-878e-d76656564a01_story.html
  8. http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/news/world/europe/article3782596.ece?CMP=OTH-gnws-standard-2013_06_05
  9. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2212466/Final-word-Scottish-Cromarty-dialect-silenced-forever-native-speaker-dies-aged-92.html
  10. 10.0 10.1 http://www.write2kill.in/critiques/people/376.html
  11. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/8498534.stm
  12. http://books.google.co.in/books?id=L4zytHZWB4QC&pg=PA160
  13. Andamanese tribes, languages die, The Hindu
  14. http://archive.ethnologue.com/16/show_language.asp?code=pth
  15. Cromarty fisherfolk dialect's last native speaker dies. BBC. 2 October 2012 (retrieved 2 October 2012)
  16. "When nobody understands". The Economist. October 23, 2008. Retrieved 2008-10-25. The electronic age drives some languages out of existence, but can help save others<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  17. Science: Last of the Kitsai. Time. 27 June 1932 (retrieved 6 Sept 2009)
  18. 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: http://www.ethnologue.com).
  • 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