What Does it Mean When a Language is Dead, Endangered or Extinct?

A dead language is a language that some people still use, even if there are no native speakers of that language left. Latin was once a prominent language that many baby boomers in the United States were required to learn in high school, but as the years progressed, the language died out and most people didn’t give it a second thought until “Pope Benedict XVI announced his resignation in Latin in February” of 2013 (Boston Public Radio).

Endangered and Extinct Languages

An endangered language is one that is in danger of becoming extinct. For example, The Guardian explains that if the only speakers of a language are grandparents who “speak the language partially and infrequently,” the language is critically endangered. When those grandparents die, the language will die with them and become extinct. A small sample of languages on the critically endangered list include:

  • Chung (Cambodia)
  • Onondaga (New York)
  • Red Gelao and White Gelao (Vietnam)
  • Han (United States)
  • Chung (Thailand)
  • Munsee (Canada)
  • Northern Paiute (Idaho)

An extinct language is one for which there are no speakers left on the planet who know it. One of these languages is Unami, a “language spoken by the Native Americans [Eastern Algonquians] who left their place names all over New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania and signed the famous peace treaty with William Penn in 1683” (Inside Science). Other extinct languages include:

  • Cayuga (Oklahoma)
  • Karaim (Crimea)
  • Cappadocian Greek (Turkey)
  • Huron-Wyandot (United States)
  • Judeo-Berber (Morocco)
  • Yuruti (Brazil)
  • Ubykh (Caucasus)

The only language that was ever brought back after near extinction is Modern Hebrew. All but lost during the Roman Empire, it was revived in 1882 by a man named Eliezer Ben-Yehuda. His son, Ben-Zion, “became the first person to have Hebrew as a native tongue in 1,800 years” (Inside Science). Other families followed suit and there are 9 million people today who speak Hebrew, with 8 million of them speaking it as their first language.

The Extinction Continues

By some estimates, 80% of the world’s languages may vanish within the next century.

Though it is difficult to acquire an exact number, most experts believe that there are over 5,000 languages around the world. The Linguistic Society of America explains, “A century from now, however, many of these languages may be extinct…by some estimates, 80% of the world’s languages may vanish within the next century.” When a language is lost, “traditions are abruptly lost in the process and replaced by the cultural habits of the more powerful group. For these reasons, among others, it is often very important to the community itself that its language survives” (Linguistic Society of America).

Translation Keeps Language Alive

Translation is important in keeping languages alive. As more people learn and continue to use the languages of the world in business and daily life, they will continue to live on. We work with over 80 language pairs to keep your business communications flowing smoothly all over the world. Our industries range from agri-food to technology and beyond. At ITC Global Translations, we take business translations seriously. We take pride in getting your business ready to spread out to the most remote areas of the world to keep communities connected. Contact us today for more information.

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