Unfortunately, language does not last forever. Just as many things come to life and die, so does language. The languages we all speak will eventually no longer be spoken, but that is ok! New languages will come to take their place!
The Cambridge Dictionary defines a dead language as “a language that is no longer used for ordinary communication.” For example, Latin is a dead language. There are some that know this language, however nobody uses it for ordinary communication in any community. Put this in contrast with an extinct language, which is a language which no one knows how to speak anymore. So, every extinct language is a dead language, but not every dead language is an extinct language.
But how many dead languages are there? Well it is approximated that there are over 200,000 dead language. Furthermore, it is predicted that over half of the worlds current 7,000 languages will become extinct by the end of the 21st century. That is a lot of language die-out!
Below you will find an example of a dead or extinct language on each continent.
Asia – Khitan
The Khitan language was an Altaic language spoken in Manchuria and parts of modern day Mongolia. To the Chinese, the Khitan people and language were known as “Liao”, and these people were a nomadic nation originally from Northeast Asia.
Something that is interesting about this language is that it has two different writing forms: small script and large script. Although both of these writing forms are Khitan, the actual forms of these scripts have very little in common. The large script appears to be 5 years older than the small script with its origins in 920 AD, while the small script was formed in 925 AD.
Africa – Nagumi
Very little is actually known about how Nagumi was written or spoken. Its origins are in Northern Cameroon, and the name was created by a German military officer named Kurt Strumpell. Though, Strumpell observed that the language was close to forgotten around 1910 AD. This language also goes by the name “Ngong” or “Gong”.
Europe – Vandolic
Vandolic was a language of the Vandals, a Germanic barbarian tribe which sacked Rome in 455 AD and created a kingdom in Northern Africa. Unfortunately, there is very little known about how this language was written or spoken because the Vandals picked up writing so late in their existence.
North America- Pidgin Delaware
Pidgin languages are simplified languages meant to convey meaning to people who cannot speak a particular language. In this case Pidgin Delaware was a language developed to facilitate communication between Native American Unami speakers and Dutch traders/settlers in the 1620s. The language is a simplification of the Unami language and has an incredibly limited vocabulary and syntax. The first mention found of Pidgin Delaware was in 1628 AD, while its last mention of use was in 1785 AD.
South America – Oti
Oti was an language isolate, meaning that there are no known lingual origins and it is not based on another language. It was spoken in the Sao Paulo region of Brazil, but became extinct in the 20th century with the extinction of the Oti people.