The term endangered was once used only for animals that had gone extinct. Today, it is also used for certain languages that have either died or slowly dying. When you talk about endangered or forgotten languages, Latin maybe the first language that comes to mind. Although the Latin language may be dead but it has had a huge influence on some of the languages we speak today. The same goes for the languages that are about to die. It is important to still understand these languages due to their origin. If a language is no longer spoken or used for any purpose, it is considered extinct. However, if it is dead, it shall be used or studied in some contexts.
The society of National Geographic states that a language dies every two weeks. Therefore, several languages were once the only source of communication but have now become endangered or forgotten. Let’s discuss this.
Latin language, when it comes to discussing dead languages tops the list. For centuries it has been considered a dead language. However, as already mentioned Latin has had a huge influence on other languages. Therefore, it is still taught in many schools to understand many other languages. Initially, people who belonged to the lower Tiber River area used to speak Latin.
During the Roman Empire, the geographical area that used Latin to communicate expanded as well. Gradually, Latin found itself amongst people of Europe and Africa. By nature, Latin was a complex language, however, it died alongside the Roman Empire. Historians believe that Latin evolved with the passage of time. Languages such as Portuguese, French, and Spanish derive influence from Latin language and are the modern version of the Latin language.
The Coptic language was used during ancient Egyptian times. As the Egyptian era slowly died, the only thing that remained was the language. Coptic is basically a combination of Hieratic, Demotic, and Hieroglyphics languages. Ptolemaic rulers used Coptic as a language throughout Egypt. This was a time when Greek culture had made its way into the region as well.
Therefore, if there is any language that will make you sound like ancient Egyptians, it is Coptic.
Historians believe that Coptic is the first language of Christianity and therefore is important to understand the origin of Christianity. Today, it is only found in Egypt, in Coptic Church’s liturgy. With its native speakers almost nowhere to be found, the Coptic language is slowly becoming extinct. It only exists for scholars of dead languages.
Most people tend to confuse Biblical Hebrew with a completely different Modern Hebrew, which is very much alive today. Around 200 CE, Biblical Hebrew was an archaic form of Hebrew that gradually developed into a liturgical and literary language. If you go further down in history, you would discover that it was spoken originally by ancient Israelites.
Today, it is still taught in many schools in Israel to understand the Jewish faith and Modern Hebrew. Furthermore, Biblical Hebrew is not complicated for Modern Hebrew speakers in terms of interpretation and understanding. Reason being, Modern Hebrew contains some elements from Biblical Hebrew. Therefore, Modern Hebrew speakers do not have to put in much effort to understand Biblical Hebrew.
Sami is a unique language. Primarily because it is not a single language, instead of a combination of several different variations. Usually referred to as Lappish, these languages are mostly spoken in Sweden, Norway, Russia, and Finland. While languages such as LuleSaami and North Saami have native speakers in thousands but other languages have native speakers in only single or double digits. Furthermore, the native speakers of the languages that exist today are mostly adults and do not use the language outside the home.
The ancient Sumerians are credited for being one of the first civilizations that invented writing. However, the Sumerian language couldn’t hold on as much as their legacy did. It has been centuries since someone has spoken Sumerian but the cuneiform tablets left behind by the Sumerians are still studied by scholars across the globe. These cuneiform tablets are the primary source of understanding and getting familiar with the laws, stories, paintings, and myths surrounding the Sumerian society.
With the decline of the Sumerian empire, people started to moves towards the North. The Sumerian people were in search of good farming grounds and hospitable areas. However, not much was to be gained and eventually they settled with the Akkadians both in language and culture.
Just like the Sumerian language, Akkadian was not able to stand the test of time. There was a time, particularly between the 3rd and 1st millennium BCE when it was spoken throughout Mesopotamia. With time, the language found its way to an area that stretched from the Mediterranean Sea to the Persian Gulf. This was primarily due to Sargon, who had helped the Akkadian empire with its great expansion.
However, the fact of the matter is that the revitalization of both Sumerian and Akkadian languages is as interesting as the way these languages died. As the language laid dormant for centuries, scholars during the 19th and 20th centuries made efforts to bring the language back to life. They studied and understood it to decipher meanings, which ultimately helped them gain insight into ancient societies.
This might be the first time you are hearing about a language named Ts’ixa but the fact of the matter is that it was once a language that was spoken throughout Botswana. It was a popular language in central Botswana before it slowly started to become extinct. Today, if you put in some research, you shall find out that Ts’ixa is only spoken and understood in one village i.e. the village of Mababe.
Rough estimates state that nearly 200 native speakers of the language exist today who are mostly adults. However, children in this village are taught other languages such as English or Setswana. Therefore, it is evident that with the newer generations coming up, Ts’ixa will soon become an extinct language.
The Okanagan-Colville language is also known as Nsyilxcon and it is considered to be one of the hundred languages belonging to the Native Americans that have become endangered. The language mostly existed in Canada and British Columbia. Today, it is estimated that roughly 150 native speakers of this language exist. Although the language has been somehow preserved, you will hardly find anyone using it to communicate.
Ainu language belongs to the Ainu people who happen to be a native group in Japan. Today, the language could hardly be found in Japan and with more or less 10 native speakers existing, mainly elders, the language has for sure become endangered. It could be said that some heritage learners do exist as well but it is not enough to sustain the use of the language as majority fluent speakers cannot be found.
Although hundreds of languages are either forgotten or have become endangered, it is important to bring them back to life as these languages represent the cultural history of societies and communities. Unfortunately, not much effort could be seen, which puts the identity of many communities and their people at risk. The only successful revitalization to take place was of the Modern Hebrew. Otherwise, the death of other languages has wiped out unique history and cultures as well.