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Dead Languages: Are They Coming Back?

Linguists have a way of making certain things sound morbid. Case in point, dead languages. Dead languages are languages that have no native speakers left. This means that there is no one left that grew up speaking the language. There are also moribund languages which are languages that do not have any native speakers in the current generation. Finally we have endangered languages. These are languages that are spoken by very few natives and are in danger of becoming a dead language. As for the dead languages, do we simply have to give in to the loss or can they be revived? The answer is yes, they can be raised from the dead.

While there are many dead languages, there are even more people who are working hard to revive them. The most notable revival of a dead language is Hebrew where a whole new generation of people who had never spoken this language before, since it was only used for prayers and religious rituals, became fluent, providing a totally successful revival. This was an amazing accomplishment seeing as there were no natives to teach the language! This semi-dead language revival took place in modern-day Israel, where the majority of the population now speaks Hebrew fluently.

Before America was populated by European settlers, there were a large amount of Native tribes living on this land. This meant that there were also many different languages spoken. While there are some that are still thriving and well (Cherokee is probably the most spoken Native language in America), others are dead and gone, never to be brought back. This is mostly due to the fact that the languages spoken by these tribes died with the last  tribe member, and since record keeping was not something important in those days, there is no way to revive the language. However, there has been one very successful revival of an endangered Native language; Navajo. Thanks to the role that the members of this tribe played in World War II, it was pulled back from the edge of extinction and is now enjoying good health. Once a language that was deemed as worthless, Navajo is now recognized as a valuable language in America and other parts of the world affected by World War II.

The most commonly known dead languages known to man are Ancient Greek and Latin. Hebrew was once on this list but as shown above, was brought back to life, and with a vengeance! While Ancient Greek and Latin are still considered dead, this has not stopped people from trying to learn them anyway. The main problem with reviving a dead language is that there is nobody around to help with pronunciation. Even so, people can try to learn these languages to the best of their ability, and what usually happens is that they learn it in a different form. They see it with fresh eyes and this provides new insights into the language. People who have taken this challenge may just be the key to reviving these all too popular dead languages.

Lately, a new project by Google has created some hope for endangered languages. In a website under this name, Google is trying to coordinate an online collaborative effort to protect global linguistic diversity. Your own help will be highly appreciated. As we can see, because people are still taking a great interest in dead languages, perhaps saying that they are dead is an erroneous statement? As people continue to learn and develop, we will find our answer.


4 thoughts on “Dead Languages: Are They Coming Back?

  1. Languages teach us so much about our history and species. The New York Times just ran an article a couple days ago about reviving Aramaic, the language of Jesus Christ. Check it out.


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