Term Paper: Extinct Languages

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Extinct Languages

There are two definitions of an extinct language, according to a science forum. The first definition relates to a language that is extinct due to the fact that no more people speak it, even if some may be able to read and even write it. Such examples include Old English and Ancient Chinese. Furthermore, in this group, one can also find scholarly or biblical languages such as Sanskrit and Slavonic, which can be recited, but which have no basis for correct pronunciation or fluency.

The second definition relates to a second group. This "stricter" definition of such a language is one that has left so few traces that it cannot even be reconstructed. This is truly an extinct or dead language, as it cannot even give an idea of the most rudimentary of dialogues. These can include many Bronze Age languages, and even some Indo-European languages.

A sad fact is that according to this definition, many other languages will be extinct by the year 2100. For instance, recently, it was found that as recently as February of last year, the last speaker of a tribal language, Bo, died in the Andaman Islands. The article mentioned that the death of this member of the tribe broke the 65,000-year-old link to one of the world's oldest cultures.

The article adds,

"Boa Sr., who lived through the 2004 tsunami, the Japanese occupation and diseases brought by British settlers, was the last native of the island chain who was fluent in Bo. Taking its name from a now-extinct tribe, Bo is one of the 10 Great Andamanese languages, which are thought to date back to pre-Neolithic human settlement of Southeast Asia. Though the language has been closely studied by researchers of linguistic history, Boa Sr. spent the last few years of her life unable to converse with anyone in her mother tongue."

The article goes on to say that the language that Boa Sr. was speaking was so extensive, yet so far extinct that nobody else was able to understand her, so she could only communicate to her family and friends in Hindi and another local language. Despite the fact that this language was so obscure, it is important to note just how many other languages like it have gone extinct.

In fact, according to some research, languages are becoming extinct more quickly than animals and plants. This further states that "…of the estimated 7,000 unique languages spoken in the world today, nearly half are likely to disappear this century, with an average of one lost every two weeks…[and] losing a language often means losing the knowledge and history of an entire culture, especially when there is no written record available."

According to the National Geographic Society and the Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages, 80% of the total global population speaks only one perfect of its languages. Furthermore, endangered languages, though documented by identifying "hot spots," can still be in danger of extinction. The five regions most in danger of extinction, according to the Enduring Voices Project, are Northern Australia, Central South America, North America's Upper Pacific Coastal Zone, Eastern Siberia and Oklahoma, in the Southwest United States.

Further according to the project, these languages are becoming extinct due to the fact that they are no longer spoken throughout the world, especially in light of the fact that languages such as English are becoming more and more commonplace. Yet language extinction does not happen all of a sudden, with the exception of colonial times, when invaders forbade natives to speak their own languages in order to have a better control on power. Thus, language extinction is more of a gradual process. Of course, in this respect, there are many components. One is, for instance, that a language is no longer learned by children, or a subsequent generation and is thus lost. According to the Linguistic Society of America (LSA), this has happened with an Eskimo community in Alaska.

Another point is to show more familiar societies to us, such as the Europeans. For instance, until recently (1940s), Scottish Gaelic was, according to the LSA, spoken on "Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia […] but by the 1970s the language was no… [END OF PREVIEW]

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