In linguistics, language death (also language extinction or linguistic extinction, and rarely linguicide or glottophagy) is a process that affects speech communities where the level of linguistic competence that speakers possess of a given language variety is decreased, eventually resulting in no native and/or fluent speakers of the variety. Language death may affect any language idiom, including dialects and languages.
Language death should not be confused with language attrition (also called language loss) which describes the loss of proficiency in a language at the individual level.
 Types of language death
Language death may manifest itself in one of the following ways:
- gradual language death
- bottom-to-top language death
- radical language death
- linguicide (a.k.a. sudden language death, language death by genocide, physical language death, biological language death)
The most common process leading to language death is one in which a community of speakers of one language becomes bilingual in another language, and gradually shifts allegiance to the second language until they cease to use their original (or heritage) language. This is a process of assimilation which may be voluntary or may be forced upon a population. Speakers of some languages, particularly regional or minority languages, may decide to abandon them based on economic or utilitarian grounds, in favour of languages regarded as having greater utility or prestige.
Languages with a small, geographically isolated population of speakers can also die when their speakers are wiped out by genocide, disease, or natural disaster.
A language is often declared to be dead even before the last native speaker of the language has died. If there are only a few elderly speakers of a language remaining, and they no longer use that language for communication, then the language is effectively dead. A language that has reached such a reduced stage of use is generally considered moribund. Once a language is no longer a native language - that is, if no children are being socialised into it as their primary language - the process of transmission is ended and the language itself will not survive past the current generation. This is rarely a sudden event, but a slow process of each generation learning less and less of the language, until its use is relegated to the domain of traditional use, such as in poetry and song. Typically the transmission of the language from adults to children becomes more and more restricted, to the final setting that adults speaking the language will raise children who never acquire fluency. One example of this process reaching its conclusion is that of the Dalmatian language.
 Consequences on grammar
During language loss–sometimes referred to as obsolescence in the linguistic literature–the language that is being lost generally undergoes changes as speakers make their language more similar to the language that they are shifting to. This process of change has been described in two categories, though they are not mutually exclusive. Often speakers replace elements of their own language with something from the language they are shifting toward. Also, if their heritage language has an element that the new language does not, speakers may drop it.
 Language revitalization
Language revitalization is an attempt to slow or reverse language death. Revitalization programs are ongoing in many languages, and have had varying degrees of success.
The revival of the Hebrew language in Israel is the only example of a language which has become a language with new first language speakers after it became extinct in everyday use for an extended period, being used only as a liturgical language.
And even in the case of Hebrew, there is a theory that argues that "the Hebrew revivalists who wished to speak pure Hebrew failed. The result is a fascinating and multifaceted Israeli language, which is not only multi-layered but also multi-sourced. The revival of a clinically dead language is unlikely without cross-fertilisation from the revivalists' mother tongue(s)."
Other cases of language revitalization which have seen some degree of success are Irish, Welsh, Hawaiian and to a lesser extent Navajo which was used for a WWII radio code never deciphered by the enemy Japanese..
 Dead languages and normal language change
Linguists distinguish between language "death" and the process where a language becomes a "dead language" through normal language change, a linguistic phenomenon analogous to pseudoextinction. This happens when a language in the course of its normal development gradually morphs into something that is then recognized as a separate, different language, leaving the old form with no native speakers. Thus, for example, Old English may be regarded as a "dead language", with no native speakers, although it has never "died" but instead simply changed and developed into Middle English, Early Modern English and Modern English. The process of language change may also involve the splitting up of a language into a family of several daughter languages, leaving the common parent language "dead". This has happened to Latin, which (through Vulgar Latin) eventually developed into the family of Romance languages. Such a process is normally not described as "language death", because it involves an unbroken chain of normal transmission of the language from one generation to the next, with only minute changes at every single point in the chain. There is thus no one point where "Latin died".
 See also
- ^ Calvet, Jean-Louis. 1974. Langue et colonialisme: petit trait de glottographie. Paris.
- ^ Crystal, David (2000) Language Death. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
- ^ Crystal, David (2000) Language Death. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
- ^ Knowles-Berry, Susan. 1987. Linguistic decay in Chontal Mayan: the speech of semi-speakers. Anthropological Linguistics 29:332-341.
- ^ Dorian, Nancy C. (1978). Fate of morphological complexity in language death: Evidence from East Sutherland Gaelic. Language, 54 (3), 590-609.
- ^ Hinton, Leanne; & Hale, Ken (eds.). 2001. The Green Book of Language Revitalization in Practice. San Diego: Academic Press.
- ^ Zuckermann, Ghil'ad, "Aboriginal languages deserve revival", The Australian Higher Education, August 26, 2009.
 Further reading
- Abley, Mark. (2003). Spoken here: Travels among threatened languages. London: Heinemann.
- Aitchinson, Jean. (1991). Language change: progress or decay? Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
- Bastardas-Boada, Albert (2007). "Linguistic sustainabiliy for a multilingual humanity", Glossa. An Interdisciplinary Journal, vol. 2, num. 2.
- Batibo, Herman M. (2005). Language decline and death in Africa: Causes, consequences, and challenges. Multilingual Matters.
- Brenzinger, Matthias (Ed.). (1992). Language death: Factual and theoretical explorations with special reference to East Africa. Berlin/New York: Mouton de Gruyter.
- Brenzinger, Matthais (Ed.). (1998). Endangered languages in Africa. Cologne: Rdiger Kper Verlag.
- Broderick, George. (1999). Language Death in the Isle of Man. Tbingen: Niemeyer. ISBN 3484303956.
- Calvet, Louis-Jean. (1998). Language wars and linguistic politics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
- Campbell, Lyle. (1994). Language death. In R. E. Asher (Ed.), The Encyclopedia of language and linguistics (pp. 1960–1968). Oxford: Pergamon Press.
- Campbell, Lyle; & Muntzel, M. (1989). The structural consequences of language death. In N. C. Dorian (Ed.).
- Cantoni-Harvey, Gina (Ed.). (1997). Stabilizing indigenous languages. Flagstaff, AZ: Northern Arizona University, Center for Excellence in Education.
- Crystal, David. (2000). Language death. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-65321-5.
- Crystal, David. (2004). Language revolution. Cambridge: Polity Press.
- Dalby, Andrew. (2003). Language in danger: The loss of linguistic diversity and the threat to our future. New York: Columbia University Press. ISBN 0-231-12900-9.
- Dixon, R. M. W. (1997). The rise and fall of languages. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
- Dorian, Nancy C. (1973). Grammatical change in a dying dialect. Language, 49, 413-438.
- Dorian, Nancy C. (1978). Fate of morphological complexity in language death: Evidence from East Sutherland Gaelic. Language, 54 (3), 590-609.
- Dorian, Nancy C. (1981). Language death: The life cycle of a Scottish Gaelic dialect. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
- Dorian, Nancy C. (Ed.). (1989). Investigating obsolescence: Studies in language contraction and death. Studies in the social and cultural foundations of language (No. 7). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-32405-X.
- Dressler, Wolfgand & Wodak-Leodolter, Ruth (eds.) (1977) Language death (International Journal of the Sociology of Language vol. 12). The Hague: Mouton.
- Dressler, Wolfgand U.; & Wodak-Leodolter, Ruth (Eds.). (1977). Language death. International Journal of the Sociology of Language (Vol. 12). The Hague: Mouton.
- Fishman, Joshua A. (1991). Reversing language shift: Theoretical and empirical foundations of assistance to threatened languages. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.
- Grenoble, Lenore A.; & Whaley, Lindsay J. (Eds.). (1998). Endangered languages: Current issues and future prospects. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
- Hagge, Claude. (1992). Le souffle de la langue. Paris: Odile Jacob.
- Hagge, Claude. (2000). Halte la mort des langues. Paris: Editions Odille Jacob.
- Hale, Ken; Krauss, Michael; Watahomigie, Lucille J.; Yamamoto, Akira Y.; Craig, Colette; Jeanne, LaVerne M. et al. (1992). Endangered languages. Language, 68 (1), 1-42.
- Harmon, David. (2002). In light of our differences: How diversity in nature and culture makes us human. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press.
- Harrison, K. David. (2007) When Languages Die: The Extinction of the World's Languages and the Erosion of Human Knowledge. New York and London: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-518192-1.
- Haza«l-Massieux, Marie-Christine. (1999). Les croles: L'indispensable survie. Paris: Editions Entente.
- Hill, Jane. (1983). Language death in Uto-Aztecan. International Journal of American Linguistics, 49, 258-27.
- Janse, Mark; & Tol, Sijmen (Eds.). (2003). Language death and language maintenance: Theoretical, practical and descriptive approaches. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Pub. ISBN 90-272-4752-8; ISBN 1-58811-382-5.
- Joseph, Brian D. (Ed.). (2003). When languages collide: Perspectives on language conflict, language competition, and language coexistence. Columbus: Ohio State University.
- Maffi, Lusia (Ed.). (2001). On biocultural diversity: Linking language, knowledge, and the environment. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press.
- Maurais, Jacques; & Morris, Michael A. (Eds.). (2003). Languages in a globalizing world. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
- Mohan, Peggy; & Zador, Paul. (1986). Discontinuity in a life cycle: The death of Trinidad Bhojpuri. Language, 62 (2), 291-319.
- Mufwene, Salikoko S. (2001). The ecology of language evolution. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
- Mhlhusler, Peter. (1996). Linguistic ecology: Language change and linguistic imperialism in the Pacific region. London: Routledge.
- Nettle, Daniel; & Romaine, Suzanne. (2000). Vanishing voices: The extinction of the world's languages. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-513624-1.
- Phillipson, Robert. (2003). English only?: Challenging language policy. London: Routledge.
- Reyhner, Jon (Ed.). (1999). Revitalizing indigenous languages. Flagstaff, AZ: Northern Arizona University, Center for Excellence in Education. ISBN 0-9670554-0-7.
- Robins, R. H.; & Uhlenbeck, E. M. (1991). Endangered languages. Oxford: Berg.
- Sasse, Hans-Jrgen. (1990). Theory of language death, and, language decay and contact-induced change: Similarities and differences. Arbeitspapier (No. 12). Kln: Institut fr Sprachwissenschaft, Universitt zu Kln.
- Sasse, Hans-Jrgen. (1992). Theory of language death. In M. Brenzinger (Ed.) (pp. 7–30).
- Schilling-Estes, Natalie; & Wolfram, Walt. (1999). Alternative models of dialect death: Dissipation vs. concentration. Language, 75 (3), 486-521.
- Skutnab-Kangas, Tove. (2000). Linguistic genocide in education–or world-wide diversity and human rights? Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
- de Swaan, Abram. (2001). Words of the world: The global language system. Cambeidge, UK: Polity Press.
- Thomason, Sarah G. (2001). Language contact: An introduction. Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press.
 External links
Related topics in the Connexions Subject Index
Left History –
Libraries & Archives –
Social Change –
This article is based on one or more articles in Wikipedia, with modifications and additional content contributed by
Connexions editors. This article, and any information from Wikipedia, is covered by a
Creative Commons Attribution-Sharealike 3.0 Unported License (CC-BY-SA) and the
GNU Free Documentation
We welcome your help in improving and expanding the content of Connexipedia articles, and in correcting errors. Connexipedia is not a wiki: please contact Connexions by email if you wish to contribute. We are also looking for contributors interested in writing articles on topics, persons, events and organizations related to social justice and the history of social change movements.
For more information contact Connexions
Connect with Connexions
Newsletter Facebook Twitter