Monday, December 08, 2008

Dying, Dead and Extinct Languages

Linguistic Imperialism

We’ve seen fairly recent examples of this in Eastern Europe with the “breakup” of the former Soviet Union. Now splintered ethnic, cultural or linguistic groups are returning to the use of their individual lingua franca where once they were “forced” to use Russian as the language of communication, education and commerce. The same held true for the attempted take-over of the English-speaking Falkland Islands by Argentina which would have completely changed the language from English to Spanish by “official decree” – or force. This is a classic definition example of Linguistic Imperialism.

Globalizational or Regionalization

As the impact of one country’s economy and commerce expands to influence that of other countries in the same region, continent or linguistic family, globalization or regionalization extends its grip to assuage countries into the use of a lingua franca other than the official language(s) of the country. Initially isolated by racial, ethnic and geographic restrictions, both Geechee or Gullah language originally spoken by former black slaves on the Eastern U.S., principally Atlantic coast (North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia, ref.)


When a language exists in an isolated geographic, ethnic or cultural setting – then that setting fades into non-existence, the language may die or become extinct. At this point we need to clarify the difference between a dead language and an extinct language. According to Wikipedia, a Dead Language is one which no one speaks or uses as a first language and is often replaced by another language. Latin, for example, was replaced by Spanish, French, Italian and Portuguese; or the Coptic language which was replaced by Arabic. Old English is also in this category since it is no longer spoken, although numerous detailed examples of it (i.e., literature) still widely exist. An Extinct language on the other hand is one which no longer has any speakers at all. Recently-extinct languages include Cochimi, which was spoken from north of Loreto to the northern part of the Baja California peninsula, Eyak, historically spoken in south central Alaska and the Kakadu or Gaagudju language was spoken in northern Australia, in the environs of what is now known as Kakadu National Park.

Modern Languages

In contrast to these, a Modern Language is one which has living native speakers. The continuing loss of indigenous, tribal, ethnic and historically valuable languages has now triggered a movement for the documentation and preservation of these types of localized tongues for their continued study by linguistics scholars.

Prof. Larry M. Lynch is an EFL Teacher Trainer, Intellectual Development Specialist, author and speaker. He has written ESP, foreign language learning, English language teaching texts and hundreds of articles used in more than 135 countries worldwide. Get your FREE, pdf format report on CD or via e-mail, "If You Want to Teach English Abroad, Here’s What You Need to Know" by requesting the title at:

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