Extinct Languages in the Indo-European Language Group
|Language death and its reasons||4|
|Indo-European extinct languages in brief||5|
|List of literature||14|
In this paper I will deal with the so-called “dead languages” in the Indo-European language group. When choosing the subject for this paper I got particularly interested in the topic of language death – what are the factors that facilitate once widely used languages to become endangered, nearly extinct or even to disappear at all. The reason why I chose exactly the Indo-European language group is that it is the closest to our – Latvian – language and thus also it is also closer to our general understanding of languages and their origins.
There are altogether 22 extinct languages in the Indo-European language group but I dealt with 19 of them because I did not touch upon the languages that were/are used only in literature and religion (these are Avestan, Old Church Slavonic and Sanskrit). I studied the 19 languages that in the Indo-European language group that are officially referred as to dead languages.
Relatively this paper can be divided into three logical sections:
1. Language death and its reasons;
2. Indo-European extinct languages in brief ;
3. Language revival.
The first section introduces the topic – in this part I explain what exactly is considered to be an extinct language and also tell what the general reasons that cause language extinction are. In the second section I briefly deal with all 19 extinct languages giving particular information concerning the language and its extinction. The third section is devoted to such theme as language revival and there I speak about some of the extinct languages that are being reconstructed and enlivened.
There are two appendixes added to this paper:
1. Appendix 1 – names of the extinct Indo-European languages both in English and Latvian (a table in which you can see names of the 19 extinct languages written in English and in Latvian as it is sometimes difficult to simply guess the name in other language);
2. Appendix 2 (in Latvian) – the genealogical tree of the Indo-European language group (it shows all the Indo-European languages arranged in a form of a language-tree including nowadays used languages, dead languages and religion/literature languages).
Language death and its reasons
Language is a dynamic system which interacts with the surrounding environment and thus through time and language development it may incorporate different elements or – on the contrary – lose them. These interactions can be either of external or internal nature (4., 31.- 34. lpp). The most common reasons for changes in a language from external group include language contacts, geographical circumstances and political situations and from internal group – efforts to improve a language. Some of such changes may lead to the development of a language but some other e.g. cultural assimilation, urbanization, a decrease in prestige or stigmatization of a language often lead to the general topic of this paper – language death. A language is considered to be extinct when there is no nation that uses it in its everyday life – there are languages that face extinction in the immediate future and in the longer-term even quite widely spoken languages may be in danger. The rate of language death is approximately one language dying every two weeks (5.)
The most frequent reason for extinction of a language is the assimilation of regional or minority languages within an established, generally larger community in favour of the language regarded as having greater utility or prestige – this often happens together with a political oppression and economic and cultural pressure. Language death may occur as well when people are scattered in such a way as to break up the language community. Sometimes the reasons for a language to become extinct are more sudden e.g. natural catastrophes, famine and drought, aggression and diseases. One specific reason of the language death is the so-called linguicide – the intentional causing of the death of a language (the largest historical example of the last one probably was the destruction of the Native American languages in the Spanish colonization of the Americas).
Some extinct languages are known about from abundant literature sources (e.g. Old Greek and Latin) while other languages have only very few attestations (Umbrian, Gothic, Old Prussian). Often happens that an extinct language has given part of its vocabulary to or evolved into some modern language.
The world leading language scientists give the main five arguments why we should be worried about language death (5.). Language is:
1. a general value of diversity;
2. a value of languages as expressions of identity;
3. a repository of history;
4. a part of the sum of human knowledge;
5. an interesting subject in its own right.
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