Losing Linguistic Diversity
The 5 Most Recently Extinct European Languages
March 26, 2023
Tracking just how many languages are currently spoken in the world is nearly impossible. It is estimated that between 7 thousand and 10 thousand languages are spoken today, but unfortunately, more specific data is not available. So many different factors make tracking lining languages tough, but among them, three are the most relevant: firstly, it is pretty difficult even to actually determine what specifically constitutes a language; it is also hard to establish the minimum level of linguistic competence required to be considered a "speaker"; lastly, specifically in certain high linguistic density geographical areas, the same language may be called by different names, or, vice versa, multiple languages may be referred to by the same name.
On the other hand, it's even more challenging evaluating how many languages become extinct each year. It is estimated that at least 60 languages became extinct in the 20th century in Europe alone. However, in this article, only the 5 most recently disappeared languages are going to make the list.
Livonian was a Balto-Finnic language spoken in the Gulf of Riga, in Latvia and Estonia.
Livonian was an inflectional, synthetic and agglutinative language with a complex system of noun and verb inflection, as well as a rich morphological structure, reflecting its Finno-Ugric linguistic heritage. Nouns in Livonian declined for 14 cases (nominative, genitive, dative, accusative, partitive, locative, allative, ablative, translative, abessive, comitative, inessive, illative, and elative). It had only two tenses: present and past but had also a special form of the verb used for negation.
The Estonian newspaper Eesti Päevaleht incorrectly named Viktors Bertholds, who died on February 28, 2009, the last Livonian speaker. However, testimonies by various other Livonians claimed that at least ten other native speakers, including Viktor's cousin, Kristiņa Grizelda, were still alive. Unfortunately, Kristiņa died in 2013, leaving this to be considered the true date of Livonian's extinction.
Auregnais was a Romance language spoken on the island of Aurigny.
There is limited information about the syntax and grammar of Auregnais, as most of the documentation available consists of a small number of recorded texts and some written notes from linguists who studied the language in the early 20th century.
However, based on these sources, Auregnais is known to have had a subject-verb-object word order, which is pretty common in Indo-European languages. The language also made use of inflections to indicate tense, aspect, and mood, had two grammatical genders and adjectives agreed in gender and number with the noun they modified.
It was declared extinct in the 1960s, with the last native speaker, Edwin John Guille, passing away in 1966. The language was heavily influenced by Norman French, and it was the primary language of communication in Alderney until the 19th. The main causes of its extinction were, in fact, the migration of young workers to the UK and the presence of a large number of British people, increasing the use of English as the primary and subsequently only language.
Today, there are ongoing efforts to revive the language, with language courses and resources available for those interested in learning Auregnais.
Slovincian was a Slavic language spoken in Pomerania, a region in northern Poland. It was declared extinct in the early 1900s when it was replaced by Low German. Slovincian had a relatively small number of speakers, and it was never a written language. As a result, very little is known about its grammar or vocabulary.
Some sources suggest that there may have been a few elderly speakers of the language who survived until the early 1940s, but this is difficult to verify.
Dalmatian was a Romance language spoken, from the 8th century until the late 19th century, in Dalmatia, from the Gulf of Quarnero to Antivari. It was declared extinct in June 1898, with the death of its last speaker, Antonio Udina.
It is believed that the language developed independently from other Romance languages, and was heavily influenced by the Slavic languages spoken in the area. Dalmatian had a complex inflectional system with six cases, three genders, two numbers, and was written in Latin script. It also had a distinct vocabulary and pronunciation, with influences from Italian, Venetian, and Slavic languages.
At its peak (in the 11th century), it is estimated that it was spoken by more than 50 thousand people. Today, the term "Dalmatian" refers to a Croatian dialect spoken in Dalmatia, which contains recognizable elements of Dalmatian origin.
Last but not least, Norn was a North Germanic language that evolved from Old Norse. It was spoken by Vikings, and developed, at first, in northern Germany and, later, in the Northern Isles of Scotland, which include the Orkney and Shetland Islands, as well as in Caithness on the north coast of mainland Scotland.
Norn was heavily influenced by the Scots language and by the Middle English spoken in Scotland. As a result, it developed into a distinct dialect with its own unique vocabulary and grammar. The dialect spoken in the Orkney and Shetland Islands was slightly different from the dialect spoken in Caithness.
The language was primarily oral and was passed down from generation to generation through spoken word. As a result, there are very few written records of Norn. The language began to decline in the 17th century, as the Scottish government began to exert more control over the Northern Isles, and as a result, the use of the Scots language became more widespread.
By the 18th century, Norn was no longer being taught to children and was only spoken by a small number of elderly people. The last known native speaker of Norn was a Shetland fisherman named Walter Sutherland, who died in 1850. With his death, the language became extinct.
In conclusion, the loss of any language is a tragedy that diminishes the rich tapestry of human culture and knowledge. When a language becomes extinct, we lose not only the ability to communicate in that language but also the unique perspective that it offers on the world. The extinction of a language represents the loss of an entire system of thought, worldview, and cultural identity.
As the world becomes increasingly interconnected, the need to preserve endangered languages becomes more urgent. Efforts to document and revitalize endangered languages are crucial in preserving our linguistic diversity and the knowledge and cultural heritage embedded within them.
Edited by: Sushmita
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