What does it mean to say that a language is extinct?
abdul at October 1st, 2015
The linguists who edited the UNESCO Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger agreed that it should include not only languages that are endangered, but also those that have become extinct in the last half century or so. When we say that a language is extinct, we mean that it is no longer the first tongue that infants learn in their homes, and that the last speaker who did learn the language in that way has passed on within the last five decades. It may be possible to revive extinct languages, provided that there is adequate documentation and a strong motivation within the ethnic community. In many communities, revitalization efforts begin when there are still elders alive who learned as infants, even if there is often a gap of several generations of non-speakers in between. There are more and more examples of languages being brought back to life, even if many linguists still wish to distinguish such revived languages from those that have been spoken continuously, without interruption.