No one knows for sure how many languages exist and have existed in the world since scientists differ in their opinion. However, data show that only 4% of the world’s population speaks 96 percent of all languages, while other languages such as Chinese, English, Spanish, Hindi, Urdu, Russian, French, Swahili, and others are widely spoken. In today’s cosmopolitan world, there is a worrying trend: by the middle of this century, hundreds of languages will have disappeared, and it is estimated that 80-90 percent of the world’s languages will be extinct. It’s also worth mentioning the incredible illiteracy of the twenty-first century: about a billion people worldwide are unable to write and read normally.
According to UNESCO, more than half of the world’s languages are endangered, with one language disappearing every two weeks on average. When a language is lost, humanity loses a lot of knowledge about that people’s culture, customs, and traditions. It’s hard to know exactly when a language died out. However, for some languages, the last active speaker of the language can be pinpointed. This is the date when a particular language died.
In this article, we’ll present 9 extinct languages with a brief description of their last speakers.
Last native speaker: Dolly Pentreath (? – 1777), England
Cornish was previously only spoken by the people of Cornwall, a peninsula in the southwest of the United Kingdom. Celts existed on the island by the time the Romans conquered it. The locals spoke Celtic, with Dolly Pentreath being the last monolingual speaker.
The Cornish language was officially declared queen in 2002 and since the early 20th century there have been attempts to bring the language back through bilingual Britons. They differ from Dolly Pentreath in that they speak two languages: Cornish and English, both of which they learned as children, whereas Dolly only learned English as an adult. It is believed that her last words were: “I don’t want to speak English!”.
She was a unique figure in her time; others described her as someone who frequently used curses and smoked a pipe, and some even described her as a witch. There was a lot of information about Dolly’s adored swearing “kronnekyn hager du”, which people were terrified of. According to some scientists, Dolly Pentreath is not the last speaker of the Cornish language, and that the Cornish language has never entirely disappeared from the face of the Earth.
Last native speaker: Ned Maddrell (about 1878 – 1974), Isle of Man, Great Britain
There is some debate over whether Ned is the last representative of his language – Manx, just as there is with Dolly. Until the mid-nineteenth century, it was the official language of the Isle of Man. The Isle of Man is a British Isles archipelago located between Great Britain and Ireland; the island was part of Scotland in the 13th century and is now controlled by the United Kingdom.
The area was once inhabited by Celts and from the 9th century onwards the Normans began to settle there. Manx is part of the Galician languages, from which some modern languages such as Irish, Scottish, and Cornish are derived. These languages have no connection with English, which is part of another group.
As for Ned Maddrell, he is a fisherman from Cregneash who traveled extensively but ended his life on the Isle of Man, where he was studied by language researchers. Attempts are now being made to restore the lost language, at least in part, even taught at Bunscoill Ghaelgagh. Although it is likely that now we are talking about the so-called New Manx, this language, according to scientists, appeared after Ned Maddrell.
Last native speaker: Ishi (1860 – 1916), USA
The Yana language was spoken by the Yahi Indians living in the territory of modern California. Ishi was the last representative of both the language and the tribe. His name is a pseudonym, which means “man” in his native language. In Indian society, it was considered taboo to speak real names.
His story is not at all happy – when his family was killed, he began to hide. A group of hunters found him.
Several documentaries and feature films have been made about his life to cover many aspects of Indian life. Ishi died of tuberculosis in 1916. Thanks to the efforts of linguist Edward Sapir, the Yana language is relatively well documented compared to many other lost languages in North America.
Last native speaker: Alf Palmer (about 1891-1981), Australia
Alf Palmer was the last member of the Australian population to speak the local Warrungu language. These are part of Australia’s indigenous Aboriginal languages. The majority of them are now extinct, and what distinguishes them from other languages is that they are unwritten and unrelated to those spoken on other continents.
Little is known about Alf Palmer. He was born in Townsville, Queensland, and like other members of the dynasty, he tried to save his own language by working with linguists from Australia and Japan. Later these scholars return to Townsville to try to bring Warrungu back with the help of Alf Palmer’s heirs.
Last native speaker: Tuone Udaina (? – 1898), Croatia
Tuone Udaina was a barber who spoke Dalmatian as a second language, which he learned by listening to his parents’ secret discussions. Despite the fact that he was deaf and had not used the language in over 20 years, he embraced the effort with enthusiasm in the late 1800s, when he was working with an Italian linguist to save the endangered Dalmatian language.
It is a Romance language, similar to Romanian. It was once used in Dalmatia (today’s Croatia) where, incidentally, almost every town has its own dialect. The linguist’s original notes are in Italian, and only German translations can be seen today. Udaina died from a mine explosion, and with his death, the language disappears completely.
Last native speaker: Big Bill Neidjie (abound 1920 – 2002), Australia
Big Bill Neidjie has long been regarded as a local hero. In the East Alligator River region of northern Australia, he was raised in the traditional Aboriginal style. His family lived on the territory of Kakadu National Park. Hunting was passed down to Big Bill Neidjie by his father and grandpa. He was noted for his endurance and strength, as well as his commitment to the Australian Aboriginal cause. He also put in a lot of effort to keep his culture alive.
Interestingly, in the Gaagudju language, as in most local Australian languages, there was a taboo on discussing traditional secrets passed down from generation to generation with strangers. Actually, the language itself was not possible to convey, proceeding from these taboos. When Big Bill Neidjie felt the imminent disappearance of the language, he was faced with a dilemma: break the taboo or let his culture disappear completely. He decided to break the prohibitions and shared his wisdom with the chosen people.
Last native speaker: Shawnadithit (1801-1829), Newfoundland (Canada)
Shawnadithit was not only the last individual who spoke Beothuk, but also the last Beothuk tribe member. She was a respected Newfoundlander, but her life was not easy at all. Shawnadithit loses much of her family to tuberculosis or attacks by the British, who treat her people like thieves. She works as a maid for the last few years of her life before dying because of tuberculosis.
Philanthropist William Cormack taught her English, and the Indian woman also proved her talent in painting. Through her drawings, modern man has information about the culture and way of life of this tribe. The British would not leave her alone even after her death – her skull was sent to the Royal College of Medicine in London and then to the Royal College of Surgeons. Unfortunately, it was destroyed and lost in the bombing of London by Nazi soldiers. The rest of Shawnadithit’s remains were buried at St John’s Church in Newfoundland.
There is still a debate about Beothuk, whether it is isolated or related to some of the so-called Algonquian languages spoken in Quebec and Labrador.
Last native speaker: Armand Lunel (1892 -1977), France
Shuadit is a lost Jewish language from the south of France. The name “shuadit” literally means “jew”. Armand Lunel, its last representative, was a writer, teacher, and philosopher born in Provence, France. His family had lived there for centuries but later moved to Monaco. His writings were in French, and he often wrote about everyday Jewish life in Provence. A recording of Lunel singing in his native language was made in 1968, but the writer died before he could make more recordings.
Linguists are confused by the origins of the Judeo-Provencal language. Shuadit has been used since the 11th century, although its use has declined since the French Revolution.
Last native speaker: Soma Devi Dura (1926-2008), Nepal
A few years ago an elderly woman from Nepal, Soma Devi Dura, the last woman to speak Dura, appeared in the media. The woman was described as a rich source of songs and stories in her native language. Kedar Nagila studied Nepali languages and worked with her to compile a small dictionary. Since Soma Devi even during her lifetime communicated with her relatives in other languages, this language was lost.
The Dura language is one of many Nepali languages, of which there are over 120. Because of the phrase “one nation, one language, one dynasty, one language”, 96% of them are at risk of the same fate.
UNESCO has been attempting to standardize and conserve the world’s unique languages for many years. In 2010, the Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger was compiled. The aim is to attract wide public attention to the problem of endangered languages. This atlas contains all extinct languages since 1950, and all existing languages of the world were assigned one of six statuses according to 9 criteria, depending on the probability of their extinction.
This article is contributed by Angela Johnson, a skilled blogger and content writer who writes about education, self-growth, and business leadership. She is also a leadership consultant from Essay Map.