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Dead Languages of the World

Thousands of cultures exist in the world today, all of which are rooted in thousands more. These different cultures bring with them different traditions, values, and languages.

Many of the languages that used to dominate the world are extinct today. Dead languages, or extinct languages, are those which aren’t spoken across a wide population anymore. Since the turn of the century, about 19 languages have been declared newly extinct.


Considering past and present cultures, thousands of languages have already been declared extinct. However, many of these languages affected current, widely used language, such as English. Here are some of them.

  1. Ancient Greek

Many original texts by philosophers such as Plato and Socrates were written in Ancient Greek. Homer, author of Iliad and Odyssey, wrote the epics in a Greek dialect called Ionic. Early drafts of the New Testament were also written in Greek, in a dialect called Koine. Today, you might be more familiar with the Greek alphabet (alpha, beta, gamma, delta, etc.) which are used popularly by fraternities and sororities. Many suffixes in the English language are also of Greek origin.

  1. Old Norse

If you’ve ever encountered runes, then you’ve encountered Old Norse. Old Norse was spoken in Scandinavia, Iceland, France, Greenland, and Russia. It is the language in which the Eddas were written. The Eddas are a series of Icelandic myths which we now know as Norse Mythology. Moreover, Old Norse is said to be the root of modern Icelandic.

  1. Massachusett

The Massachusett language was spoken by Native Americans who used to reside in what is now known as (you guessed it) Massachusetts. The first Bible published in America was in this language and was the first known written form of the language. Other than Massachusetts, the language was also spoken in New England, New Hampshire, Maine, and Rhode Island. Many common names for flora and fauna were derived from this language. Examples include moose, skunk, squash, pumpkin, and succotash.

  1. Powhatan

You might find this familiar because of the Disney film Pocahontas. Powhatan was a language spoken by Native Americans in Virginia known as the Powhatan. In the 1790s, Powhatan language was used less and less after its speakers were forced to speak English. The only known record of Powhatan is two wordlists recorded by William Strachey and Captain John Smith, the first Europeans to encounter the Powhatan. Furthermore, Powhatan did not have a writing system.

  1. Cornish

Contrary to popular belief, English is not the only language spoken in the UK. As a matter of fact, there are many languages and dialects which are from the British Isles. One of them is Cornish, which was primarily spoken in Cornwall, located in the southern part of England. Although the language is still extinct officially, it is currently undergoing revival. Music, literature, and films in Cornish are gaining popularity in the area. Some English loanwords derived from Powhatan are hickory, chum, moccasin, and muskrat.

  1. Scottish Gaelic

Gaelic is another ancient language from the UK. This Celtic language was spoken mostly in Scotland. This form of Gaelic evolved into a dialect known as Canadian Gaelic, spoken in Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. In Scotland, the English spoken is mixed with Gaelic, giving Scots a signature accent and dialect which many find difficult to understand. Some Gaelic words adapted into English are brogue, trousers, and glen.

  1. Macedonian

This was the language of the people who lived in the kingdom of Macedon in the first millennium BC. During fourth century BC, it started falling out of use, with aristocrats preferring Greek. Other than Greek, this was the only language spoken in the region.

  1. Gothic

Other than an art movement, Gothic was also used to describe an ancient Germanic language. This language was used in the Codex Argenteus, a sixth-century copy of a fourth-century version of the Bible. Some loanwords in Portuguese, Spanish, and French are of Gothic origin.

  1. Sanskrit

Sanskrit was the Indian subcontinent’s lingua franca for three millennia. It is the language in which the sacred texts of the Vedas were written. Sanskrit is also the foundation of the texts in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism. Some argue that Sanskrit is technically not yet dead because of its use as a liturgical language.

  1. Latin

One only needs to open a law book to see how much Latin has influenced modern language. Latin is hands-down the most popular of all the extinct languages. Latin was the favored language of the Roman Empire, with famous historical figures such as Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Cicero, and Caesar, to name a few, publishing their texts in the language. Many Romantic languages such as French, Spanish, and English were based on Latin. In fact, many issues in the English language are rooted in grammarians wanting to copy Latin grammar.



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