LANGUAGE DEATH

Language Death: Definition, History and References for Further Reading

Language death, or language shift, is a phenomenon in which a language is no longer spoken by its native speakers, with the result that the language becomes extinct or endangered. Language death can be caused by a variety of factors, including the migration of native speakers to other countries, the adoption of a different language as the primary language of the community, or the death of all native speakers. In some cases, language death can occur in a relatively short period of time, while in other cases, language death can take centuries.

Definition

Language death refers to the gradual decline of a language to the point of extinction, which occurs when a language is no longer spoken by its native speakers, and no new speakers are adopting the language. Language death is a subset of language shift, which is the process of replacing one language with another. Language shift is often caused by a variety of factors, including migration of native speakers, the adoption of a different language as the primary language of a community, or the death of all native speakers.

History

The earliest recorded instance of language death is believed to have occurred in the 5th century BC, when the Greek language displaced the Etruscan language in Italy. Since then, language death has become increasingly common, particularly in the 20th and 21st centuries. According to a recent estimate, more than 40 percent of the world’s languages are at risk of becoming extinct in the next century.

References for Further Reading

Crystal, D. (2000). Language death. Cambridge University Press.

Krauss, M. (1992). The world’s languages in crisis. Language, 68(1), 4-10.

Mufwene, S. S. (2001). The ecology of language evolution. Cambridge University Press.

Nettle, D., & Romaine, S. (2000). Vanishing voices: The extinction of the world’s languages. Oxford University Press.

Sutherland, W. J. (2003). Language extinction and language maintenance: An ecological perspective. International Journal of the Sociology of Language, 162, 5-20.

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