Languages evolved throughout history in both spoken and written form. Of the thousands of languages spoken on the planet many have gone extinct and too many have died.
Epigraphers, those who study ancient scripts, sometimes are successful in translation, such as Egyptian hieroglyphics and Mayan writings but are often stumped when trying to decipher languages.
Such as the Proto-Elamite script of Mesopotamia and the words of the four thousand year old Indus Valley Civilization that lived in modern day Pakistan and northwest India.
Fortunately, with the evolution of modern computers deciphering extinct script many epigraphers are finding translation a bit easier.
Discovermagazine.com tells us scientists are looking into artificial intelligence, specifically MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and an artificial intelligence project, Google Brain. The researchers have been able to write algorithms that compare unknown words with known words from the same root language.
It is still in the testing phase, however, using the known languages Linear B and Ugaritic to serve as examples to allow the programmers to test results but as of yet has not deciphered any unknown writings although current results are promising.
According to bilingua.io, the languages that are considered extinct are those that no longer have any native or second-language speakers while dead languages are no longer the native language of any group even if it is still taught and used, such as Latin or Biblical Hebrew.
In the first part of the 2000s, it is believed there were about seven thousand native languages being used but some researchers believe about ninety percent will be extinct by the year 2050.
One only has to read a few passages from Chaucer or Shakespeare to observe how the English language has changed and Old and Middle English are on the list of extinct languages offered by linguistlist.org.
Other well known languages have “Old” versions such as German, French, Russian, Spanish and Chinese demonstrating that all languages evolve. There are also extinct languages such as Mator, a Samoyed language; Nagumi, a language from the Congo and Palaic an Indo-European language that are virtually unknown outside of the scientific community.
What causes languages to go extinct or die? Arguably, the largest factor is assimilation. When a civilization is vanquished the natives are forced to learn the conquerors’ language and replace their native words as well as their native culture.
In the event of spoken history, many have lost their ancient stories due to forced language change. Native Americans are a good example of forced loss of native language and culture.
Native languages are often kept alive by tribal elders who hope to pass on the language to the young people of their tribes but teenagers are pressured as they watch television and attend English speaking movies and concerts and are learning English in school.
Early on, native children were punished for wearing traditional native clothing and speaking their native tongue which was considered barbarian. Another factor is out and out genocide. According to linguisticsociety .org, when the Tasmanians were eradicated by European explorers in the 19th century their language was lost as well.
In the case of Greenland, the native language was Kalaallisut but as a territory of Denmark, Danish was introduced and both languages are taught and used equally.
In Turkey, the Kurds are forbidden by law to teach or print their native tongue which will probably be endangered in time. If not being taught to children, any language is at risk of extinction.
According to babble.com, the most widely spoken native language is currently Mandarin Chinese with over a billion users. Four hundred and sixty million speak Spanish and English comes in third with about three hundred seventy nine million native users and over seven million who speak English as a second language.
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India has over twenty languages with Hindi coming out on top and fourth in the world. As of this writing, Hindu nationalists are attempting to have Hindi taught in schools rather than English as a first language in an attempt to relearn their culture.