11 Recently Extinct Languages

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An extinct language has no more speakers, typically defined as first-language fluent speakers. Languages typically become extinct because of political, economic, or cultural reasons, such as the effects of colonization or to fit in. Some people may choose not to teach their children a minority language to ensure that they focus on learning the official or most widespread language in their region.

Aka-Cari

Andaman Island
The Cari language was spoken by the Cari people of the Andaman Islands.
Credit: _e.t // CC BY-SA 2.0

Also known as the Cari, Chariar, or Sare language, Aka-Cari became extinct on 4 April 2020 with the death of the last member of the Cari tribe. Aka-Cari was a Great Andamanese language. The Cari tribe lived in the Andaman Islands in the northeastern Indian Ocean. First contacted by Europeans in the 1790s, the Cari were affected by diseases, alcohol, colonialism, and loss of territory, shrinking their population from 100 individuals to 39 by 1901. In 1994, there were only two members left, and Licho became the last survivor until she succumbed to chronic tuberculosis.

Tehuelche

Tehuelche people
Tehuelche people at the 1904 World’s Fair.
Credit: Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Native to Argentina, the Tehuelche language lost its last native speaker, Dora Manchado, in 2019. Dora helped to document the language so that it could be revitalized by linguists and anthropologists. Tehuelche was spoken primarily by nomadic hunters living in Patagonia, and following the region’s split between Argentina and Chile the language began to decline as Spanish became the dominant language.

Wichita

Wichita
A lithograph of a Wichita settlement circa 1850-1875.
Credit: Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

As of 30 August 2016, the Wichita language became extinct following the deaths of its last three first-language speakers, though the Wichita tribe continues to try to revitalize the language. Doris McLemore was the last fluent speaker, raised by her grandparents who spoke Wichita at home, but was unable to pass the language down to her children. She and others helped provide information for a linguist to create a Wichita dictionary, and the tribe collaborates with the University of Chicago to continue documenting and teaching their language.

Klallam

Klallam people
A Klallam family with a canoe in Washington circa 1914.
Credit: Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

The Klallam language is also known as Clallam, Ns’Klallam, or S’klallam and was traditionally spoken by the Klallam people in North America. It became extinct with the death of its last native speaker in 2014. Two years before, the first Klallam dictionary was published, and one school in Washington offers Klallam as a heritage language class. In 2015, the language was further preserved with the publishing of its grammar.

Livonian

Despite being considered extinct since the death of its last native speaker in 2013, Livonian may still have 40 reported speakers and a further 210 people reporting limited knowledge of the language. Livonian is a Finnic language spoken by the Livonian people of the Gulf of Livonia in Latvia. The language was plagued by numerous historical events such as the German invasion of the 13th century, the Russo-Swedish War, the Livonian War, the founding of Latvia, and more. Livonian folk songs are still in circulation by younger generations who speak some Livonian as a secondary language.

Yurok

Yurok
The American flag and Yurok Tribe flag at the Yurok Tribe Veterans Cemetery.
Credit: Tony Webster // CC BY-SA 2.0

Yurok is known by many names: Chillula, Mita, Pekwan, Rikwa, Sugon, Weitspek, and Weitspekan. Spoken as the traditional language of the Yurok people within California, it became extinct in 2013, though its decline began in the 19th century. The California Gold Rush brought settlers and new diseases to the Yurok people, and Native American boarding schools increased the colonization of Yurok children. Efforts to revive the language in California have been successful in at least six schools with the Yurok Language Program, doing the very opposite of the schools created for cultural assimilation.

Pazeh

The Pazeh people are native to Taiwan and spoke Pazeh (also spelled as Pazih or Pazéh), part of the Austronesian language family. Pan Jin-yu, the last native speaker of Pazeh who died in 2010, taught her language to classes in Puli, Miaoli, and Taichung, teaching upwards of 200 regular students. Pazeh was a victim of cultural assimilation, with aboriginal people forced to speak Hoklo Taiwanese until it replaced the language entirely.

Cochin Indo-Portuguese

Cochin Indo-Portuguese, or Vypin Indo-Portuguese, was a creole language formed from Portuguese, Malayalam, and other languages in the region of Cochin in India. It was one of the first contact languages to emerge following European contact in Asia, used between the 15th and 19th centuries by a Catholic community, which led to other households in the region adopting it. It began to die out around the 19th century, with its last speaker passing away in 2010.

Aka-Bo

Andaman Islands
The Bo people are from the west-central coast of India and the Andaman Islands, seen above.
Credit: Vaishnav066 // CC BY-SA 3.0

The Bo language was part of the Great Andamanese language family like Aka-Cari. It was spoken by the Bo people along the west central coast of India and part of the Andaman Islands. Much like the Cari, the Bo people were greatly affected by colonialism, and an epidemic spread from the Cari and another nearby tribe resulted in a dramatic decrease in population. Boa Senior, who died in 2010, worked with a linguist to record her language and the songs and stories passed down to her as the last living speaker. 

Eyak

Spoken by the Eyak people indigenous to Alaska, Eyak is still used by a non-native speaker, Guillaume Leduey, who taught himself Eyak using print and audio materials from the Alaska Native Language Center. Despite not ever meeting with the last native speaker who died in 2008, Leduey is regarded as a fluent speaker, translator, and instructor of Eyak, and has taught workshops in Alaska. The spread of English and suppression of aboriginal languages contributed to the decline of the language, which was already affected by the use of the related language of Tlingit to communicate with neighboring people.

Akkala Sami

Kola Peninsula
Akkala Sami was spoken in the Kola Peninsula, Russia.
Credit: Ninaras // CC BY-SA 4.0

A Sámi language spoken in the Kola Peninsula of Russia, Akkala Sami became extinct in 2003, with only two people with some knowledge of the language. It is said to be one of the most poorly documented Sami languages, with only some descriptions of phonology and morphology accompanying a couple of published texts and audio recordings archived. There is some confusion on whether the last speaker was truly the last native speaker or not, though in the early 1990s it was reported that eight remaining speakers were all elderly.

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