We all know that dead languages like ancient Egyptian existed in days gone by. However, thanks to modern science, those languages have been able to return and are now spoken today. Here are ten dead languages that historians have managed to revive today.
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Although Hebrew was once a prosperous language and a key part of ancient civilizations, in the 3rd century B.C. C., Hebrew was in decline. During this period, the Hebrew language was largely replaced by Aramaic, which was spoken in Israel, Palestine, and other nearby regions at the time.
Despite this, Hebrew managed to stay afloat through its use in religious written texts until about the 13th century, when the language became extinct. It was not spoken for several thousand years until the 19th century, when some scholars set out to bring the language back from the dead.
These scholars made a pact to speak only Hebrew at home and started several Hebrew newspapers. This was part of a period of the Jewish Enlightenment in which Jews tried to connect with their ancient heritage.
The movement was a resounding success, and today there are approximately nine million native speakers of the language and approximately six million who consider Hebrew their mother tongue.
Sanskrit is a language that died out in about the first millennium BC. However, thanks to its use in ancient Indian religious texts, the script was kept alive for several years.
Despite this, it was not until the late 1800s that theosophists in India sought to help the language make an active comeback. This effort involved setting up workshops, holding a Sanskrit competition, and even establishing Sanskrit as a language in schools and universities.
Today, Sanskrit is an official language of several states in India, and today there are approximately 25,000 speakers of the once-died language.
Manchu is a language native to the Manchuria region of Northeast China and was widely spoken during the Qing Dynasty. Despite its strength during this part of Chinese history, the language suffered a serious decline after the fall of the Qing dynasty. Manchu was replaced by Mandarin Chinese, and Manchu speakers were prosecuted.
Despite this, some Manchu speakers remained in isolated villages in rural China. Thanks to these few speakers, there was enough knowledge of the language for it to start to make a reappearance in post-Mao China.
During this period, Manchu Chinese were no longer prosecuted as they had been in earlier periods of Chinese history. In an attempt to honor their Manchu heritage, people began establishing Manchu language classes to bring back their lost language.
Today, there are still fewer than 1,000 Manchu speakers in the world. However, the NGOs and non-profit organizations that sponsor the Manchu classes hope to help increase this number in the coming years.
7 Te Reo Maori
Te reo Māori is the language of the native New Zealanders. This group of people is of Polynesian descent and was actually the most widely spoken language in New Zealand in the early 19th century.
However, with the arrival of increasing numbers of English settlers in New Zealand during the 20th century, the language began to be spoken only in Maori communities. In addition, in 1858 the Native Schools Act had been established, which prohibited speaking te reo Maori.
Thanks to this law, the language took a nosedive and was largely considered extinct. However, in the 1970s, a group known as the Ngā Tamatoa, or the Young Warriors, began to fight for tereo to not only be taught in schools, but also encouraged.
Approximately twenty years later, New Zealand made Tereo one of the country’s official languages through the Maori Language Act of 1987. Today, there are nearly 180,000 Tereo speakers, the majority concentrated in New Zealand.
Manx is the native language of the Isle of Man in the United Kingdom. The language, although predominantly spoken on the island, began to decline around the 19th century due to the increased use of English. The islanders felt that Manx was a language that would not be useful in the future, and that raising their children to speak English would prepare them for a better future. In 2009, UNESCO officially declared the language dead.
Despite this, the language has managed to make a recent comeback, largely thanks to a man named Brian Stowell. Stowell read an article about a man lamenting the decline of the language in 1953 and was inspired to learn it himself. Together with the author of the article, the two men formed a group that would meet to listen to recordings in Manx and try to recover the language.
Today, the movement has taken off, with some primary schools on the island even teaching entirely in Manx. Currently, there are an estimated 2,000 Manx speakers, although levels of fluency may vary.
Cornish is the native language of Cornwall and was a Celtic language spoken in the area before the arrival of the Germanic Anglo-Saxons in the area. However, despite the strong Celtic presence in Cornwall, the language began to decline in the late 13th century.
The main reason for this was due to the continued Anglo-Saxon migration to the area, as well as the growing popularity of Christianity. Since the Christian Bible had not been translated into Cornish, more and more people began to speak English instead of their native Cornish.
In 1777, the last native Cornish speaker died, taking his mother tongue with him. Despite this, modern 19th-century scholars used Cornish written records and similar languages, such as Welsh and Breton, to revive Cornish.
Today there are some families who educate their children to speak the language, as well as local schools in Cornwall that teach it. Although the exact number of speakers is not known, it is estimated that there are around 500 fluent speakers.
Wampanoag is a Native American language that is spoken by the Wampanoag Native American Nation. The tribe largely inhabited southern Massachusetts and Rhode Island. However, they were largely wiped out by English settlers in the region in the 17th century.
The arriving English settlers went to great lengths to assimilate Native American tribes, including the Wampanoag Nation, into English culture. They established universities that were designed to teach the nation English and Christianity. Due to this assimilation, the native customs and the native language slowly began to decline.
Around the 19th century, the Wampanoag language, like many other Native American languages, had become extinct. Despite this slow death of a language, in the late 1990s a Wampanoag woman named Jesse Little Doe Baird set out to revive the language.
Using a Wampanoag translation of the Bible, he worked with MIT professors to reconstruct the language. Although the language is by no means common, there are now said to be around 75 speakers of the language, and additional efforts to teach the language in Native American communities mean that number may continue to grow.
Livonian is the native language of the people of Latvia and was spoken by natives living in Latvia and eastern Estonia. Livonia began to die out due to increased contact with the Balts, who moved into the region in the 19th century.
Despite that, the language survived somewhat until 2013, when the last native speaker of the language passed away. Fortunately, since Latvia gained independence from Russia, the country has been very focused on reviving Latvian culture. Part of this is an effort to bring back Livonian, and today there are an estimated few dozen speakers of the language.
2 irish gaelic
Irish Gaelic is the native language of Ireland and is closely related to Scottish Gaelic. Like Scottish, Irish Gaelic suffered greatly in the 17th century thanks to laws laid down by England that made it illegal to speak Irish Gaelic. Children caught speaking the language at school were punished, and legislation was put in place to ensure it was not spoken in government.
Thanks to these activities, Irish Gaelic had become largely extinct by the early 19th century. It was only really spoken in a handful of rural communities, and even then, it was mostly spoken at home to avoid public persecution.
However, in the second half of the 19th century, there was a revival of interest in the native Irish language. Led by a man called Eoin MacNeill, a group of people formed the Gaelic League with the aim of fighting for Gaelic to once again be spoken in government and taught in schools.
The movement was a success, and Irish Gaelic was slowly reintroduced into schools, government, and local communities. Today it is estimated that there are between 40,000 and 80,000 native speakers of Irish.
1 ‘Olelo Hawai’i
‘ŌleloHawai’i, more commonly called Hawaiian, is the native language of Hawaii. Like te reo Māori, this is a Polynesian language. Originally it was strictly a spoken language that had no written text form.
When English settlers arrived on the islands in the 18th and 19th centuries, English was declared the official language of the country at the time and replaced Hawaiian in ordinary society. Additionally, Western views that Hawaiian language and traditions should be erased led to the gradual suppression of the language. In 1898, when Hawaii was declared a US territory, the language was officially banned from schools and Hawaiians were prosecuted for speaking it.
The result is that the Hawaiian language, for the most part, became extinct by the mid-20th century. Still, a new interest in native culture began in the 1960s and 1970s, as locals fought to recapture the Hawaiian language. In 1978, Hawaiian was recognized as the official language of the state; it is the only US state with two official languages.
Today ‘Ōlelo Hawai’i is taught and encouraged in Hawaiian schools and is an integral part of the islands’ culture. There are around 2,000 speakers of the language, and the number seems to be increasing.
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