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Dead Languages, a Review of the Past

September 13, 2016

We've covered some of the easiest languages to learn as well as those languages that are most commonly spoken. However did you know there is a very large list of languages that are considered "dead?" What makes a language dead you may ask? In simple terms, a dead language is one which is no longer spoken in everyday use, such as Latin.

While Latin may be the most commonly known dead language, there are many other styles of communication and writing which have gone extinct over time. Some of these are incredibly interesting and have a unique history all their own.

Akkadian: Spoken between 2800 BCE and 500 CE, this language is reminiscent of alien writing found in many science fiction movies. Used in ancient Mesopotamia, Akkadian utilizes the same cuneiform alphabet as Sumerian. Many ancient creation myth texts are written in Akkadian such as the Epic of Gilgamesh and the Enuma Elish creation myth. Akkadian has grammar similar to classic Arabic.

Coptic: Spoken between 100 CE and 1600 CE, Coptic is essentially the Egyptian language written with the Greek alphabet. Much of the early Christian literature, including the Nag Hammadi library, was written in Coptic. Today, its former users switched to Arabic long ago.

Aramaic: Spoken between 700 BCE and 600 CE, Aramaic caught attention in recent years because of the movie The Passion of The Christ. This is commonly identified as the language of Jesus and was the lingua fracta of much of the Near East during this time. Though it is considered a dead language, it is still spoken by a few modern Aramaic communities.

Sanskrit: Spoken since 1500 BCE, today Sanskrit is a liturgical language (written and read, rarely spoken). The Hindu Vedas were originally written in this language, which is a bit part of keeping it somewhat alive. Sanskrit was the common language of the Indian subcontinent for over 3,000 years and has a 49-letter alphabet. There has been a recent resurgence of interest in Sanskrit . . . in the tattooing community.

Old Norse: Spoken between 700 CE and 1300 CE, Old Norse is commonly known as the language of Vikings. The language played a large part in Norse mythology as The Eddas were written in this language. Old Norse was spoken in Scandanavia, Iceland, the Faroe Islands, Greenland, and even parts of Russia, France, and the British Isles.

Though these languages are no longer spoken, they are still incredibly interesting, fun to read, and even more fun to hear.

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