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An extinct language is a language which no longer has any native speakers. Generally this occurs when a language is directly replaced by a different one, for example, Coptic, which was replaced by Arabic, or, in Italy, Etruscan, which was replaced by Latin.

By extension, a language which has no native speakers in the youngest generation (or which, in a stricter definition, has ceased to be the lingua franca in its traditional linguistic areas) is called "moribund", while a language with very few native speakers is called "endangered" or "imperilled."

Extinct and Dead Languages of Italy

by Catherine Marien

For the Regional Languages of Italy, see: Regional languages of Italy
A more controversial usage of the term dead language, is to refer to an older language which changed significantly and evolved into a new language group. Latin, for example, is a dead language as it has no native speakers, but it is the base of Italian and all other modern Romance languages.

In some cases, an extinct language or dead language may remain in use for scientific, legal, or ecclesiastical functions. Latin is one of the many extinct languages used as sacred languages.

As long as a language still has living native speakers -even if these are only minority groups - this language is called a living language.

In some very rare cases an extinct language can be revived. Hebrew is a classic example of language revival, where a "dead" language, with no existing native speakers has been resurrected to a language spoken as a first language. It is certainly the most succesful example of language revival and also the one with the longest time interval between the moment when the language became extinct and the time when it was succesfully revived.

In most cases language revival is only partial. Partial language revival refers to a situation where a language is revived, but only as a second language. Language revival is also often confused with language revitalization, which is the rescue of a "dying" language, i.e. a language which still has some native speakers, even if only very few - for example in the older generation - from which the dying language can be reconstructed. In that case, linguists can make an analysis of the sounds of the spoken language and from that devise a writing system. Language revival, on the contrary, refers to a situation where such "living" material is no longer available.

Etruscan (see further) is an example of an extinct language that can be deciphered, but still would be very difficult to resurrect, because of the complete absence of native speakers. Etruscan can be deciphered, in the sense of "transliteration", because it is written in an alphabetical script derived from the Greek that can be easily transcribed. However, comprehension and interpretation of Etruscan are hampered by the fact that all texts found so far are very brief, often funerary inscriptions, containing mostly names, which gives very little information about the grammatical and lexical structure of the language.

Note that linguistic mortality is not just something that happened far back in history: genocides, ethnic displacements, political language suppression, and electronic media bombardment are all causes of present-day linguistic mortality. Linguistic impoverishment may also ultimately lead to the death of a language, as can linguistic insecurity, when overly protective measures, in turn, lead to a lexically-impoverished idiom.

The extinct and dead languages of Italy include:

- Elymian, language of unknown origin spoken by an ancient civilization located in Sicily.

- Etruscan, a language spoken and written in the ancient region of Etruria (current Tuscany, a name that goes back to the Tusci, another name for the Etruscans) and in parts of what are now, in Italy, Lombardy, Veneto, and Emilia-Romagna (where the Etruscans were displaced by the Gauls). However, Latin superseded Etruscan completely, leaving only a few documents and a few loanwords in Latin (e.g., persona from Etruscan phersu), and some place-names, like Parma. Most scholars agree today that Etruscan is unrelated to the Indo-european languages and related only to other members of what is called the Tyrrhenian language family which in itself is isolated. The Etruscan script stems from an alphabet of the West Greek type, which itself comes from Old Semitic. This probably explains why Etruscan, like most semitic languages, is written from right to left, even though Etruscan is not a semetic language.

- Faliscan, a language written in a variety of the Old Italic alphabet, as proved by some 36 short inscriptions, dating from the 3rd and 2nd centuries BC. The script is derived from the Etruscan, and written from right to left, but showing some traces of the influence of the Latin alphabet.

- Umbrian, an Italic language, not to be confused with the modern dialect Umbrian, which is a romance language. Ancient Umbrian was formerly spoken in the ancient Italian region of Umbria and originally also in Toscana before the people living there were expelled by the Etruscans. Known primarily from seven bronze plates from Iguvium (now Gubbio), de Tabulae Iguvinae, which contain some notes on the ceremonies and statutes for priests and date back to 400 - 150 BC.

- Venetic, a centum (western Indo-European) language once spoken in the Veneto region of Italy. Venetic should not to be confused with Venetian, the modern dialect, which is a romance language. The precise affiliation of Venetic with the other Indo-european languages remains uncertain. It probably does not belong to the Italic language subfamily. Venetic became extinct around the 1st century when the local inhabitants were assimilated into the Roman sphere. The language is attested by over 300 short inscriptions dating between the 5th century and 1st century, which use a variety of the Northern Italic alphabet, similar to the Old Italic alphabet. Venetic was written in scriptio continua, i.e. without spaces separating the words and from right to left (sinistrograde), although dextrograde (from left to right) writing was not unusual. A few Venetic texts (like some Etruscan inscriptions), were written in boustrophedon style, i.e. alternating writing direction every other line.

- Volscian, another Italic language, which was spoken by the Volsci and closely related to Oscan and Umbrian.

Other extinct and dead languages of Italy include:  Lepontic, Ligurian, Messapian, Oscan, Raetian, Sican, Sicel, and of course, Latin.

See Also:
Languages of Italy
Regional Languages of Italy
Minority Languages of Italy
Italian language courses in Italy
Italian language preparation courses for university
Further Reading:
La Posizione linguistica del venetico by Onofrio Carruba (1976), Athenaeum, Fascicole Speciale, p. 110-112.
Native Languages of the Americas: Endangered Language Revitalization and Revival
A loss for words by Michael Krauss
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