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What previously dead (i.e. no more native speakers) or remnant (i.e. not very well or hardly documented) languages have been revived to the point that there are native speakers?

Accounts of revival efforts show up in the popular press form time to time, but not so many accounts of revivals that pass a stiff test of having native speakers, who are not necessarily monolingual, but who do speak that language from birth or early childhood.

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In all the cases I'm aware of, revived languages differ substantially from the version as it was last spoken. This is to be expected and should not be considered a criticism of the revived variety (sadly it often is). So talking about 'previously dead languages' having native speakers again is not really accurate. –  Gaston Ümlaut Oct 9 '11 at 0:47
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Well, I'm interested in the broader question, as I suspect you are as well, not the hairsplitter version. In the hairsplitting sense, then the English language of my son isn't exactly the same as my language. Where I think there is little controversy is about the revival of remnant languages, i.e. those that are dead and scantily documented-- the revival of those will almost certainly not be intelligible to a hypothetical ghost. –  MatthewMartin Oct 10 '11 at 18:00

5 Answers 5

up vote 9 down vote accepted

Sanskrit has been a subject of revival efforts since the 1908s in various villages in India. From Wikipedia:

In these Indian villages, inhabitants of all castes speak Sanskrit natively since childhood:

  1. Mattur in Karnataka
  2. Jhiri, District: Rajgadh, Madhya Pradesh
  3. Ganoda, District: Banswada, Rajasthan
  4. Bawali, District: Bagapat, Uttar Pradesh
  5. Mohad, District: Narasinhpur, Madhya Pradesh
  6. Shyamsundarpur,District: Kendujhar, Odisha

And yes there are not only native speakers but monolingual speakers!

The information here is basically recycled from my question about whether the Sanskrit spoken in India is a "living language".

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The Wikipedia article is very interesting, but it doesn't mention that those speakers are monolingual. In fact it says that speakers "are even using [Sanskrit] to some extent in everyday communication", i.e. they usually use other languages for everyday communication. Do you have any sources for the claim that some of them are monolingual? Would be useful to have. –  robert Jul 26 '13 at 11:56
    
The only claim I can find of there being monolingual Sanskrit speakers is in fact right here on linguistics.SE: "my friend from Mattur was a monolingual Sanskrit speaker. I understand that businesses in Mattur use just Sanskrit. That gives me the impression that there are many more like him." –  hippietrail Jul 26 '13 at 12:43
    
I think such reports and also self-identification as a speaker of Sanskrit in the census could be exaggerated as knowledge of Sanskrit carries a lot of prestige. I don't doubt that in some places Sanskrit is occasionally used for non-liturgical purposes but I'm not sure these are viable language communities or that Sanskrit plays an important role in everyday activities. –  robert Jul 26 '13 at 13:02

If Wikipedia can be considered a reliable source, the Cornish language revival movement has been succeeding, but with a lot of disagreement:

The revival of Cornish began in 1904 when Henry Jenner, a Celtic language enthusiast, published his book Handbook of the Cornish Language. Jenner's work was based on Cornish as it was spoken in the 18th century, although his pupil Robert Morton Nance later steered the revival to the style of the 16th century, before the language became more heavily influenced by English. This set the tone for the next few decades; as the revival gained pace, learners of the language disagreed on which style of Cornish to use, and a number of competing orthographies were in use by the end of the century.

According to the site Teaching English,

Even though the language was described as ‘dead’ towards the end of the 20th century, its revival has resulted in 2,000 people now being fluent in it (as per a survey in 2008).

Eight years earlier, the number of speakers was estimated to be around 300.

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Manx is a similar example - the last fluent native speaker died in the 1970's, but there was already something of a revival movement gradually building before that, which by now can claim maybe 100 fluent Manx speakers, I think including some children now speaking Manx as a first language. A masters dissertation on the topic: omniglot.com/pdfs/languagerevival.pdf –  Floating Tone Oct 16 '11 at 10:06

A language revival project that has been successful (with a small population) and has led to a MacArthur Genius grant is the Wôpanâak Language Reclamation Project: http://wlrp.org/. The project was started by Jessie 'little doe' Baird in conjunction with MIT linguists Ken Hale and Norvin Richards. There's a movie about the project: http://www.makepeaceproductions.com/wampfilm.html. Here are two magazine articles: http://www.technologyreview.com/article/20664/ and http://www.technologyreview.com/article/20629/.

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The Hawaiian language has seen a big revival in the past 20-30 years. This wikipedia article, Hawaiian Language Revival, doesn't do it justice, but there have been huge efforts to reclaim the language, and introduce modern technological terms to the language so that it can once again become a native spoken language.

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Did Hawaiian ever die out (have no children learning in the home)? –  Mitch Oct 7 '11 at 2:25
    
I believe it was nearly dead as a native language, except for a couple islands. –  Mark Tuttle Oct 7 '11 at 15:20
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@Mitch Hawai'ian continued to be the main language on one small island, Ni'ihau, where transmission to children continued. On all the other islands intergenerational transmission had largely ceased by the 1980s, but there was still an older generation who had grown up as native speakers. The revival effort drew on all of these groups as well as tremendous dedication by younger part-speakers to produce a generation growing up with Hawai'ian as their first language. –  Gaston Ümlaut Oct 8 '11 at 8:00
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I read some claims that the Ni'ihau dialect was not even mutually comprehensible with other Hawaiian dialects. Also Ni'ihau has been privately owned for over a century and there have been extremely few possibilities for visiting it. @Mitch: Since the Wikipedia article is not so great can you find any other reference which has better information? –  hippietrail Oct 8 '11 at 21:11
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@hippietrail I was at ICLDC in Hawai'i earlier this year and learned that while the Ni'ihau dialect (NB) is quite different, its speakers have no problem understanding the mainland variety, and can adapt their speech to it. While visiting Ni'ihau is difficult, Ni'ihau islanders may visit (or even relocate to) the other islands, and have played an important role in the reinvigoration of Hawai'ian. –  Gaston Ümlaut Oct 9 '11 at 0:39

Cappadocian Greek is a mix of (Byzantine) Greek and Turkish, previously thought to have died out by the 1960s due to speakers being forced to move to Greece and then switching to Standard Modern Greek.

But in 2005, Mark Janse and Dimitris Papazachariou discovered a group of native speakers.

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That's more of a rediscovery though than a revival since there were speakers all along but we didn't know they existed. –  hippietrail Oct 7 '11 at 22:23

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