I am looking for a list, database, or encyclopedia of dead languages (better if it includes endangered ones) which specifies the causes wherby each of these languages died, or if the cause is unknown.

Also be useful would be any sort of text classifying some dead languages according to the cause of its death.

For example, some causes that I would expect to be are: massive migration, genocide, natural disaster, war, language shift by national language, among others.

  • 4
    In general, languages die when they cease to be useful to their communities. I'm not sure you can mark down a single "cause of death" for them like you could with a person.
    – Draconis
    Aug 27, 2021 at 23:08
  • 2
    (Using your list, for example, what happened to Etruscan? Rome became politically and economically dominant, then the other languages in the area slowly died out because Latin was more useful to those people. It's a very common story across the world.)
    – Draconis
    Aug 27, 2021 at 23:47
  • 2
    The thing about language death is that it takes more than one lifetime to happen, so nobody notices it when it's happening. Let alone fills out an autopsy report.
    – jlawler
    Aug 29, 2021 at 17:15
  • 1
    You could start with David Crystal's book Language Death (Crystal 2014), esp. Chapter 3 cambridge.org/core/books/language-death/…
    – Alex B.
    Sep 4, 2021 at 17:50

1 Answer 1


Some languages do indeed die because all their speakers are killed. This happened with many of the native languages of Australia, or North and South America. But in most cases languages die a natural death: the speakers of language A choose to speak language B because it is more prestigious, or more "useful" (as our friend Draconis puts it). Death is gradual: there is a long period where A and B are both spoken by the same community, but eventually A stops being used and is replaced entirely by B.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.