46

Ancient Greek word ΣΑΣΤΗΡ (sastēr) From 1890 to 1899, in pieces, a white marble slab was found by archaeologists in the ruins of an Ancient Greek colony Chersonesus, Greek Χερσόνησος (Khersónēsos), on the Crimean Peninsula, established in the 6th century BC. The slab (photo) was inscribed with a text in Ancient Greek being the civic oath of the Chersonesites ...


38

There are many such words. Even for a really well-attested dead language like Latin such words are known, e.g., aurichalc, haematopus, or cortumio (all three examples taken from the answers to this question on latin.se)


31

A surprising example is that one of the words in the "Lord's Prayer", one of the most significant prayers of the Christian tradition, has an unknown meaning. The original Greek word is epiousios (ἐπιούσιος) and has traditionally been translated as "daily" - but that translation has no particularly strong foundation. It occurs in the ...


28

By definition, a dead language is a language that does not have any native speakers anymore but that had native speakers earlier (the last clause is needed to delineate dead languages from constructed languages that never ever had any native speakers). Looking at the definition, Latin is definitely a dead language, and Sanskrit is a dead language, too, ...


26

In Genesis 6:14, Noah's Ark is made of עצי גפר (gopher wood). "Gopher" is just a phonetic transliteration of the ancient Hebrew גֹּפֶר. No one knows what it means, except that it is presumably some kind of wood.


7

Truly, you have a great ambition. Don't give up!! But you cannot learn to talk an ancient language just from the way it is written. Heck, you cannot learn how any language is spoken from the way it is written, though maybe Korean comes as close as any. That aside, decipherment of ancient scripts is very worthy. But to decipher a new ancient language needs ...


7

The main difference between dead languages and living languages in this respect is that it's possible with a living language to resolve an empirical question by interrogating a speaker of the language, and this is not possible with a dead language. Therefore is you want to know how the N. Saami word guossi is pronounced, you can ask a speaker to say it, and ...


6

Hapax legomenon This is defined as a word that only appears once in a given context - it can be in a single book, an author's complete works, or in the published works of an entire language (whether a dead language or an extant one). In the last sense, it would generally be a word whose definition is lost to history. The linked article gives a few examples....


5

The loss of *h in all non-initial positions seems to be a distinctive North Germanic feature: (before a consonant) Icelandic nótt "night" vs. Old English niht / neaht (word-final) Icelandic sá "(I/he) saw" vs. OE seah (medial) Icelandic tíu "ten" vs. Gothic taihun This change has occurred in modern English, but it did not occur generally in the branch of ...


4

Theoretically, there isn't a minimum population for a language to survive, because a speech community can theoretically be of any size. Even if the speech community dwindles to one person, that last person isn't going to stop transmitting his language if he isn't exposed to any other languages. However, this isn't a practical case, because the last speakers ...


3

As pointed out, Egyptian hieroglyphs employed certain symbols as semantic determinants, which though phonologically mute and often redundant would help the reader figure out which concept was intended. There seem to be plenty of available details online about this (Wikipedia, etc.) so I won't go into it. The other well-known "hieroglyphic" writing system, ...


3

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 ...


3

There is no applicable metric, so the question has no answer. To measure similarity, you could try to enumerate the differences between two (very similar) languages, and keep a tab of the points of difference. For instance, Swedish and Norwegian are very similar, but where Swedish has many plural endings -ar, -or, -er, Norwegian only has -er. But if that one ...


3

It is theoretically possible to decipher an undeciphered language, such as Linear B (Mycenean Greek). Old Chinese did not require decipherment ("Bone oracle script" did), but it did require a bit of fancy work to figure out how the individual characters were probably pronounced. There are a handful of undeciphered scripts, such as Linear A (associated with ...


2

Describing the meaning of a word (lemma/root) is what a lexicographer does. So I'd call this a lexicographic study.


2

One approach that linguists use is to train themselves in reverse chronological order. I'd suggest you do the same: Read a few hundred pages in each century, going backwards. Choose similar genres and topics if possible. This allows you to adjust to changes in vocabulary, grammar or simply fashion in phrasing. Three things you may want to look out for: ...


2

Melchert claims that "voicing" was not distinguished word-initially or word-finally, with word-initial stops ending up fortis (PIE *geis- > kiš- "become" > reduplicated kikkiš- with a fortis consonant) and word-final stops ending up lenis (PIE *h₁poi-h₁ei-ti > pait "went" > paid=aš "he came" with a lenis ...


1

Of course, we could take the question to an extreme: as I understand it, no-one has yet managed to decode Linear-A, so we have a whole language that we have "lost the definition to".


1

In my understanding, living languages grow and change as people use and experience them. There's technical terms formed as new techniques are discovered, slang created as people, kids, want to be cliquish and edgy and not-quite-understood, shifting words and phrases and meanings as people want to speak about something without outright saying it, right? ...


1

The answer is zero. Hebrew became extinct after around 200 and 400 CE and got revived in the 19th century. There also are fluent Klingon speakers (the imaginary language spoken by the Klingons in Star Trek). Including some documented fluent Klingon kids.


1

Language transmission can occur in different ways. Generally, a language is learned inside a group social. So, theoretically, without considering external considerations (peer pressure, motivation, ...), it can be two persons at least a learner and a teacher without having necessarily a familial relationship; or two genitors who give birth to children and ...


1

Yes, eš2 and gir15 are two "readings" (as one says in Assyriology) of the same sign.


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