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Extinct languages ​​of Europe – how did our ancestors communicate?

Extinct languages ​​of Europe

If you went back in time, one two thousand years, would you manage to get along with the Europeans of that time? It would probably be hard. The barrier would not only be cultural and scientific, but also linguistic. In the ancient history of the Old Continent, most people used languages ​​that are extinct today, such as Etruscan, Greek or Gothic. In this article, you can explore the list of 10 extinct languages ​​in Europe and the continent’s rich linguistic heritage.

Extinct languages vs dead languages – what are the differences?

An extinct language is one that no one speaks anymore. There are no more people in the world for whom such a language would be their mother tongue. It is similar with dead languages ​​such as Latin. In this case, too, there are no people for whom it would be their native language, but it is still used, for example, in the liturgy. Dead languages ​​can be considered as the larger set, as it also includes extinct languages.

Proto-Indo-European – in search of the sources of European languages

The languages ​​of Europe today come from the Indo-European group of languages. One hypothesis is that these languages ​​came to the Old Continent about 8,000 years ago, with the first farmers from Anatolia.

Did the ancestor of the entire Indo-European group use a Proto-Indo-European language? Many scientists have doubts about that. There are no written remains of Proto-Indo-European. It can be considered a kind of metaphor. Under this label, information is collected on languages ​​for which no written evidence has survived. These do not appear until 1700 BCE. The texts in Hittite – an extinct language considered to be the first Indo-European language on the Old Continent – come from this period.

There are, however, masses of scientists trying to reconstruct Proto-Indo-European. We, today, know about 15-20% of it. Interestingly, this ancestor of European languages ​​also inspires today’s creators of popular culture. This reconstructed proto-language is used by an android in Ridley Scott’s film “Prometheus”. Also, in the popular adventure game “Far Cry Primal”, you can hear as many as 3 languages ​​based on Proto-Indo-European.

10 extinct languages ​​of Europe

What languages ​​did our ancestors use? Below we have compiled a list of 10 extinct European languages for you.

Etruscan

Let’s start with one of the most mysterious extinct languages ​​of ancient Europe – Etruscan. To this day, it is poorly understood because only short inscriptions, for example on ceramics, have survived to our times. There are no known passages of literary works written in this extinct language. Scientists have deciphered the meaning of only a few words in Etruscan. Although they can read the Etruscan alphabet, it is impossible to translate longer texts. Additional difficulties are caused by the fact that Etruscan does not belong to the Indo-European language group, so it is unlike any other language from the Old Continent.

This extinct language was used by the ancient inhabitants of Italy. Their culture was strongly marked by Hellenic influences. They differed from the Indo-European peoples. The Etruscans not only had a separate language, but also customs and culture.

The Etruscan language was superseded by Latin after the 1st century AD, which itself, today, is found on the list of dead languages.

Mycenaean Greek

Let’s stay in the area of ​​ancient extinct languages. Another one, Mycenaean, is the oldest known language from the Hellenic group of Indo-European languages. It was the language of legal documents, among other things, mainly being used for keeping the records of royal palaces and ancient trading centers. Mycenaean Greek was written using Linear B – an ancient script from centuries before the modern Greek alphabet. The first texts written in linear B script date from 1450 BC and were found in the palace archives of Knossos, Cydonia, Pylos, Thebes and Mycenae.

Old Norse

The language used by the Vikings died out in the 14th century. However, it cannot be said that the entire legacy of Old Norse was lost. On the contrary, it gave rise to many northern European languages. It became the foundation of such Scandinavian languages ​​as Icelandic, Faroese, Swedish, Finnish, Norwegian or the now extinct Norn language. Old Norse also had a great influence on the formation of the English language.

Today, Icelandic is the closest to Old Norse. Although dynamically developing tourism and globalisation have had an impact on the language of the inhabitants of the Far North, you can still hear speech similar to what the first Vikings probably used in Iceland.

Norn

This is an old Scandinavian language that shared the fate of its ancestor – Old Norse. It is not known when Norn became an extinct language, but it is known that it was associated with the occupation of the Shetland and Orkney Islands by the Scots in the 15th century.

Norn came to Shetland and the Orkney Islands with Norwegian settlers around the 7th-8th centuries. In a few centuries, this language spread across the island areas and became the dominant form of communication there, until the aforementioned invasion of the Scots. However, it is assumed that the indigenous population of the islands was bilingual (speaking Norn and Scottish English) even until the beginning of the 17th century.

Old English

Next on the list of extinct languages ​​in Europe is Old English, which is the oldest known form of English, dating from the early Middle Ages. It is one of the West Germanic languages ​​and was spoken by the Germanic tribes inhabiting England – by the Angles, Saxons and Jutes. With the Anglo-Saxons becoming the dominant ethnic group in England, Old English replaced other island languages ​​such as Latin and British. It should also not be forgotten that the formation of Old English was greatly influenced by another extinct language, Norn, which we mentioned in the previous paragraph. The influence of Norn was, of course, felt most in Western and Northern England, where the Vikings ruled until the 9th century.

Gallic

This is the best-known group of continental Celtic dialects. This extinct language was used by the Gallic tribes inhabiting the territories of today’s France, Switzerland and Italy. The first traces of Gallic come from the 6th century BC. The language began to lose its importance after the conquest of Gaul by the Roman Empire, and the final success of the Romans in this regard came in 52 BC.

The language died out in the 5th century, but it laid the foundations for today’s French. It is estimated that there are approximately 400 French words with Gallic origin in French. Such accretions, but far fewer, can also be found in German.

The most famous ambassadors of the Gallic language? With a grain of salt, one could consider Asterix and Obelix, characters from the comic book series created by René Goscinny. They are perhaps the most recognizable Gauls in the world. Although in the comic books themselves, you would be hard-pressed to find any Gallic expressions.

Gothic

The language of the Old Germanic tribe of the Goths. It is an extinct language belonging to the group of East Germanic languages, which include, apart from Gothic, also Vandalic and Burgundian. We owe our knowledge of this language mainly to Bishop Wulfila, who translated the Bible into Gothic in the 4th century. This language survived the longest in Crimea, where it was used until the 18th century.

Today, Gothic features on the long list of extinct languages, although the fact that there is quite a lot of teaching material available for learning Gothic makes one wonder whether it should be included in the list of dead languages, such as Latin.

Vandalic

The Vandals were, like the Goths, an East Germanic tribe. The two tribes did not live on friendly terms, even though the languages ​​were similar. However, we know Vandalic less than Gothic, because there are far fewer written sources in this language. Only a few sentences, nouns and names were preserved in the extinct Vandal language. The longest vandal sentence is “eils … scapia matzia ia drincan!”, Which means, “Be greeted … let’s do something to eat and drink!”. In Gothic, the same sentence would be: “hails, skapjam matjan jah drigkan!” which shows that the languages ​​were indeed closely related to each other.

Proto-Slavic

There are no written sources that could prove the existence of the Proto-Slavic language. However, researchers are quite unanimous that a certain linguistic community did exist in the ancient Slavic lands. Attempts to reconstruct this extinct language consist in using the methods of historical linguistics, such as the comparative method, which in turn consists in analysing and comparing words from different Slavic languages. It is assumed that the time of Proto-Slavic’s rise and development covers a very extensive period from about the 20th century BC until the 6th century AD.

Knaan language

Finally, let’s look at the extinct Judeo-Slavic language which belongs to the group of West Slavic languages. It was used by the Jewish diaspora living in Slavic territories. This language functioned among Slavic Jews until the expansion of Ashkenazi culture and the Yiddish language, through which it was absorbed and assimilated.

Knaan is named after the lands east of the Elbe River. It distinguished the Jewish diaspora living there from the Ashcanosian Jews living to the west of this river.

The 10 languages ​​mentioned above are really only a fraction of the complete list of dead and extinct European languages. It only shows how rich the heritage of modern Europe is. It is also worth paying attention to the fact that at the moment when the world began to shrink and the population began to travel more and more boldly, there was a desire to get to know each other. And so we started learning foreign languages ​​in order to be able to understand our closer and more distant neighbours.

Today, more than ever, we can reach almost any corner of the world in a short time. Knowledge of languages ​​is therefore even more valuable than before, and by choosing SuperMemo courses you can learn up to 20 popular languages ​​from around the globe. Start learning today!