Chapter 5.7

Isolated, Endangered, and Extinct Languages

Isolated Languages

An isolated language is a language unrelated to any other and therefore not attached to any language family. Basque is an example of an isolated language and it is spoken by 600,000 people in the Pyrenees Mountains of northern Spain and southwestern France. This is the only language that is currently spoken in Europe that survives from the period before the arrival of Indo-European speakers.

Extinct Languages

Thousands of languages are extinct. Enthnologue lists 108 languages that went extinct as recently as the twentieth century and five in the first decade of the twenty-first century. Aka-Bo became extinct in 2010. Hebrew became extinct in the fourth century B.C., but was later retained only for religious Jewish services.

Preserving Endangered Languages

Ethnologue considers approximately 500 languages in danger of becoming extinct, but some of those languages are being preserved.


  • Irish Gaelic: An official language of the Republic of Ireland, along with English; Ireland's government requires publications to be in Irish as well as English.
  • Scottish Gaelic: Most speakers live in remote highlands and islands of northern Scotland.
  • Welsh In wales, teacher Welsh in schools is compulsory, road sins are bilingual, Welsh-language coins circulate, and a television and radio station broadcast in Welsh.
  • Cornish: This language became extinct in 1777, with the death of the language's last know native speaker; a standard written from of Cornish was established in 2008.
  • Breton: This language was concentrated in France's Brittany region; Breton differs from the other Celtic languages in that is has more French words.
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Endangered Languages Project
The Last Speakers (National Geographic)