January 31, 2020
Few modern people give the idea of learning a dead language a second thought. They are more concerned with the practical value of knowledge, so they study languages that are spoken in the hubs of tourist attraction, in the sphere of international business, and other similar sectors. At the same time, there are many opportunities connected with dead languages. Those who learn them become a part of a small community that keeps the past alive. They are also essential in several branches of science, and they can boost your ability to learn other languages because they have given birth to many modern forms of them.
Thinking that dead and extinct languages are the same is a common misconception. Their only uniting factor is that no one uses them for conversational purposes in the modern days. But dead languages are still applied on a daily basis in a specific context while extinct ones are gone for good, and many of them cannot be reproduced. For instance, Pictish, the language the Picts spoke, has died out entirely, and we can only guess the words and rules it entailed. Common Brittonic, which King Arthur is assumed to have spoken, is also gone, but some of its directly descending forms still exist, even though they are practiced only by a small percentage of the population. Latin, in turn, is one of the most popular dead languages, and while no one chats on it for fun, it’s a valuable tool for people working in medical, biology, and other fields. So, speaking extinct languages is next to impossible and it doesn’t have any value other than the historical kind. Dead languages, on the other hand, are both historically and practically beneficial.
There are many dead languages with their unique attributes, but we’ve selected ten most interesting ones.
1) Latin. No list can do without this dead language because it’s one of the most popular ones in the world. It was initially spoken in Latium, where modern Rome is located, and it is still heavily used in the spheres of religion, medicine, business, literature, and history.
2) Biblical Hebrew. It’s closely related to the current version of Hebrew, but at this point, it’s considered archaic. It was spoken in Israel, and there are still many preserved religious documents written in it. Plenty of Israeli schools teach it, viewing it as an essential part of historical heritage.
3) Sanskrit. This dead language was born on the territory of ancient India, and it has great relevance in regard to Hinduism. Numerous philosophical, religious, scientific, and poetic works were written in it, which is why it still evokes the interest of so many people.
4) Coptic. It’s a part of Egyptian languages that died out during the 17th century. Currently, it’s mostly used in religious and academic fields, but many individuals still find the idea of talking like ancient people in Egypt exciting.
5) Aramaic. Being spoken on the territory of ancient Syria, this language ensured the development of other important ones, such as Hebrew. Some of its dialects are still used by small communities, so using it could help you make new friends in unexpected places.
6) Middle English. It was spoken up until the 15th century and learning it is engaging because it has affected the development of the modern English language we all speak. Many popular historical figures and book characters, including Robin Hood, spoke it, which adds an additional value to it.
7) Akkadian. This language was spread across Mesopotamia, covering a huge territory up to the Persian Gulf. Numerous pieces of art and literature carry its influence, which is why learning it is both educational and inspiring.
8) Sumerian. Few people have heard of Sumerian, but it’s one of the most ancient languages spoken in Mesopotamia. It was replaced by Akkadian later on, but it continued to be viewed as sacred for a long time. It’s still reflected in numerous inscriptions of that era.
9) Old Norse. People in ancient Scandinavia spoke this language starting with about the 8th century. It features heavily in the old myths, which creates an atmosphere of mystery around it. It was also a part of Vikings’ language, so studying it might be fun.
10) Ancient Greek. As one of the oldest languages, this one was spoken from around the 9th century BC, and a startling number of famous people considered it native, from Aristotle to Socrates. By learning it, you’ll be able to access big volumes of valuable information just in the way it was written.
Many people believe that modern translation agencies work only with currently relevant languages, but the truth is, every professional organization with enough experience in the market has at least several dead languages specialists. A huge amount of data exists in the form of old documents, archives, and files that need to be deciphered. There are countless medical and historical texts that require translations even now, so many linguists all over the world keep cultivating the practice of dead languages, polishing their skills, studying related materials, and exchanging knowledge with their colleagues.
Dead languages are also a commonly encountered phenomenon in creative writing. Lots of fictional books fall into the historical genre, and many authors are thorough enough to want their characters to sound authentic. They consult translation centers and receive assistance with their work. Authors of non-fiction along with archeologists also often need help with interpreting different inscriptions. So, the market for dead languages is much wider than most people imagine.
Every person interested in dead languages has their own unique reason for it. Tastes and interests differ, so it’s impossible to pinpoint one specific driver. Some people need dead languages for professional purposes. They include doctors and other workers within the medical field, academics, historians, etc. You might also be interested in learning more about the culture and traditions of ancient civilizations. Additionally, you could start learning them to be able to read your favorite old book in original or to participate in the recreation of some historical scenes. Dead languages unite people in narrow groups, and since they have common roots with the languages we speak now, they can facilitate your understanding of them.
The Global Translatings Awards is an organization in the United States dedicated to literary translation.
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