In linguistics, language death is the process whereby a community of speakers of one language become bilingual in another language (e.g: for economic or political reasons or because they are forced to do so), and gradually shift allegiance to the second language until they cease to use their original language. Languages can also die when their speakers are wiped out by genocide or disease.
Strictly speaking, language death only occurs when only one speaker of a language lives (who no longer has anyone to communicate with in the language). However, in practice languages may die before this; if there are only a few elderly speakers of a language remaining, and they no longer use that language for communication, then the language is effectively dead anyway.
Language death can be reversed, as has happened with the Hebrew language in Israel. However, this is the only large-scale language revival process that has ever succeeded.
- Brenzinger, Matthias (ed.) (1991) Language Death: Factual and Theoretical Explorations with Special Reference to East Africa. Berlin/New York: Mouton de Gruyter.
- Dressler, Wolfgand & Wodak-Leodolter, Ruth (eds.) (1977) Language death (International Journal of the Sociology of Language vol. 12). The Hague: Mouton.
- Sasse, Hans-Jürgen (1991) 'Theory of language death', in Brenzinger (ed.) Language Death, pp. 7–30.