In linguistics, language death occurs when a language loses its last native speaker. Language death is linguistique et colonialisme : Petit traité de glottophagie PDF process in which the level of a speech community’s linguistic competence in their language variety decreases, eventually resulting in no native or fluent speakers of the variety.
As of the 2000s, a total of roughly 7,000 natively spoken languages existed worldwide. Top-to-bottom language death: when language shift begins in a high-level environment such as the government. The most common process leading to language death is one in which a community of speakers of one language becomes bilingual with another language, and gradually shifts allegiance to the second language until they cease to use their original, heritage language. Languages with a small, geographically isolated population of speakers can die when their speakers are wiped out by genocide, disease, or natural disaster. A language is often declared to be dead even before the last native speaker of the language has died. 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.
A language that has reached such a reduced stage of use is generally considered moribund. Language death is rarely a sudden event, but a slow process of each generation learning less and less of the language, until its use is relegated to the domain of traditional use, such as in poetry and song. Typically the transmission of the language from adults to children becomes more and more restricted, to the final setting that adults speaking the language will raise children who never acquire fluency. During language loss—sometimes referred to as obsolescence in the linguistic literature—the language that is being lost generally undergoes changes as speakers make their language more similar to the language that they are shifting to. Often speakers replace elements of their own language with something from the language they are shifting toward.