Why Learning a Dead Language Is Worth Your While

Caitlyn Knuth
December 6, 2022

The idea of learning another language is something that fascinates many people. It’s intriguing to think that you could take on an entirely new form of expression with enough study. Additionally, various benefits are linked to learning a second language. From cognitive improvement to a boost in confidence and the new friends that come along with a wider communication network, there are plenty of positives to consider.

But what about taking language learning a step further? There’s a lot to be said for investing your time in learning a dead language as opposed to a living language. In fact, it might be surprising for aspiring second language learners to find that there are just as many benefits to learning a language that’s minimally or no longer used as those that are utilized frequently.

What Defines a Dead Language?

Not to be confused with an extinct language, a dead language is one that is still studied but no longer maintains a vast, core group of native speakers. A language typically becomes categorized as dead over a long period. It may become used to a lesser extent over centuries, or be replaced by another language entirely due to cultural fusions. Some linguists estimate that within the next century, the globe will see nearly 3,000 languages extinguished.

Dead Languages Waiting to be Learned

The list of dead languages that are readily available to be learned to this day is surprisingly vast! Some of the most popular dead languages that students set out to acquire include Ancient Greek, Latin, Old English, Sanskrit, Etruscan, and Old Norse just to name a few. Languages like Navajo and Hawaiian are considered critically endangered and at risk of being categorized as dead in the near future. Both have recently been added to language learning sites like Duolingo. A full list of endangered languages is maintained in UNESCO’s digital library as well as a helpful reference point for learners.

Benefits of Learning a Dead Language

While a dead language may not be one that a learner is going to use at the store or a restaurant, the process that goes into developing this type of second language is the same as any other. That means it comes with similar cognitive benefits--not to mention the confidence that comes with taking on such a unique goal. Learning a dead language can improve memory and decision-making skills over time, in the same way learning Spanish or French might improve these aspects of cognitive function.

Because dead languages belong to root families of modern languages, taking one up might also make learning additional languages easier in the future. For example, dead languages like Latin offer up the root words for languages that are today used across North America and Europe alike. Investing time in learning Latin could train your brain in a way that makes learning Spanish, French, Italian, and even Romanian easier later on.

One of the most exciting benefits of learning a dead language is the possibility of reviving it. Being an integral part of bringing a lost language back to life can be a thrill for lifelong learners. Language is intrinsically linked to culture and taking time to learn a dead language is an active step in potentially bringing it into existence once again.

As soon as a dead language is passed down to a future generation and both studied and spoken, it moves out of the dead language category and back into the living languages category. Such was the case for Hebrew at the end ofcentury. The potential of resurrecting a language is always within reach with the right learners in place to give it a try.

Take Language Learning to a New Level

Taking time to learn a dead language is certainly an interesting twist on taking on a second language skill. Just the idea of playing an active role in the continuation of a language and culture that all but seems lost is exciting! Whether you opt for Navajo, Ancient Greek, or Latin, you’re going to be in for the language-learning adventure of a lifetime.

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