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August 5, 2012

Coptic is very well recorded, and is still used in Coptic liturgy and some homes.

SIL International (Summer Institute of Linguistics) is a reputable American-based research agency that maintains an up to date database of languages, which it calls Ethnologue Database. It has a published edition, which is available on the web also: Ethnologue, Languages of the World, 16th Edition (2009).

It classifies Coptic as extinct and its population as, yes, instinct too!

Ethnologue database: Coptic.

I have no comment save that this is an incorrect statement by Ethnologue: Coptic is not extinct and its population isn’t either. Although “extinct” is sometimes used synonymously with “dead” in the discourse between linguists, it is usually reserved to languages that are no longer spoken and have not been recorded; and are, therefore, gone forever, as the dinosaurs during the Jurassic Period, and with them their DNA, have disappeared for good.[1] While this can be said of some tribal languages across the world that have been completely lost with the disappearance of their speakers, this cannot be said about languages that are fully recorded, even if they are no longer spoken in daily life, such as Latin, Biblical Hebrew, Sanskrit, Ge’ez, and Coptic.

But on this, and the very confused definitions, used by linguists, of extinct, dead and threatened languages, we shall return.

[1] The successful extraction of ancient DNA from dinosaur fossils has been reported. Even dinosaur now stand the chance of being cloned.

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