Let’s face it, even one of these 6 easiest dead languages to learn will require many hours of dedication and hard work, but for most, it will result in an extremely pleasing and fulfilling experience.
A dead language is a dialect or tongue that holds no current native speakers, and is usually spoken only by those who chose to learn it, on top of their native language. The main reason for a language to become dead -with noted exceptions – is when, through sociocultural processes like conquests or migrations, the speakers of such languages gradually replace their own with a new one, leaving their native language in disuse until it finally fades away.
An interesting exception happens when, through genocide or natural catastrophes, every native speaker of a language is wiped out, causing it to disappear completely.
There are many reasons why a person could choose to invest his or her time, learning a dead language. For scholars and academics, it’s a way of reaching original texts, and skipping the many subjective interpretations that translators must make to decode an ancient text into English. For many people, it’s a way of getting in touch with their roots and origins; and it could also be the answer for romantics wishing to experience the way of communication of a society, at a certain time period. As it’s known by philologists and ethnolinguistics, languages say a lot about civilization, and dead ones are a must-know for anyone wanting to immerse his or herself into an extinct one.
Of course, any learning process can be easier for some than for others, but since this list is intended for English speakers, we chose our ranking criteria based on two main guidelines: Each language’s similarity to English, and its popularity. The first one is quite obvious. In the learning of any language, the closer it gets to one’s mother tongue, the easier it gets. That’s why we had a look at the history of the English language which is very well summed up in this article by Rice University. As for popularity goes, we’re following the assumption that, the more widely spread a language is, the more studied and taught it is, the easier its learning shall be, since you will find a lot more resources and teaching techniques than with those of a more obscure nature. For that we checked out which are the main languages being taught at the classical, linguistics, and Asian studies departments of some of the world’s most prestigious universities, such as Brown, Columbia, Yale, Harvard, Cambridge and Oxford. We also had a look at which of these dead languages are supported by Unicode.
If you think these 6 easiest languages to learn are not for you, or if you’re not ready to take the challenge, you’re welcome to check out our previous list easiest second languages to learn for English speakers, where we do a similar experiment but focus only on currently spoken languages.
Though this might surprise you, the sacred language of Hinduism and Buddhism shares a common ancestor with English, through the Proto-Indo-European language; a theorized language that supposedly fathers all Indo-European languages including German, Spanish, French, Greek, Persian, Hindi, and many others. This is the must-know tongue for anyone wanting to become well versed in classical Hindu culture, religion, literature and music.
5. Old French (Norman Variant)
If you took French lessons in high school, you were probably shocked by the fact that a lot of French words share similar roots with English ones; and, at times, are even written in the same way. This has to do with the fact, that, a significantly large portion of the English vocabulary comes from French, as a direct consequence of the Norman conquest of England during the 11th century. This -not at all shocking- part of medieval Europe’s history, gave birth to a strange offspring called “the Anglo-Norman language”, an Old French and Old English mixture spoken mostly in court, which influenced English profoundly.
4. Classical Hebrew
Learning this language will give you access to one of the world’s most sold books, in its original form: The Bible’s Old Testament.
A sacred language in Judaism, born in Ancient Israel, it was kept alive through the ages by Jewish rite and tradition. It was chosen as Modern Israel’s official language in its foundation in 1948, making it one of the first languages in history to be properly revitalized, though modern Hebrew differs in many ways, as a result of Modern Israel’s culture mix.
3. Ancient Greek
Since the foundation of the world’s first universities in the 13th century, all the way to nowadays, Ancient Greek has been studied, taught, discussed and dissected; likely making it the most analyzed dead language of Western history. And that’s not surprising, given that it’s the language spoken at the cradle of Western Civilization.
A mandatory language for anyone wanting to get their hands on classical texts. Learning it will give you a chance to have a deep understanding of the works of Homer, Hesiod, Plato, Aristotle, Sophocles, and any poet, playwright and philosopher who lived in Ancient Greece.
Given its historical importance and deep analysis, Ancient Greek ranks 3rd on our 6 easiest dead languages to learn list.
Latin was the main language of the Roman Empire, and it remained the universal tongue for academic and scientific texts, well into the Renaissance. Along with Ancient Greek, it is still today regularly taught in most universities, providing students who aspire its learning, with a wide span of different methods and approaches.
As opposed to Ancient Greek, its alphabet is composed of the same characters that we use in English, or rather, English uses Latin Characters. This fact helps speed up the learning process, since not having to learn a new alphabet makes the learning curve a bit less steep.
1. Old English
Not all of Old English’s written works were done in the Latin Alphabet. But since not many people could read or write in 5th century Britain, most of its corpus comes from after its introduction the Latin Alphabet in the 9th century, replacing its older runic form of writing.”Coming from Germanic Languages, and sharing many similarities with Old Norse and Old High German, it encompasses the roots of about half of the Modern English words. Of course, Beowulf is its most renowned piece of literature, but the list doesn’t end there. Old English speakers have access to a vast range of works, going from poetry and narrative to scientific and liturgical works.
Even though learning it will not be as easy as one would imagine, since a lot of its grammar and vocabulary differs from Modern English, it still ranks first on our list of the 6 easiest dead languages to learn.