In linguistics, language death occurs when a language loses its last native speaker. By extension, language extinction is when the language is no longer known, including by second-language speakers. Other similar terms include linguicide, the death of a language from natural or political causes, and rarely glottophagy, the absorption or replacement of a minor language by a major language.
Language death is a 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. Language death can affect any language form, including dialects. Language death should not be confused with language attrition (also called language loss), which describes the loss of proficiency in a first language of an individual.
In the modern period (c. 1500 CE–present; following the rise of colonialism), language death has typically resulted from the process of cultural assimilation leading to language shift and the gradual abandonment of a native language in favour of a foreign lingua franca, largely those of European countries.
As of the 2000s, a total of roughly 7,000 natively spoken languages existed worldwide. Most of these are minor languages in danger of extinction; one estimate published in 2004 expected that some 90% of the currently spoken languages will have become extinct by 2050.