Taushiro, a language of native Peru, is spoken in the region of the Tigre River, Aucayacu River, which is a tributary of the Ahuaruna River. It is known as a language isolate, which means it has no demonstrable relationship with any other language. Those who spoke the language usually only counted up to ten, using their fingers. For instance, to say “one” in Taushiro, you’d say washikanto. To say a number above 10, you’d say “ashintu” and point to a toe on your foot. In 2008, a study conducted on the Taushiro language concluded that only one person speaks the language fluently. The language has since been listed as nearly extinct.
One estimate is that there are 7,105 languages now spoken in the world. One estimate is that one of those languages becomes extinct every two weeks. Since it’s unlikely that the last two speakers will die simultaneously, that means that a language that is about to become extinct will have one speaker just before it becomes extinct. It’s probable then that at any given moment there are several languages with just one speaker, and there may be a couple dozen such languages at some recent points in time.
South Africa has 11 official languages. Not one is a Khoisan language. Almost all, with exception of Nama (in neighbouring Namibia) are extinct or moribund. Like this one: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nǁng_language
Also, one might want to distinguish the ceremonial use of certain languages, versus their actual usage other than that. Latin, for example, is a largely “dead” language, except for its widespread ceremonial use in the Catholic Church, and its widespread “academic” use in schools as a teaching exercise (or just for the intellectual exercise), or for students planning on using it in the Church, or for understanding the “Classics” in their original texts. I wonder how many people speak Latin to one another for daily casual conversational purposes, other than these reasons or just for “practice”. (Or am I being really dumb by asking that?)
The same goes for Hebrew also, which was substantially a “dead” language until its revival in the mid-1900’s by the modern-day Zionist movement; kept alive through the centuries by Jews largely for religious usage. And likewise for Aramaic, which hasn’t been revived at all, but is still subject to study, in order to understand its classic (especially Biblical) usages.
Latin is not a living language by the usual definition. No one learns it as their native language. There are a lot of people who learn it, usually as teenagers, and some of them, mostly priests, speak it regularly to other people, but it’s not anybody’s native language. Aramaic is a group of related living languages spoken by about half a million people total. Those languages are all, of course, considerably different from the form of the language spoken by Jesus, just as present-day Italian is considerably different from the Latin spoken by Julius Caesar.
> There is a list at the end of that article of other isolates with four or fewer speakers.
Those languages have very few speakers, but all except one of them aren’t isolates. An isolate is a language that’s unrelated to any other living language. That’s true of one of those language, but not of the other five.
But Latin also isn’t a dead language, by the standard definition. That label is more properly reserved for languages like Etruscan, which nobody knows, not even scholars (though they would desperately like to).
That’s not true - a dead language is a language with no remaining native speakers, whether or not non-native speakers can learn enough about it to learn that language has nothing to do with its deadness.
Various forms of neo-Aramaic (also called Syriac) are spoken by various minority religious communities in Syria and Iraq. Specifically by the Mandaeans, various Christian groups (Catholic, Orthodox, and Monophysite) and by a small number of Jews. Neo-Aramaic is also used as a liturgical language by a fair number of Christians in southern India, who were converted by Syrian missionaries.
My understanding of Aramaic is that it was originally the language of a nomadic tribe in Syria, and it later became the lingua Franca of the Persian Empire, spoken as far afield as India. the Jews were in exile in Babylon when it fell to the Persians, and when they returned to their homeland under the rule of the Persians, they naturally kept speaking what had then become the common language of the empire.
I wonder if maybe there are indeed some native Latin speakers, maybe children of classics professors who were raised bilingual? By comparison, there are, according to Wikipedia, about 1000 individuals who speak Esperanto natively. One has to assume that their parents were very much into Esperanto and decided to teach their offspring from early childhood.