And by "stillborn", I mean a dead language that never really lived to begin with: a modernized version of an archaic language frozen in time, or an all-out archaic language (with archaic grammar and vocabulary), but with modernized pronunciations (and all the vowel shifts and consonant shifts applied). Like Classical Latin, which was probably never spoken in daily life (in contrast with Vulgar Latin).

Or just simply a language that is based off an actual natural language, but highly stylized and artificial, having had diglossia with its parent-language since the start, never having been an actual spoken language at any point in history.

  • 1
    There is the term "Plansprachenprojekt" (used by Detlef Blanke in his book "internationale Plansprachen") for conlangs never leaving the design board.
    – Sir Cornflakes
    Commented Dec 13, 2018 at 12:51
  • @SirCornflakes Those Germans have a word for everything!
    – No Name
    Commented Feb 20, 2023 at 4:22

1 Answer 1


You're describing a couple different and not totally related things with different terminology used for each:

  • Classical Latin is an example of a literary language, a language used not really in speech but used to communicate through writing.
  • Modern Standard Arabic, one of those artificial languages based off of a natural one but not really being a spoken language. It's very frequently affected by diglossia, and not really used in natural settings. It's usually referred to as simply a standardized lanuage, and also qualifies as a literary language.
  • Hebrew as spoken in daily life in Israel would qualify as the first type you described, a modernized version of an old language that was resurrected after death. It would be referred to as a revived language.
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    Modern Hebrew isn't frozen though, and will naturally change over time as all spoken languages do.
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Nov 30, 2018 at 0:43
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    @curiousdannii You're not wrong. I don't think there's any real term for a language that undergoes nearly no change, and Modern Hebrew is basically the only good example of a revived ancient language that is actually spoken by people. Liturgical Latin could be an example of a language frozen in time
    – snorepion
    Commented Nov 30, 2018 at 4:26
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    Icelandic is also fairly controlled (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Linguistic_purism_in_Icelandic), with the intention of preserving it in a supposedly better state. (I'm not going to attempt any puns using "frozen" here). Commented Nov 30, 2018 at 9:31
  • Oh yeah, I completely forgot about that. (I guess their attitude towards linguistic change is rather chilly).
    – snorepion
    Commented Nov 30, 2018 at 14:34
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    @StephanusTavilrond Classical Latin may have been a conlang. It is unlikely that it evolved just by ordinary people talking. The problem is that we do not know exactly how it did evolve: did the literati deliberately create the rules and deliberately select features from a variety of dialects to make a new, regular, language (which I would count as a conlang) or did it evolve naturally amongst a group of literati from a range of linguistic backgrounds and a penchant for regularity (which I would call a natural language)? We do not know and there is no clear boundary. Commented Dec 1, 2018 at 2:24

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