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My vocabulary textbook lists the three following words:

滅び行く種族

Endangered species

種族の絶滅

The extinction of species

消滅した種族

Extinguished species

(Hope the English translations are correct idioms, my textbook is in French)

By extrapolating from these words, I can guess that 滅ぶ, 絶滅する and 消滅する all bear more or less the same meaning.

What's the difference between these three verbs, and which are the most commonly used? I expect 滅ぶ to be less common since 漢語 tend to be more used in "technical" contexts, how about it?

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  • 絶滅: "extinction (of species)"; a kango technical term used only in biological contexts
  • 消滅: "disappearance", "vanishing"; a kango used with various subjects in various technical/legal/academic contexts

    • 賠償を請求する権利が消滅した。
    • 台風は上陸する前に消滅した。

    When someone says 消滅した種族, I would say it probably refers to a vanished (ethnic) tribe, because 絶滅 is the normal term in biological contexts. Note that 種族 has two meanings from the English perspective (species vs ethnic group).

  • 滅ぶ: "(for a country, civilization, tribe, etc) to perish/fall"; As you have suspected, it's not preferred in academic contexts, but it has its own literary (or poetic) merit.
    • 地球は核戦争によって滅ぶだろう。
    • 東ローマ帝国は15世紀に滅んだ。
    • 滅びの美学 "aesthetics/dignity of the dying/perishing", something you may find in a tragedy
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In my interpretation, they suggest a different background / context.

  • 絶滅 is group-wise (species) viewed from system, and it only talks about the fact, no implication for the cause.

  • 滅ぶ is an intransitive verb so it implies a little bit of causality. (such an animal ate all their food source and break an food supply chain and cannot survive anymore, or tribe/country being too aggressive that leads to a cruel retaliation from another and they get killed.)

  • 消滅 is more about phenomenon, like "wiping out". not necessarily about extinction and can it be used to describe things, like a city or a single entity.

The followings are example usage I came up with now.

  • "ニホンオオカミは絶滅したと考えられている。" (Japanese Wolf is believed to be extinct.)

    Sounds about right.

  • "ニホンオオカミは滅んだ。"

    It sounds like it's implying some of their actions triggered their extinction.

  • "かの民族は戦争によって滅んだのだ。"

    It sounds right. Not sure how the tribe got involved in war, but the verb "滅ぶ" matches with the context of war.

  • "ニホンオオカミは消滅した。"

    a bit weird. it sounds like suggesting some instant phenomenon killed them, which we do not know. If you are writing a novel about it, then it is acceptable.

  • "恐竜は巨大隕石の衝突で消滅したと考えられている。" (Dinosaurs are believed to disappear after a huge comet hits the earth.)

    Sounds about right.

When I hear the word "消滅", I typically associate it with fiction. Because that's where mostly that words are used. In fact I instantly imagined Goku from Dragon Ball hitting Frieza with Genkidama. Goku is gonna wipe Frieza and surface of the planet, that fits very well with the feeling of "消滅"

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YjkB9QdSAtY

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According to the category of 環境省, the ministry of the environment, 環境省レッドリストカテゴリーと判定基準 classifies the preservation status.

絶滅 is used to describe for the preservation status as "extinct". 「 我が国ではすでに絶滅したと考えられる種」 Species are considered to be extinct in our country.

"Threatened" : 「絶滅危惧{ぜつめつきぐ}」 is categorized as hypernym of "Critically Endangered(CR) +Endangered".

The hyponym , Critically Endangered(CR) +Endangered, is expressed as 「絶滅の危機に瀕している種」 Species are on the verge of extinct.

滅ぶ・滅びる is often used to describe that something once had influence on other environment, but having lost their control leads to their extinction. ex) The empire once flourished, mammoth, dinosaurs and so on.

消滅する is used to describe something existing has been going out. ex) ozone hole, coral reef, the chance of winning the championship, rights and so on. enter image description here

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