“For millions of years mankind lived just like the animals, then something happened which unleashed the power of our imagination, we learned to talk” goes the line from a well-known song by Pink Floyd. Nothing can capture the power of language better than this! It is only language that released the mind and set the path for greater achievements. This is one facet that separates man from animals, though experts say that certain animals, like dolphins, do use language. Whatever may be the case, only man has used language to its advantage. Languages in humans have evolved from grunts and groans to distinct sounds that specify meaning. Indeed, over the years, the repertoire of languages has become so vast that it defies imagination. Languages itself have gone as much evolution as mankind. To learn how the languages that we speak came to be so refined, it is necessary to study some of the oldest languages in the world, the foundation on which modern language depends. Pointing out a single language as the oldest one is a tough call, just like pointing the oldest civilization in the world. To make matters simpler, this can be only be judged from written documentations that have been excavated from archeological sites. Else, it is very difficult to pin point a language as the oldest, because languages were spoken much before they were written. However, the oral testimony of languages cannot hold the passage of centuries. Read below to know more on some of the oldest languages in the world.
World’s Oldest Languages
The first recorded written account dates back to c. 3200 BC. The written documentation of this language was discovered in the archeological site of Jemdet Nasr in Iraq. Sumerian was the language of the ancient Sumer and is known to have been spoken since the 4th millennium BCE. Sumerian is also designated as a language isolate, as it has no relationship with the other languages.
The Accadian language dates back to c. 2800 BC. It was documented from the Shaduppum region of Iraq. This language was spoken in ancient Mesopotamia and is now extinct. The name of the language was derived from the city of Akkad, a major center of Mesopotamian civilization then. The first texts written in Akkadian appeared during the second half of the 3rd millemium BCE and till date thousands of texts have been excavated. The language served as the medium of communication between two people who do not share a mother tongue, in the Ancient Near East for centuries, until its decline that started around the 8th century BCE.
The indigenous language of Egypt and a branch of the Afroasiatic language family, the written records of the language dates back to 3400 BC. Egyptian was first documented from the tomb of Seth-Peribsen. Till the late 7th century AD, it was spoken in the form of Coptic. The modern day version is known as Egyptian Arabic, which steadily replaced the use of Coptic as the language, after the Muslim conquest of Egypt. However, Coptic still exists today,as the liturgical language of the Coptic Church.
An extinct Semitic language, Eblaite was prevalent from the c. 2400 BC and was documented from the thousands of tablets excavated from the ruins of the city of Ebla. It was used in the 3rd millennium BCE in the ancient city of Ebla, between Aleppo and Hama, in western modern Syria. Considered to be the second oldest written Semitic language after Akkadian, the language is now extinct.
This language was prevalent during the 1700s BC. It was the language of ancient Crete. As of now, it is considered to be a language isolate as its affiliation, if any, to other languages have not yet been ascertained.
Hittite dates back to c. 1650 BC. Now an extinct language, it was once spoken by the Hittites people in north-central Anatolia. he language declined after the collapse of the Hittite empire.
Greek is recognized as one of the world's ‘oldest recorded living languages’. It was documented as early as c. 1400 BC. With a written history of thirty-four centuries, this language is the longest documented of any of the Indo-European language family. The Greek is the native language of the Balkan Peninsula. As of today, Greek is spoken by 13 million people approximately.
The Chinese language was documented as early as 11th century BCE. With over a billion speakers, it is one of the major languages that are spoken today. The Chinese language consists of a group of seven linguistic subdivisions or dialects, with Mandarin Chinese accounting for the most number of speakers. The entire group of dialects and linguistic variation is referred to as the Chinese language.