What is the oldest language in the world?

2023-10-29 11:00:45, Kulturë CNA
What is the oldest language in the world?
The oldest documents of the written language are cuneiform writings, where wedge-shaped signs are printed on soft clay tablets.

Accumulated knowledge can be lost quickly, for example due to outdated recording methods, which no one uses today. The information on a floppy disk or a disc remains useless when there is no proper equipment to listen to it. Added to this is the fact that language and writing are constantly evolving, so that even the information in a book - which can still be opened - becomes incomprehensible. It is almost impossible to find information that is not written down anywhere and has been preserved for posterity.

Who writes, remains

That is why it is so difficult to answer the question, which is the oldest language in the world. Languages ??can be transmitted from generation to generation for centuries, but fall into oblivion if they have not left a written record.

Only written language leaves traces that are documented. And only when it is written on a material that has stood the test of time. Writings on organic materials, such as bark, have mostly been lost, while texts on stone or clay have sometimes been preserved for thousands of years. Whether we are even able to read and understand them today is something else.

The oldest written evidence

The oldest documents of the written language are cuneiform writings, where wedge-shaped signs are printed on soft clay tablets. The oldest known cuneiform writing derives from the Sumerians, who developed from the fourth century BC in Mesopotamia, in the "territory between the rivers" Euphrates and Tigris (in present-day Iraq).

The texts date from around 3,200 BC The Epic of Gilgamesh is the most famous work of the Sumerian language. Cuneiform languages ??were also decisive for the later development of European writing.


What is the oldest language in the world?
Hittite hieroglyphs


Almost as old are the Egyptian hieroglyphs, which were written in the tomb of Pharaoh Seth-Peribsen, 2775-2650 BC, thus being preserved for posterity. The sentence found there: "He has united the two countries for his son, the double king Peribsen" is considered by experts to be the earliest fully written sentence.

Writing has been preserved, but we can only imagine what the oldest written languages, Sumerian, Akkadian, and the language of ancient Egypt, sounded like. Because all three languages ??are extinct, they are no longer used and have no living descendants.

Linguistic diversity around the world

Worldwide today there are 7,100 languages, of which 40% are in danger of disappearing. Some languages ??are spoken by less than 1,000 people and there is a risk that they will disappear after a few generations. This would mean the loss of an inherent part of cultural identity.

On the other hand, there are 23 languages, which are used by more than half of the world's population. The ten most spoken languages ??in the world are English, Chinese (Mandarin), Spanish, Hindi, Arabic, French, Bengali, Russian, Portuguese, Urdu. German comes in twelfth place.


What is the oldest language in the world?
A Sanskrit document that has existed for more than 2,500 years


While the oldest written languages ??have disappeared, some very old languages ??still survive today, such as the Tamil language, which is considered by many linguists to be the oldest language in use.

Tamil is one of the 22 official languages ??of India and is spoken in southern India and Sri Lanka by approximately 85 million people. The earliest Tamil writings date from the 5th century BCE However, analysis of the Tolk?ppiyam, a grammar text in the Tamil language, suggests that the Tamil language must be at least 5,000 years old, but almost unspoken today. The oldest Sanskrit records exist for more than 3,000 years, they are Hindu texts compiled between 1,500 and 1,200 BCE written as the Vedas, compendiums of religious texts. It was primarily a language of scholars, used in ancient Indian texts, religious writings, and literary works. However, many modern languages ??of India and as regional dialects have their origins in Sanskrit.

The Chinese language is one of the oldest continuously spoken languages ??in the world and is used today by more than a billion people. The roots of the language can be traced back thousands of years. It is supposed to have emerged about 4,500 years ago from Proto-Sino-Tibetan, which is considered the ancestor of the Burmese and Tibetan languages. The oldest finds of the Chinese written language are considered inscriptions on turtle shells and animal bones, which are about 3,300 years old.

Hebrew and Arabic are among the oldest languages ??that are still spoken. The linguistic roots of these two Afro-Asiatic languages ??go back 10,000 to 20,000 years ago, although the earliest written finds of these two languages ??date back "only" to about 3,000 years ago.

Was there a common first language?

Although no written evidence can be found, humans have had complex communication systems that have allowed them to communicate for thousands of years. There are various linguistic theories about the origin of human language, but none of them is fully proven.

Human language may have arisen from a combination of factors, including complex brain development, social interaction, and the need for cooperation in hunting and gathering food. Language may have emerged over time from a combination of hand gestures and body movements.

What is the oldest language in the world?

There is also the theory that there once existed a so-called "protolanguage", a common prehistoric language, from which all modern languages ??have evolved over time. However, there is insufficient evidence that such a common universal language ever existed.

Diversity through isolation and migration

It is more likely that prehistoric societies had many different regional languages ??and dialects, similar to today. The diversity of human languages ??developed over time through geographic isolation, cultural exchange, and migration.

When groups of people were separated and exposed to different environments, their languages ??developed independently of each other. This led to the creation of the multitude of languages ??we have today./ DW

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