Just as humans have evolved, so have the languages that they speak. With each generation, language has changed in both big and small ways. While some languages evolve into different dialects, others go extinct. A handful remain unchanged from the time of their origin.

What Is The Oldest Language In The world?

There’s rarely a distinct breaking point between one language and the others that develop from it. It may be difficult to identify a single ‘oldest language in the world’ or point out what the world’s first language is and the oldest languages in the world that developed from it. However, there are many ancient languages that have been around for centuries and are still used today. Language is key to understanding how humans communicate, and how cultural differences impact language and their intended meaning. What are the oldest languages in the world?

Here Are The Oldest Languages In The World That Are Still Spoken Today

1. Hebrew—New Words Are Invented Every Year

Hebrew text, oldest languages in the world

Hebrew first fell out of common usage back in 400 CE. It was then preserved as a liturgical language for Jews across the world. In the 19th and 20th centuries, with the rise of Zionism, Hebrew was revived and went on to become the official language of Israel. The modern versions of Hebrew differ from the Biblical version. However, native speakers of the language can understand what is written in the Old Testament and its connected texts. The native language of the earliest speakers of Modern Hebrew was Yiddish. This is why Modern Hebrew is significantly influenced by Yiddish. The Academy of the Hebrew Language ensures it invents about 2,000 new words in Hebrew each year. This is done to prevent the incorporation of English into this traditional language. 

2. Basque—No One Knows Its Origin

Basque language, oldest languages in the world

Linguists continue to remain baffled by the origins of Basque. The Basque language is considered the ultimate linguistic mystery. The Basque people of Spain and France speak this language, though it is completely unrelated to any Romance language (which French and Spanish are). In fact, it isn’t related to any other language in the world. Theorists have spent years trying to decipher what it’s related to, but there’s never been a concrete consensus. The one thing that experts are sure of, is that the language existed before the arrival of the Romance languages, which is before the Romans used Latin that eventually developed into French and Spanish.

3. Tamil—Inscriptions Date Back To The 3rd Century BCE

Ancient Tamil scripture, one of the world's oldest languages, oldest languages in the world

Nearly 78 million people speak Tamil around the world, and it is the only classical language that has survived in the modern world. It is the official language both in Sri Lanka and Singapore. Researchers have found Tamil inscriptions that date back to the 3rd century BCE. It is one of the oldest languages in India. Unlike Sanskrit, an ancient Indian language that fell out of common use, Tamil has developed into modern times, and is now the 20th most commonly-spoken language in the world. It forms a part of the Dravidian language family. This includes a number of languages native mostly to southern and eastern India. Tamil is also the official language of the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. 

4. Persian—A Major Influence In Urdu

Urdu text, oldest languages in the world
Source: Flickr

Persian is considered to be one of the oldest languages in the world. Modern Persian is spoken in Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, and other regions that were formerly a part of Greater Iran. The Persian that is spoken today evolved from Old Persian around 800 CE and has remained largely unchanged since then. In fact, anyone well-versed in the language could pick up an inscription from 800 CE and be able to read it! While the word ‘Persian’ may conjure images of mystical fakirs and sufi dancers, it is spoken in modern times by nearly 110 million people. 

Persian is also called Dari in Afghanistan and Tajiki in Tajikistan. The language has majorly influenced other languages like Urdu. Persian literature is historically significant and is still widely studied by researchers and linguists around the world. 

5. Icelandic—Its Form And Structure Has Remained Constant Through Centuries

Icelandic text, oldest languages in the world
Source: Flickr

Icelandic is an Indo-European language that stems from the North Germanic branch. While many Germanic languages have evolved and lost features that other Indo-European languages have, Icelandic has developed conservatively and retained most of those ancient features. It has remained unchanged since Norse settlers brought the language with them when they came to the country and it stayed. Despite Danish governance in Iceland from the 14th to the 20th century, there has been very little effect on the form and structure of Icelandic. 

Also Read: Best Online Language Courses For Any Level

6. Finnish—Spoken By Five Million People Across The World

Finnish flag, oldest languages in the world

Finnish was only written down in the 16th century, but its history stretches back far earlier. The language is a member of the Finno-Ugric language family. This family also includes Estonian, Hungarian, and several smaller languages spoken by minority groups across Siberia. Finnish also has many loan words adopted from other language families over centuries. Nearly five million people in the world still speak Finnish today. Most Finnish speakers live in Finland, Sweden, Estonia, Norway, Russia and North America. 

7. Arabic—The Official Language Of 28 Countries

Arabic text, oldest languages in the world

Arabic is the fifth most widely spoken language in the world, with nearly 290 million speakers who consider it their first language. It is the official language of 28 countries, and is also one of the official languages of the United Nations. Modern Arabic has its roots in the Holy Quran and many different dialects of the language exist today.

Right from the Iron Age, Arabic was used in science, mathematics and philosophy. This is a major reason why many European languages have influences of Arabic in them. Arabic has influenced close to 20 languages in the world which include Spanish, Hindi and Urdu. 

8. Chinese—Spoken By 16 Per Cent Of The World’s Population

Chinese characters, oldest languages in the world

Chinese is the most spoken language in the world today, with approximately 16 per cent of the world’s population speaking at least one form of the language. Chinese dates back to over 3,000 years ago, making it one of the oldest languages in the world although the oldest form of Chinese is no longer used. Multiple dialects have branched out from the original language which include Mandarin, Cantonese, Wu, Min and Yue. Mandarin and Cantonese are the most widely spoken variations. Chinese is also the official language of China, Singapore and Taiwan.

The Oldest Languages In The World Are Still Very Relevant 

There’s no denying the importance of language and the manner in which it highlights cultural differences. The world’s oldest languages give us a glimpse into how languages have evolved into their modern versions, and offer us unique perspectives on history and human culture. Understanding the evolution of language is an interesting way to learn about society and how it has communicated over the years. Some of the oldest languages in the world are thus a bridge between the past and present. Languages like Latin are still studied but are not spoken widely any longer. Latin first appeared in 75 BC and went on to become the origin of all the Romance languages – Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese, Catalan and Romanian and many words today, including a number of words in modern-day English.

Coptic, Biblical Hebrew, Sumerian and Akkadian are examples of ancient languages that failed to stand the test of time. These languages were invented by civilisations and are examples of early writing systems but have now fallen out of use. Dying languages are examples of how cultures evolve over time and lose integral aspects while also forming new ones. A lot of languages are still at risk as the number of speakers slowly dwindle. Attempts at language revitalization are ongoing to preserve ancient culture and their practices.

Understanding languages is also very important to an avid traveller. As one explores different parts of the world, knowing the local language always helps enrich the travel experience. While it may not be possible to learn an entire language every time you travel to a new country, it always helps to learn a few basic phrases and study its history and social context.

Also Read: 8 Of The Oldest Religions In The World

Which is the first language in the world?

Tamil is largely considered the oldest language in the world and has been traced back to nearly 5,000 years ago.

Which is the first ancient language?

Sumerian and Egyptian had the oldest writing systems that date back to 3200 BC. However, these languages are no longer in use.

Which is the oldest language in the world?

Chinese and Tamil are considered to be two of the oldest surviving languages in the world.

Which is the mother of all languages?

It’s hard to pin-point a single language that gave rise to all the others, however there are many ancient languages like Sanskrit and Latin that are the root languages of modern day language.

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