You're interested in the world's oldest languages? We'll take you on a voyage of discovery. Explore with us seven languages that have withstood the test of time and have left a lasting mark on entire cultures.
Languages have been an integral part of human civilization for thousands of years, shaping cultures and societies along the way. Currently, there are 7,117 living languages spoken around the world to this day. Sadly, this number declines rapidly with every month passing by. What is more, around 90% of these languages are actually spoken by less than 100,000 people.
Even so, there are numerous ancient languages whose influence can still be felt today. Explore with us seven of the oldest languages in the world and join us on our adventurous journey into ancient cultures.
What makes a language “old”? It’s a multifaceted concept involving many aspects such as the historical age of the language, the continuity of its usage, its cultural significance, written traditions, and its influence on other languages. The languages we are going to be presenting to you meet these criteria, standing as living testimony to human linguistic heritage.
These languages serve as archives of knowledge and culture as they transmit historical information that can be passed down through many generations.
Without further ado, here’s our list of the top seven oldest languages in the world:
One way to judge the age of a language is of course through the earliest written discoveries. Some of the earliest written documents that historians have discovered are in Sumerian. The oldest written text ever to be found is “The Kish Tablet”, a small limestone tablet from Ancient Mesopotamia dating back to approximately 3500 BCE.
The tablet featured pictographic inscriptions believed to be a precursor to Cuneiform – the earliest known writing system originally developed for the Sumerian language. Aside from Mesopotamia, Sumerian was also spoken in the area of modern-day Iraq. The influence of the language extended far beyond the Sumerian civilization as it was the linguistic and cultural foundation for many future civilizations that inhabited these areas.
You are probably well-familiar with the Egyptian hieroglyphs, which continue to mesmerize and baffle scholars and enthusiasts to this day. Did you know that the oldest known examples of these enigmatic symbols have been found on bone and ivory tags, clay seal impressions, and pottery vessels dating back to somewhere between 3400 and 3200 BCE?
A language as old as the pyramids, ancient Egyptian is considered to be the longest-attested human language with a written record spanning over 4,000 years. Sadly, the language has not been spoken since around the 17th century AD. Nowadays the primary spoken language in Egypt is Egyptian Arabic. Yet, the legacy of the fascinating ancient Egyptian still lives on for those who are curious to get a glimpse into the mysteries of ancient cultures and civilizations.
The third oldest language that we want to turn our attention to is Sanskrit. Often hailed as the language of the gods (“Devabani”), Sanskrit holds a unique place in linguistic history and ancient civilizations. Belonging to the Indo-European languages, Sanskrit is the language of the Rigveda – one of the oldest and most sacred Indian texts composed in Vedic Sanskrit. Believed to be dated between 1500 and 1000 BCE, the Rigveda is believed to be the earliest evidence of ancient Sanskrit.
The complex grammar and precise structure of Sanskrit demonstrated its significance as the sacred language of Hinduism and classical Hindu philosophy. The language’s role in preserving this knowledge highlights its enduring legacy as a link that connects us to the roots of ancient wisdom and spirituality.
While it is true that modern Greek has significantly evolved from its ancient form, the official language of Greece is a living link to antiquity. A unique blend of language roots and contemporary expressions, Greek is a captivating language that was once the language of philosophers like Plato and Aristotle, and epic poets like Homer.
It is believed that Mycenaean Greek was spoken in the Balkan peninsula around 1400 BCE. The earliest written evidence to confirm this is a clay tablet found in Messenia, a region in the southwestern part of Greece. Nowadays, around 13 million people worldwide speak the language.
Linguists believe that Old Arabic has emerged around 500 BC. Named after the Arab people, that language was heavily influenced by many other languages like Persian, Turkish, Hindu, Bengali, and others.
Nowadays, Standard Arabic is the fifth most spoken language in the world with 1.8 billion speakers. What is more, Arabic is associated with Islam and considered as the religious language of Muslims. Many people perceive Arabis as one of the most challenging languages to learn but thanks to ONTALK’s translation devices this task becomes more achievable than ever before.
Chinese is a language that carries a rich and broad history spanning over 3000 years. The earliest written evidence of Old Chinese was found on oracle bones dating back to the 1250 BCE in the late Shang dynasty. Nowadays, when we speak of Chinese we refer to a group of 10 languages including Mandarin, Cantonese, and Pingua.
Mandarin actually takes the number one place in the list of the most spoken languages in the world, with some 1.118 billion speakers. Similar to Arabic, the Chinese language has a complex and unique structure made up of tens of thousands of characters.
Last but not least in our list of the top seven oldest languages is Hebrew. Its language roots can be traced back from about 1200 to 586 BCE. Back then the language was spoken predominantly in the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah. One of the earliest written pieces of evidence of Hebrew were found in the Dead Sea Scrolls, a set of Jewish manuscripts discovered on the northern shore of the Dead Sea.
One of the most fascinating aspects of the language is its revival in the 19th century. Today the language is used not only for religious purposes but also for communication between Jewish people.
It is estimated that one language dies approximately every two weeks. This unfortunate trend is endangering many languages across the globe. Scientists estimate that about half of the languages currently spoken in the world are at risk of “extinction” by the year 2100.
Fortunately, modern technology in the face of advanced translation devices can play a pivotal role in overcoming these obstacles. Thanks to state-of-the-art, AI-powered technologies, it is now possible for old manuscripts and documents to be translated with ease.
Equipped with advanced algorithms and machine learning capabilities, these devices can decipher some of the world’s oldest languages within seconds. If you are curious to know more about the achievements of AI in translating ancient documents, we invite you to read our article on the topic.
Old languages are not just collections of words and syntax but repositories of human experience, cultural identity, and valuable wisdom. They offer us the opportunity to take a glimpse into the minds and hearts of our ancestors, revealing their philosophies, beliefs, and experiences. Preserving these languages ensures that all of these will be passed down to future generations and not lost in time.
ONTALK takes part in this noble endeavor by providing translation devices that go beyond being merely modern gadgets for communications. They are powerful tools that help bridge the past to the present by aiding in gaining an even deeper understanding of old languages still spoken to this day.
Thus, they are indispensable tools that can help with the endeavor of studying ancient languages like Chinese, Greek, Arabic, and Hebrew. Whether for scholars or language enthusiasts, our devices offer a multifaceted approach to language learning that will totally transform your learning experience.
With features like real-time translation and pronunciation assistance, ONTALK’s translation devices help learners immerse in the language and its various nuances. Thanks to the photo translation feature, you can explore historical texts as well as philosophical and religious scriptures all in the target language. Start your language journey...now.