Oldest Languages Still In Use Today

By Geoffrey Migiro on January 28 2020 in Society

Ancient Sanskrit religious inscriptions on temple walls Banteay Srey (Xth Century)

Languages are structured systems of communication that human beings use to express experiences, information, ideas, and feeling, among other things. Currently, linguists estimate the number of languages to be between 5,000 and 7,000. Since human beings developed language before the existence of written records, it is almost impossible to determine when the first language was developed. However, Stephen Anderson estimates the age of spoken language to be between 60,000 and 100,000 years ago. As human beings have evolved, so have their languages. Over the years, many languages have changed, while others have gone extinct or branched out. However, some languages have survived and are still being used to date.

Oldest Languages Still In Use Today

Hebrew

Hebrew is the only living-Canaanite language that is still being used by more than 9million people worldwide. Hebrew is a Northwest-Semitic language that is native to Israel. Historically, it is considered to be the language of the Israelites. The earliest form of written Paleo-Hebrew dates back to the tenth century BCE. Hebrew stopped being the spoken language between 200-400CE, and it survived the medieval era as the language of poetry, intra-Jewish commerce, rabbinic literature, and Jewish liturgy. It was revived during the nineteenth century, and it became the literary and spoken language of the Ha-Yishuv people. Currently, Hebrew is Israel’s official language, and it has over 5million native speakers.

Tamil

Tamil is a Dravidian language that is spoken in Sri Lanka and India by the Tamil people, Douglas, Chindians, Sri Lanka Moors, and Tamil Diaspora. Tamil has official status in Sri Lanka, Singapore, and Tamil Nadu. Tamil is one of the few classical languages that are still being used today. Tamil has the oldest living literature among the Dravidian languages. Tamil is believed to be over 2,000 years old, and it is spoken by over 80 million people worldwide.

Sanskrit

Sanskrit is one of the oldest Indian languages that first emerged in 2000 BC and was considered to be the gods language. Sanskrit was the lingua franca of medieval-and-ancient India. Sanskrit migrated to Central Asia, East Asia, and Southeast Asia in the early first millennium CE, where it emerged as the language of the ruling elite. Sanskrit is the sacred language of Hinduism and one of the official languages in India. Unlike Tamil, which is widely used, Sanskrit stopped being a common language around 600 BC. Sanskrit is related to Latin, Greek, Old Avestan, Luwian, and Hittite, among other extinct and living languages. There are over 2,360,821 Sanskrit speakers in India. 

Greek

Greek is an Indo-European family language that is native to Albania, Cyprus, and Greece, among other parts of the Black Sea and Eastern Mediterranean. Greek has the longest documented-history of all Indo-European languages than spans about 3,500 years of written records. Greek was being spoken by over 13.2 million people residing in Cyprus, Italy, Turkey, Albania, and Greece as of 2012. Other nations like Australia and the United States have huge Greek-speaking communities. Currently, Greek is the national language of Cyprus and Greece. Greek is one of EU’s official languages and its recognized as a minority language is 7other nations.

Arabic

Arabic is a Semitic-language that emerged around the first and the fourth centuries CE. Arabic is one of the world’s most spoken languages with over 310 million speakers. Arabic is the sacred-language of Islam and the national language of 26 countries. Arabic originated from the Arabian Peninsula, and then it is spread over to North Africa and the Middle East. Arabic was the primary vehicle-of-culture, particularly philosophy, mathematics, and science. Arabic has influenced several other languages like Hindustani, Armenian, Turkish, Bengali, and Persian, among others.

Chinese

Chinese is a Sino-Tibetan language that is used by numerous ethnic groups in China and the ethnic Chinese. Chinese is the first language of over 1.2 billion people on the planet. The earliest written records of this language are Shang dynasty-period oracle inscriptions whose origin can be traced back to 1250BCE. Standard Chinese has official status in China, Singapore, and Taiwan. Chinese is one of the UN’s official languages. Different variants of Chinese are used in different parts of China. Currently, Cantonese and Mandarin Chinese are the prominent variants of Chinese. 

Persian/Farsi

Farsi also referred to as Persian, is a polycentric language that is still being used in Tajikistan, Afghanistan, and Iran. Farsi is a continuation of Parsik, the official literary and religious language of the Neo-Persian Empire (550-330BC). Farsi originated from Fars in southwest Iran, and its grammar resembles the grammar of several European languages. Historically, Farsi was a prestigious language that was used in many empires in South Asia, Central Asia, and Western Asia. Currently, Farsi is referred to as Tajiki in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Farsi is known as Dari in Afghanistan. Persia is used by over 70million native speakers.

Lithuanian

Lithuanian is a Baltic language that is widely used in the Baltic-region. Lithuanian is one of the Indo-European languages that gave birth to numerous modern languages such as English, Italian, and German. Lithuanian is related to Ancient Greek, Latin, and Sanskrit. Lithuanian is a minority language in Poland and has official status in the European Union and Lithuania. Lithuanian is spoken by 2.8million speakers in Lithuania and more than 200,000 people abroad.

Icelandic

The Icelandic language is one of the North-Germanic languages that is closely related to Western Norwegian and Faroese. Icelandic is spoken by more than 314,000 people. Icelandic has official status Iceland. It is also spoken in Canada, the United States, and Denmark. The oldest Icelandic-texts were written in 1100AD. Most of these texts were based on laws and poetry. The most popular texts that were written in Icelandic were the Icelandic sagas from the twelfth century. Icelandic was introduced in Iceland by the Norse-settlers.

Irish-Gaelic

Irish-Gaelic is a Gaelic-language that originated from Ireland. Historically, this language was common in Ireland and it is closely related to Breton, Manx, Cornish, Scottish-Gaelic, and Welsh. Irish-Gaelic language is used as the first language in Donegal, Galway, Cork, Kerry, Mayo, Waterford, and Meath. Irish-Gaelic has official status in Northern Ireland, the European Union, and the Republic of Ireland. It is spoken by over 104,943 people in Northern Ireland and 1,761,420 people in Ireland.

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