10 Oldest Languages Still Spoken In The World Today

  • Dec 19, 2016
  • Lists
Just as the human race evolves, so does the spoken word. Over time generations and languages change, some minutely while others branch out into different dialects altogether. Several factors from geography to outside influences affect a gradual change in the native tongue of people. English, for example, is evolving on a daily basis owing to the internet age and globalization; the Oxford English Dictionary is constantly adding new words. However, it is generally agreed that most modern languages have evolved from a select few ancient languages like Sanskrit, Latin, Gaelic, Farsi etc. to name a few. While most old languages are no longer in use except maybe in scripture or historic text, some have endured and remained largely unchanged.
Here are those oldest languages still spoken in the world.

1. Hebrew

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons
Country: Israel
A language that is almost 3000 years old, Hebrew almost risked becoming a defunct language around 400 CE. But when Zionism gained momentum in the last two centuries, it became the official language of Israel. Today it is spoken by Jews all around the world. Although Modern Hebrew is slightly different owing to Yiddish (another Jewish language) influences, almost all Jews read and understand the version of the Old Testament quite precisely.

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2. Tamil

Country: India, Sri Lanka, Singapore
Tamil is probably one of the most ancient languages on this list; the oldest records show that it has been spoken for over 2000 years. A Dravidian language, still widely in use in the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu and the Union Territory of Puducherry, it is also the official language of Sri Lanka and Singapore. Tamil can be classified into Classical Tamil, Modern Tamil, and Colloquial Tamil; all three forms are currently in use.

3. Persian

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons
Country: Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan
One of the oldest languages in the world that is still spoken, also known as Farsi, it is spoken by over 100 million speakers around the world. Owing to political reasons, it goes by the name Dari in Afghanistan and Tajiki in Tajikistan, however, it is essentially the same language with very little variation. Over the centuries it has had considerable influence on other languages, especially Urdu. Persian literature, poetry, and prose have great historical significance and have been studied by scholars and linguists alike. 

4. Lithuanian

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons
Country: Lithuania, Poland
While most European languages belong to the Indo-European branch, Lithuanian is said to have retained more characteristics of the older origin languages of the Proto-Indo-European category. It is said to be the most conservative Baltic language. The archaic features still present in the language liken into the more ancient languages like Sanskrit or Ancient Greek. It is the official language of Lithuania and also recognized as a minority language in Poland.

5. Chinese

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons
Country: China, Taiwan, Singapore and other parts of South East Asia
There are at least 1.2 billion Chinese speakers in the world today. The language is said to have first appeared in historical records dating back 3000 years. Today it is spoken is one form or another by 16% of the world’s population. While Old Chinese in its pure form may have died out, there are several dialects that have stemmed from it and retain several characteristic elements. The most widely spoken variations today are Mandarin and Cantonese. 

6. Basque

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons
Country: Spain, France
Basque is a language unlike any other in Europe. It is spoken only in the Basque Country comprising a region in northern Spain and southwestern France. It is said to be a surviving language from the pre-Indo-European era and is considered an isolate language without common roots with any other. There is no conclusive evidence to show the origin of the language, however, it has been influenced and has, in turn, influenced other Romance languages over time. 

7.  Latin

Image Source: pixabay.com
Country: Vatican City
Latin is a classical language belonging to the Indo-European classification. It is the root and origin of many European languages. The oldest form of the language, Old Latin was spoken in the Roman Kingdom. Today it is the official language of the Vatican City and is fluently spoken by the clergy. It is also recognized as an official language in Poland. Several schools and educational institutions around the world offer Latin as a language course. 

8. Arabic

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons
Country: Official Language in 28 states
Arabic was spoken as far back as the Iron Age by the people of Arabia. Today it is the official language of the entire Arab world and spoken by the diaspora across the globe. Like all languages, it has dialects and branches, however, the commonality is undeniable. The modern text of the language is derived straight from the Quran and is known as Classical Arabic, which is the base of Modern Standard Arabic. There are approximately 420 million Arabic speakers in the world today, certainly making it oldest language in the world that is still in use by a vast majority of population.

9. Irish Gaelic

Image Source: pixabay.com
Country: Republic of Ireland, Nothern Ireland
Irish Gaelic is spoken by a minority of natives in Ireland today and known as a second language by many. It originates from the Celtic branch of Indo-European Languages. Primitive Irish had developed written text around 4th century AD, long before the advent of Latin text. Currently, Irish is recognized as the national language of the Republic of Ireland and officially a minority language in Northern Ireland.

10. Greek

Image Source: shankar s. / Flickr
Country: Greece, Cyprus
While Modern Greek has evolved considerably from the version used in ancient times, it still is one of the most historic living languages. There are over 34 centuries worth of records in the written word. Today it is the official language of Greece and Cyprus.
The importance of language has been key to the development of the human race. Today globalization demands that people speak at least two or more languages in order to communicate. These ancient languages have survived the test of time and are still around owing to their functionality, influence, and popularity.