10 Oldest Languages In The World Still Spoken Today
- PREA MITTAL
- UPDATED Nov 29, 2018
- 920.9K Views
Just as the human race evolves, so does the spoken word. It is hard to withstand the ravages of time, especially when the time period dates back to thousands of years. But, there are some ancient languages of the world that have endured this test. These oldest languages on earth have changed, some minutely while others branching out into different dialects altogether. Here is the list of top 10 oldest languages in the world that are still spoken widely.
- Irish Gaelic
1. Hebrew - Considered to be the language of God
The earliest form of this language is Biblical Hebrew and its evidence is epigraphical, dating back around 10th century BCE. A language that is almost 3000 years old, Hebrew almost risked becoming a defunct around 400 CE. But when Zionism gained momentum in the last two centuries, it became the official language of Israel. Today, it is known as one of the ancient languages in the world and is spoken by Jews all over the globe. 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.
Spoken By: Over 9 million people worldwide
2. Tamil - The oldest language still spoken
Image Source: Symphoney Symphoney/Flickr
Old Tamil is the earliest form of this ancient language whose initial records date back to 3rd or 2nd-century BC. These records are in the form of short inscriptions found in caves and on pottery. Tamil is probably one of the most ancient languages on this list; the records show that it has been spoken for over 2000 years making it one of the oldest living languages in the world. This Dravidian language is still widely in use in the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu and the Union Territory of Puducherry and is the official language of Sri Lanka and Singapore. It is also the longest-surviving classical language in the world. Tamil can be classified into Classical Tamil, Modern Tamil, and Colloquial Tamil; all three forms are currently in use.
Country: India, Sri Lanka, Singapore
Spoken By: Native speakers- Approximately 70 million people;
L2 speakers in India- Approximately 8 million people
3. Persian - The language that influenced many other languages
The oldest evidence of the Persian language is found in inscriptions, clay tablets, and seals of The Achaemenid era, spanning between 550 BC and 330 BC. 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.
Country: Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan
Spoken By: Approximately 110 million people
4. Lithuanian - One of the official languages of the European Union
The earliest Lithuanian writings belong to the 16th and 17th centuries. 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 language like Sanskrit. It is the official language of Lithuania and also recognized as a minority language in Poland.
Country: Lithuania, Poland
Spoken By: Approximately 2.9 million native Lithuanian speakers in Lithuania; Approximately 200,000 people abroad
5. Chinese - One of the first languages of the world
Image Source: Wikimedia Commons
The earliest evidence of Old Chinese or Archaic Chinese is found in inscriptions from 1250 BCE, that is the late Shang Dynasty. Chinese ranks on top of the list of old languages as 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.
Country: China, Taiwan, Singapore and other parts of South East Asia
6. Basque - The language that survived political and cultural conflicts
The oldest form of the Basque language is called Proto-Basque and there are numerous suppositions about its origin. But the mystery about its roots continues to exist. 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 the oldest 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.
Country: Spain, France
Spoken By: Approximately 751,500 people; 1,185,500 passive speakers
7. Latin - The language that represents art, culture, and history
The earliest form of this language is Old Latin which is said to have been spoken from the Roman Kingdom to the late Roman Public Period. Latin is a classical language belonging to the Indo-European classification. It is the root and origin of many European languages. 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 of Poland. Several schools and educational institutions around the world offer Latin as a language course.
Country: Vatican City
8. Arabic - One of the ancient surviving languages around the globe
The earliest evident form of this language is the Old Arabic. The evidence dates back to 9th century BC. Arabic was spoken as far back as the Iron Age by the people of Arabia, making it the oldest human language. 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 the oldest language on earth that is still in use by a vast majority of the population.
Country: Official Language in 28 states
Spoken By: Approximately 420 million people
9. Irish Gaelic - One of the first languages of the world
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. Many consider it to be one of the world’s first languages spoken. Currently, Irish is recognized as the national language of the Republic of Ireland and officially a minority language in Northern Ireland.
Country: Republic of Ireland, Nothern Ireland
Spoken By: Approximately 1,761,420 people
10. Greek - One of the oldest recorded languages of the world
Image Source: Shankar s. / Flickr
The earliest evidence of the Greek language is found to date back between 1450 and 1350 BC. It is found to be in the form of a Linear B clay tablet found in Messenia. While Modern Greek has evolved considerably from the version used in ancient times, it still is one of the most historic living languages. You must add Greek to the list of oldest languages in the world as there are over 34 centuries worth of records in the written word. Today it is the official language of Greece and Cyprus.
Country: Greece, Cyprus
Spoken By: Approximately 13 million
Additionally, the language of Sanskrit, originated in India, is one of the oldest Indo-European languages. Approximately only 15,000 people speak Sanskrit today, across India and Nepal, making it one of the oldest languages still spoken.
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. Check out more on about the topic on this wiki page.
Also Check: Ancient Ruins Around the World