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4 of the World's Oldest Languages

Read this article to learn about 4 of the World's Oldest Languages. Relax and enjoy!

4:15 min read
  Teri Lapping  —  Grammar Tips
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What do the Lithuanian language, the Tamil language, the Hebrew language, and the language of Farsi have in common?

 They are 4 of the World's Oldest Languages!

Let’s Consider the Life of a Language

For about 10,000 years, humans have been communicating with one another through language, either in gestures, speech, or writing. Researchers are still discovering newer and more accurate ways to study the development of languages. 

Certain languages have become extinct altogether and are no longer used. Other languages, like Latin, are not spoken by any community but are still being used for reading and writing. 

It is estimated that there are around 7000 languages that are spoken worldwide. The oldest spoken languages today are as old as 5000 years. They are still alive and used for daily communication, both verbally and in writing. 

Let’s take a closer look.

The Lithuanian Language

Lithuanian is 5000 years old.

In Lithuania, there are approximately 2.8 million speakers of Lithuanian. It is spoken by 200,000 people outside of Lithuania. 

Official Language: 
The official language of the Republic of Lithuania is Lithuanian, and Lithuanian is one of many official languages in the European Union. 

Family Ties:
Lithuanian is considered an Eastern Baltic language, belonging to the family of Indo-European languages, together with Italian, German, English, and other modern languages that evolved from that region. The Lithuanian language is also related to Latin, Sanskrit, and Ancient Greek, as well as the Latvian language.

Literary Mentions:
The literary works of Lithuania were written in the Lithuanian language in a Latin script. The first printed piece of literature in Lithuanian, The Simple Words of Catechism, was published in the 1500s. 

The Language of Tamil

Tamil is 5000 years old.  

Today, Tamil is spoken by more than 78 million people. In addition to India, Singapore, and Sri Lanka, it can also be found in Germany, Fiji, the United States, Indonesia, Thailand, Africa, and France. 

Official Language:
Tamil is the official language in parts of India, Singapore, and Sri Lanka. 

Family Ties:
Tamil is part of the Dravidian family of languages (Dravidic) which is spoken by 250 million inhabitants in north-east Sri Lanka, southern India, and the south-west part of Pakistan. The language is built from various eastern and southern Indian languages, as well as the languages of Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam, and Odia. 

Literary Mentions:
Tamil literature dates back 2000 years. Its oldest text is a work called the Tolkappiyam. Historians question whether there were even older examples of Tamil literature, and inscriptions written in Tamil have been found which date back to 3rd Century BCE. 

Today, the written language continues to flourish: for example, there are approximately 185 daily newspapers published in the language of Tamil.

The Hebrew Language

Hebrew is 3000 years old. 

Today, Hebrew is spoken by more than 9 million people around the world, the majority of whom live in Israel.

Official Language:
Hebrew is the official language in the State of Israel.

A Backward Glance:
Hebrew is the only known language in the world that has died AND has been completely revived as a modern spoken language.
1200—586 BCE: Hebrew began as a flourishing spoken language.
300 BCE: Hebrew became extinct and ceased to be a spoken language. It continued to be a written literary and religious language, as well as a language of commerce between Jews around the world.
Late 1800s: Hebrew was revived with the rise of Zionism.
1948: Hebrew became the official language for the new country of Israel.

Literary Mentions:
Most of the Hebrew Bible (the Old Testament) was written in Ancient Hebrew, and throughout the ages, Hebrew was preserved as the religious language of Judaism.

Although the written, biblical version and the modern version of Hebrew are different, contemporary users of Hebrew can understand the gist of what is written in the biblical texts.

The Language of Farsi

The language of Farsi is 2500 years old. 

Worldwide, there are 110 million people who speak Farsi. Also known as Persian, speakers of Farsi live, for the most part, in Iran, Afghanistan, Russia, Iraq, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan.

A Backward Glance: 
Historically, there existed three versions of Persian:

Old Persian: 6th Century BCE
Middle Persian: 2nd Century AD through 7th Century
Modern (New) Persian (Pahlavi): 800 CE

Literary Mentions:
The Persian language is second only to Arabic as the most wide-spread written language in the Muslim world. 

Many important works of literature have been written in the language of Farsi, including poems, myths, and historical stories. 

Final Thoughts

As the tools of technology continue to develop, historians and scholars will have better, more advanced ways of researching the particulars of our linguistic heritage. Perhaps the clues will lead us back to the beginning of language, where it will be confirmed that, indeed, we are all brothers and sisters, the children of the same mother tongue. 

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