The 10 Oldest Languages of the World Today

Last Updated On: November 8, 2019

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Old Language

There are a few languages which have managed to survive over the ages and are still evolving as time goes on and learning these old languages have ample of benefits and advantages. There are many languages that are old but when it comes to evidence Tamil is considered to be the oldest language in the world that is still in use, as it is more than 5,000 years old. It seems to have made its first appearance in 300 BC. Tamil is, in fact, the sole ancient language which has managed to survive all the way into today’s modern world. This is what the evidence appears to show, even though some schools of thought do dispute the evidence.

The 10 oldest languages in the world are:

1. Tamil today has more than 80 million people who speak the language. It is chiefly spoken in Sri Lanka and India with smaller numbers of speakers in Malaysia, Singapore, Fiji and other parts of the world. It appears to have originated around 300 BCE. Proof of this has been found in Tamil-Brahmin inscriptions from 300 BCE. Tamil’s story, like that of so many other languages, is embedded in myth. According to a legend, the Tamil language was personified by the Tamil Thai deity which came to Earth by the Murugan deity which was the god of victory and war. This ‘Dravidian’ language today is one of the official languages of Sri Lanka and Singapore, as well as Tamil Nadu, an Indian state. Immigration to other countries has resulted in Tamil being recognized in South Africa, Malaysia and Mauritius as a minority language.

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2. Hebrew, as one of the oldest languages on Earth, has 9 million speakers throughout the world and has been evolving since the 10th century BCE. It is mainly spoken today in Israel. It is the sole living Canaanite language that today is still used. Hebrew writing was discovered some 3,000 years ago. At some time between 200 to 400 CE, people no longer used Hebrew as their usual spoken language, so it began to disappear. However, with the rise of Zionism in the 19th century Hebrew was revived and modernized. Today it is Israel’s official language with at least 5 million speakers.

3. Basque has its origin in the Basque country of North-West Spain and South-West France. Today, it boasts some 750,000 speakers. It is the only living language amongst the pre-indo-European language group. It appears to originate from prehistoric European times.

4. Arabic today has 270 million native speakers. It originated from the Arabian Peninsula. It has gradually spread throughout North Africa and the Middle East. Arabic has over time influenced many languages throughout the world. This includes Bengali, Hindi, Spanish, Kiswahili, Bahasa Malaysia, Bahasa Indonesia and Urdu.

5. Farsi/ Persian originated around 600 BCE and today has around 110 million speakers. It was first spoken under the Achaemenid Empire but is now spoken in parts of Afghanistan, Iran and Tajikistan. There have been few changes to the language since 800 BCE but it has influenced its neighbours’ languages, such as Urdu. Dari is the word used for Persian in Afghanistan and Tajiki in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.

6. Greek today has around 13 million speakers in Greece. It originated somewhere between 1450 and 1350 BCE. It belongs to the family of Indo-European languages. It is today the official language of both Greece and Cyprus and of the European Union. It is recognized as a minority language in areas of Italy, Armenia, Albania, Ukraine, Romania and Hungary. Greek symbols are an important part of mathematical and scientific disciplines.

7. Chinese dates back to 1250 BCE in China and some parts of Southeast Asia. Today, it boasts around 1.2 billion speakers. It is part of the Sino- Tibetan family of languages. Being one of the most spoken world languages it is not only the official language in China but also in Singapore, Taiwan and of the United Nations.

8. Lithuanian, an Indo-European language, today has around 3 million speakers. It is thought to have originated around 1500 AD. It is related to some of the ancient languages, like Latin, Sanskrit and Ancient Greek. It is Lithuania’s official language and is one of the European Union’s official languages, with about 3 million speakers throughout the world.

9. Icelandic, the language of Icelanders, with 358, 000 speakers today, has texts that were written about 1100 AD. It is classified as a North Germanic language of the Indo-European family of languages.

10. Irish Gaelic is not as old as some of the oldest languages of the world as it seemingly originates from the 4th Century AD. Today it has around 1.2 million speakers. Most who speak it today reside in Ireland. Irish is both the official and national language of the Republic of Ireland and is recognized officially as a minority language in Northern Ireland. It is an official language of the European Union as well.

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