History of Languages

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The Early Sumerian Agrarian

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Picking up one language from thousands and naming it as the oldest language in the world is not a piece of cake. You have to research extensively and look at the history of mankind to understand where it all began.

This is a tricky question and trust me even the answer is not that simple. Historians believe that languages must have originated some 3000 and 10,000 years ago.
To figure out the oldest language in the world, we first have to know which was the oldest civilization in the world. Did the Aryans came first, was it the Europeans or Dravidian people?
The topic of world’s oldest language is under a lot of debate, as there are many contenders for this title. From Asia there are Sanskrit, Mandarin Chinese and Tamil. From west there are Hebrew, Latin, Greek, Old Irish, Gothic and Lithuanian. Scriptures older than 5000 years have been found written in Sanskrit and Tamil and the most famous book of all The Holy Bible was first written in Hebrew.
According to a recent survey there are about 6000 languages which exist today, this number also includes the various tribal languages spoken on various islands. Numbers show that there are about 200 languages spoken by a million people and there are also some which are spoken by less than 15 people. Such languages are on the verge of extinction.

Some Language facts:

Number of living languages: 6912

Number of those languages that are nearly extinct: 516

Language spoken by the greatest number of non-native speakers: English (250 million to 350 million non-native speakers)

Country with the most languages spoken: Papua New Guinea has 820 living languages.

How long have languages existed: Since about 100,000 BC

First language ever written: Sumerian or Egyptian (about 3200 BC)

Oldest written language still in existence: Chinese or Greek (about 1500 BC)

Language with the most words: English, approx. 250,000 distinct words

Language with the fewest words: Taki Taki (also called Sranan), 340 words. Taki Taki is an English-based Creole spoken by 120,000 in the South American country of Suriname.

The most widely published language: English

The most common consonant sounds in the world’s languages: /p/, /t/, /k/, /m/, /n/ 

Longest word in the English language:pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis(45 letters)

more than 75% of world’s languages are spoken by fewer than 100,000 speakers.

The six most ancient languages

The six most ancient languages in the world are Sanskrit, Tamil, Hebrew, Arabic, Greek and Latin. All these six are classical languages as well. Of these six classical languages Tamil and Sanskrit are the two classical languages, which flourished in Indiasince very ancient times.

Well if you want to know the world’s most spoken language, then it’s Mandarin Chinese which is spoken by more than a billion speakers. The second place is bagged by English language with over 485 million speakers.Mandarin Chinese
main world languages.

      1. Mandarin Chinese (1,052m)
      2. English (508m)
      3. Hindi (487m)
      4. Spanish (417m)
      5. Russian (277m)
      6. Bengali (211m)
      7. Portugese (191m)
      8. German (128m)
      9. French (128m)
      10. Japanese (126m)
      11. Urdu (104m)
      12. Korean (78m)
      13. Wu Chinese (77m)
      14. Javanese (76m)
      15. Telugu (75m)
      16. Tamil (74m)
      17. Yue Chinese / Cantonese (71m)
      18. Marathi (71m)
      19. Vietnamese (68m)
    20. Turkish (61m)

What are the top ten oldest languages in the world?

The only solid evidence we have of how far back languages go are from their written accounts, so the dates I’m giving are from the oldest documents written in that language.

1. Chinese: 1400BC


2. Greek: 1400BC


3. Latin: 500BC

4. Aramaic: 450BC


5. Hebrew: 450BC


6. Tamil: 250BC


7. Korean: 100BC


8. Sanskrit: 100AD


9. Basque: 300AD

10. Armenian: 395AD

There are plenty of other languages that were written before 1400BC, but those languages are extinct today.

c. 3100 BC Sumerian
c. 2700 BC Egyptian
c. 2400 BC Eblaite
c. 2300 BC Akkadian
c. 2250 BC Elamite
c. 2000 BC Hurrian
c. 1800 BC West Semitic / Proto-Canaanite
c. 1800 BC Luwian
c. 1650 BC Hittite
c. 1500 BC Canaanite
(etc. list goes on)

List of language-family by first written accounts

Afro-Asiatic: since about the 28th c. BC

[28th c. BC: Egyptian]

Indo-European: since about the 19th c. BC

[6th c. BC: Indo-Iranian]

Sino-Tibetan: about 1200 BC

[roughly 1200 BC: Old Chinese]

Dravidian: 3rd c. BC

[Tamil – 3rd century BC]

Austronesian: 3rd c. AD
Altaic: 8th c.
Tai-Kadai: 13th c.

NB:Dravidian is a close-knit family. The languages are much more closely related than, say, the Indo-European languages.

Language family # of languages % of all languages Representative languages
& primary location
Indo-European 430 6.22%
Bengali, English, German, Hindi, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish. Languages spoken on all inhabited continents.
NB:[1] oral use of Sanskrit is limited, with its development having ceased sometime in the past.most observers would agree that, in some crucial way, Sanskrit is dead .
[2]Latin isoften considered a dead language, in view of the fact that it has no native speakers, a small number of scholars and members of the clergy can fluently speak it, and it continues to be taught in schools and universities.
[3]Greek is the official language of Greeceand Cyprusand one of the 23 official languages of the European Union. The language is spoken by approximately 13 million people today.
. Sino-Tibetan 399 5.77%
Bai, Burmese, Chinese, Tibetan. Languages spoken primarily in East Asia.
NB:About one-fifth of the world’s population, or over one billionpeople, speaks some variety of Chinese as their native language
Niger-Congo 1495 21.36% Dogon, Sango, Swahili, Wolof, Yoruba, Zulu. Primarily the indigenous languages of Subsaharan Africa.
Afro-Asiatic 353 5.11%
Arabic, Hausa, Oromo, Somali. Primarily spoken in northern Africa and the Middle East.
NB:[1]Most of the world’s Muslimsdo not speak Arabic as their native language but many can read the script and recite the words of religious texts.
[2]Hebrew in its modern form is spoken by most of the seven million people in Israelwhile Classical Hebrew has been used for prayer or study in Jewishcommunities around the world for over two thousand years
Austronesian 1246 18.03% Hawaiian, Javanese, Malay, Tagalog. Spoken on islands of Southeast Asia and the Pacific with a few speakers on Asian continent.
Austro-Asiatic 169 2.45% Khmer, Mon, Vietnamese. Spoken in India and Southeast Asia.

DRAVIDIAN

Dravidian languages are found largely in the southern third of India, but there are pockets further north, notably Brahui, in Pakistan. It’s likely that Dravidian once extended over all of India, and was displaced by the Aryan (Indo-European) invaders three milennia ago. Dravidian features such as retroflex consonants have spread to the Indic languages,

The Dravidian Family

These are the “old” languages of India, with about 25 representaties and 150 million speakers.  Best known are Tamil and Telugu.

As a Dravidian language, Tamil descends from Proto-Dravidian. Linguistic reconstruction suggests that Proto-Dravidian was spoken around the third millennium BC, possibly in the region around the lower Godavari river basin in peninsular India. The material evidence suggests that the speakers of Proto-Dravidian were the culture associated with the Neolithiccomplexes of South India

Scholars categorise the attested history of the language into three periods, Old Tamil (300 BC – 700 CE), Middle Tamil (700–1600) and Modern Tamil (1600–present).

Indo-Iranian & Dravidian:

Indo-European
Germanic Celtic Italic Hellenic Balto-
Slavonic
Indo-
Iranian
Low German
Old Norse
Anglo-Saxon
Latin Classical Greek
Old English
Frisian
Flemish
Dutch
German


Icelandic
Norwegian
Swedish
Danish

BretonManxScots GaelicIrish Gaelic

Welsh

RomanianFrenchPortugueseSpanish

Italian

Modern Greek LithuanianRussianSerbo-CroatPolish

Czech

HindiPunjabiBengaliRomany

Sanskrit

Indo-European languages
Map of the spread of Indo-European languages
Indo-European languages seem to have begun in the area between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea, in what is now Armenia and Georgia. It is not clear yet whether the languages spread to neighboring countries or the people who spoke those langages travelled to neighboring countries and took their language with them. But certainly languages related to Indo-European ones were spoken in many different places by about 1000 BC.
In Asia, the Indo-European branch is mainly represented by two major groups: Indian and Iranian, which were known a long time before Christian Era. Due to their close linguistic relationships, they are often jointly designated by the name of “Indo-Iranian” or “Aryan”.
Indic Branch
Hindi : Urdu : Nepali : Bengali : Assamese : Oriya
Kashmiri : Punjabi : Sindhi : Marathi : Gujarati
Bhili : Lahnda : Maithili : Magahi
Konkani : Sinhalese : Maldivian : Romany

Sanskrit : Pali : Ardhamagadhi
Iranian Branch
Farsi : Kurdish : Pashto : Baluchi : Ossetian : Tadzhik
Persian : Avestan : Scythian

Various Indian languages have corresponding scripts for them. Hindi languagesare written with Devanagari. Most other languages are written using a script specific to them, such as Bengali with Bengali, Punjabi with Gurmukhi, Gujarati with Gujarati etc

Dravidian Language Map

Proto-Dravidian
Proto-South-Dravidian Proto-Central Dravidian
Proto-Tamil-Kannada Proto-Telugu
Proto-Tamil-Toda Proto-Kannada Proto-Telugu
Proto-Tamil-Kodagu Kannada Telugu
Proto-Tamil-Malayalam
Proto-Tamil Malayalam
Tamil

[This tree diagram depicts the genealogy of the primary Dravidian languagesspoken in South India.]

Of the Dravidian languages, Tamil has the greatest geographical extension and the richest and most ancient literature, which is paralleled in India only by that of Sanskrit. Its phonological and grammatical systems correspond in many points to the ancestral parent language, called Proto-Dravidian.

Nothing definite is known about the origin of the Dravidian family. There are vague indigenous traditions about an ancient migration from the south, from a submerged continent in what is now the Indian Ocean. According to some scholars, Dravidian languages are indigenous to India. In recent years, a hypothesis has been gaining ground that posits a movement of Dravidian speakers from the northwest to the south and east of the Indian Peninsula, a movement originating possibly from as far away as Central Asia. Another theory connects the Dravidian speakers with the peoples of the Indus Valley civilization. The Dravidian languages have remained an isolated family to the present day and have defied all of the attempts to show a connection with the Indo-European tongues, Mitanni, Basque, Sumerian, or Korean.As an independent family, the Dravidian languages were first recognized in 1816 by Francis W. Ellis, a British civil servant. The actual term Dravidian was first employed by Robert A. Caldwell, who introduced the Sanskrit word dravida (which, in a 7th-century text, obviously meant Tamil) into his epoch-making A Comparative Grammar of the Dravidian or South Indian Family of Languages (1856).Zvelebil cites the forms such as dramila (in Daṇḍin’s Sanskrit workAvanisundarīkathādamiḷa (found in Ceylonese chronicle Mahavamsa) and then goes on to say (ibid. page xxi): “The forms damiḷa/damilaalmost certainly provide a connection of dr(a/ā)viḍa” and “… tamiḷ < tamiẓ …whereby the further development might have been *tamiẓ > *damiḷdamiḷa– / damila– and further, with the intrusive, ‘hypercorrect’ (or perhaps analogical) –r-, into dr(a/ā)viḍa. The –m-/-v– alternation is a common enough phenomenon in Dravidian phonology” (Zvelebil 1990:xxi) Zvelebil in his earlier treatise (Zvelebil 1975: p53) states: “It is obvious that the Sanskrit dr(a/ā)viḍa, Pali damiladamiḷo and Prakrit d(a/ā)viḍaare all etymologically connected with tamiẓ” and further remarks “The rin tamiẓdr(a/ā)viḍa is a hypercorrect insertion, cf. an analogical case of DED 1033 Ta.kamuku, Tu.kangu “areca nut”: Skt. kramu(ka).”.

Writing was first developed in Tamil Nadu, sometime about 250 BC, when the Asokan Southern Brahmi script was adapted for Tamil. The earliest inscriptions in Tamil script proper are the Pallava copperplates of about AD 550.

Ancient India Timeline[BC]

3000 BC: Beginning of the Indus Valley Civilization
2500 BC: Establishment of the cities of Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro in the Indus Valley
2000 BC: Decline of the Indus Valley Civilization
1600 BC: India is invaded by the Aryans from the west who drive away the Dravidians
1100 BC: With the discovery of iron, Indo-Aryans start using iron tools
1000 BC: One of the earliest Holy Scripture, Rig-Veda is composed
750 BC: Indo-Aryans rule over 16 Mahajanapadas (16 Great States) in northern India, from the Indus to the Ganges
700 BC: Beginning of the caste system, with the Brahmans taking the highest class
600 BC: The Upanishads are composed in Sanskrit
527 BC: Prince Siddhartha Gautama attains enlightenment and becomes the Buddha
500 BC: The ascetic prince Mahavira establishes Jainism in northern India
327 BC: Alexander the Great of Macedonia invades the Indus valley, fights the famous battle with Porus
304 BC: Magadha king Chandragupta Maurya buys the Indus valley and establishes the Maurya dynasty with Pataliputra as the capital
300 BC: Ramayana, a famous epic is composed
300 BC: Tamil Chola dynasty establishes his kingdom over southern India with capital in Thanjavur

200 BC: Mahabharata, another famous epic is composed
200 to 100 BC – Tholkappiyam standardized grammar and morphology of Tamil
100 BC: Bhagavata Gita is composed

Some Known factors……………….

Tamil Language
Primitive and original.
Spoken and living language.
Of Lemurian-Indian Origin.
Scriptural studies exoteric.
Inculcation of cosmopolitanism.
Admission of all to asceticism.
Holding higher education common to all.
Encouragement of gifts to all the poor and needy.
Love of truth.
Laying of emphasis on love, as means of attaining eternal bliss.
Having monotheistic Sai-vism and Vaisnavism as Religions.
Literary description natural.

It can be said that Sanskrit, Greek, Latin, Hebrew,Chinese,Arabic  and Tamil are the oldest major languages which are still spoken today.

[Tamil Vatteluttuscript, 3rd century BC]

[Archaeologists believe the discovered inscription is the most ancient written script found so far and that the Elamite written language originated in the Iranian city of Jiroft, where the writing system developed first and was then spread across the country. ]

[A researcher has deciphered an inscription on a pottery shard discovered in the Elah valley dating from the 10th century BCE (the period of King David’s reign), making it what is believed to be the earliest known Hebrew writing. (Credit: Courtesy of the University of Haifa)]
[An early historic inscription in Tamil language and in Tamil Brahmi script, dateable to c.200 BCE, has been found in the archaeological excavations by a German team at Tissamaharama in the down south of the island of Sri Lanka.]
Potsherd with Tamil Brahmi inscription, circa first century B.C., found in Egypt
[Potsherd with Tamil Brahmi inscription, circa first century B.C., found in Egypt.]
Pottery inscription in Tamil-Brahmi found in Thailand
[Pottery inscription in Tamil-Brahmi found in Thailand by a Thai-French team of archaeologists.]
More than 55% of the epigraphical inscriptions – about 55,000 – found by theArchaeological Survey of India are in the Tamil language.

Sanskrit’s oldest written records are only about 2500 years old. Greek’s oldest written records are older, at about 3500 years. Chinese and Tamil have written records about 2500 years old. Latin’s oldest written records are also about 2500 years old. In contrast, Arabic’s oldest written records are only about 1500 years old.

The oldest language was created about 100,000 BC it’s name has never been defined as we are unsure which of the living languages are its decendant.

3500 BC

King Gilgamesh
THE SUMERIANS
The Sumerians were one of the first known people to live in the Fertile Crescent.

  • They develop the first written language.
  • They are believed to have invented the wheel. They used it very skillfully.
3100 BC EGYPT
King Menes unites Lower and Upper Egypt into one great civilization. Menes was the first Pharaoh. The Egyptian civilization was a great civilization that lasted for about 3,000 years.

  • The Egyptians built the great pyramids. These were ancient tombs for their pharaohs. They are one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.
  • They made the first paper using papyrus. They left a written history.
  • They invented the calendar.
3000 BC THE INDUS VALLEY
A great civilization grew up in the Indus Valley (present-day Pakistan). It was larger than the Sumerians and the Egyptians.
Archaeologists uncovered this civilization in the 1920s. They found drainage and sewer systems, homes with bathrooms, and many artifacts.
It is a mystery what happened to this civilization. It was gone by 1500 BC.

{“Archaeological and linguistic evidence indicates that the Dravidians(TAMILS) were the founders of the Harappan culture which extended from the Indus Valley through northeastern Afghanistan, on into Turkestan. The Harappan civilization existed from 2600-1700 BC. The Harappan civilization was twice the size the Old Kingdom of Egypt. In addition to trade relations with Mesopotamia and Iran, the Harappan city states also had active trade relations with the Central Asian peoples.” (Clyde Ahmad Winters, who has written extensively on Dravidian origins commented:)
“Dravidians(TAMILS), whose descendents still live in Southern India, established the first city communities, in the Indus valley, introduced irrigation schemes, developed pottery and evolved a well ordered system of government.” (Reader’s Digest Great World Atlas, 1970)}}

1760 BC

CHINA
The earliest civilizations of China grew up along the Chang Jiang and the Huang He Rivers. The Shang Dynasty was the first to rule China. They were in power for 400 years.
“Writing” from the period of the Shang Dynasty.

The oldest written language probably Sumerian or Egyptian wins because they developed a writing system first (both start appearing in about 3200 BC).

If your criteria is that it is a current living language then perhaps Tamil, unless you insist that the language was written down then the oldest living language would probably be Chinese.
that is ,Tamil is considered the oldest spoken living language, Chinese the oldest written-down living language.

It is difficult to say how old Tamil is. But, it is the considered opinion of Dr.M.Varadarajan, an outstanding Tamil scholar that it is 25,000 years old.

What about the origins of the language of Tamil?

In his ‘History of Tamil Language and Literature’, Professor Vaiyapuri Pillai writes: “It is safe to assume that the Dravidian alphabet was used for literary purposes about the first century AD.”

The earliest epigraphic evidences go back to 3rd century BC. There are some 30,000 inscriptions in Tamil, the largest in South Asia.

Tamil literature has an estimated history of about 2,400 years. The earliest literary work available in Tamil is the Sangam poetry, consisting of lyrics and longer poems. These are inscribed in palm leaves and preserved. Oral tradition too was in existence.

Professor Zvelebil has called the Tamils “the Greeks of India“.


This script was used in the Indus valley of India between about 3,500 and 2,000 BC. Neither the script nor the language it was used to write are known, however Asko Parpola of the University of Helsinki in Finland claims to have partially deciphered the script and believes it probably respresents a Dravidian language.

While there is a continuity of development of scripts and a growth of literature in all other early cultures, the Indus Valley civilization has no continuity nor literature to claim. Something happened to this ancient culture with elaborate cities and structures that is culture was cut off with nothing to replace.

Tamil

Tamil is the oldest and purest of the four Dravidian languages.

Ancient Indian literature is not all about the Vedas; it’s about Sangam literature too. Tamil, the oldest and truest of the Dravidian speeches, boasts of this literary tradition of more than 2,200 years, the most remarkable body of secular poetry extant in India. While other pre-Aryan languages were happily courting Sanskrit and Prakrit (600 BC-600AD), Old Tamil stood firm in its corner refusing to yield. However, the evolutionary story of the language and script are a controversy among scholars even today.

Ever wondered what the oldest living language of the world is?A language which still retains its purity after hundreds of centuries, still has its oldest literature preserved and still has millions of speakers all over the world?It’s Tamil, a language of India.

There have been a lot of languages older than Tamil but they ceased to exist thousands of years ago. Those were the first languages that the primitive people spoke, which didn’t have any form of scripts for writing. Some argue that Sanskrit was older than Tamil and some argue not, but these languages seem to have originated almost the same time.
There have been business contacts between the Tamil people and Greece and Rome in the ancient period. That is why you see a lot of words in English, which sound similar to the words of the same meanings in Tamil. Word ‘arisi’ means rice in Tamil.. It went to Greece and became ‘oryza’, then became ‘rice’ in English. The same is with ginger which is ‘inji’ in Tamil. Tamil and its people have been mentioned in a lot of oldest literatures of the world.
There are also a lot of theories which say that people from one of the earliest civilizations of the world which existed in Indus valley, in the cities of Harappa and Mohenjodaro, spoke Tamil. In fact, Tamil is the origin of all Dravidian languages and one of the Dravidian languages called Brahui is still spoken in this area.
Scientists believe that the whole Indian Ocean was actually a land once where as the Himalayas that we see now was under the ocean. The part of the land that existed in the Indian Ocean is called as Lemuria and is said to be the land of Tamil people.
At present, Tamil still retains its purity and doesn’t have many loan words from other languages

Kamban , Tamil PoetOld Tamil
Floats portraying scenes from the Sangam classics and reflecting Tamil culture getting ready for the pageantry procession to be organised on June 23, the day of inauguration of the World Classical Tamil Conference in Coimbatore. Photo: K. Ananthan.

The earliest records in Old Tamil are short inscriptions from around the 2nd century BCE in caves and on pottery. These inscriptions are written in a variant of the Brahmi script called Tamil Brahmi.[32] The earliest long text in Old Tamil is the Tolkāppiyam, an early work on Tamil grammar and poetics, whose oldest layers could be as old as the 1st century BC.[28]

Tamil brahmi.png

Iravatham Mahadevan, an authority on the Tamil-Brahmi script, states that the Brahmi script reached the Tamil country due the southern spread of Jainism andBuddhism, and was adapted to suit the Tamil phonetic system

The earliest surviving inscriptions in Tamil found at Adichanallur in Tamil Nadu. Tamil-Brahmi eventually evolved into the Vatteluttu script

The picture shows the urn with the rudimentary Tamil-Brahmi script, and a human skeleton and miniature pots at the Iron Age urn burial site at Adichanallur in Tamil Nadu. The inset with the arrow mark depicts how the script has been written inside the urn. — Photo courtesy: ASI, Chennai Circle.

Dr. Satyamurthy has proposed, on the basis of “preliminary thermo-luminescence dating,” that the pottery found at the site, including the pots found in the urn along with the script, might date back to circa 500 B.C.[period from 1500 B.C. to 500 B.C. So the script is also likely to be dated to 5th century B.C. even if we take the latest date into consideration.]

The term `Tamil-Brahmi’ is used when the script is in Brahmi but the language is Tamil.
File:Skriptit-plain.svg

Vattezhuttu (Tamil: வட்டெழுத்து vaṭṭeḻuttu) (means rounded letters) is anabugida writing systemoriginating from the Tamil people of Southern India

It was also an ancient writing system used for writing the Tamil language after the second century CE replacing an older Tamil-Brahmi script based on the Brahmiwriting system.

[Two views of the Tamil bell
about 500 years old.discovered in approximately 1836
in the Northland Region of New Zealand.inscriptionrunning around the rim of the bell has been identified as old Tamil.]

Victoria_25c_reverseVictoria_05c_reverse
௧ = 1

௨ = 2

௩ = 3

௪ = 4

௫ = 5

௬ = 6

௭ = 7

௮ = 8

௯ = 9௰ = 10
௰௲=10,000
௭௰௲=70,000
௰௱௲=1,000,000 (10 lakhs)
௱௱௲=10,000,000 (crore)
௰௱௱௲= 100,000,000 (10 crore)

Victoria_50c_reverseVictoria_10c_reverse


3 responses to “History of Languages

  1. this is a good entry
    but one important point is missing that is why u ignored the Arbaic ?

  2. Vahan Setyan, PhD

    Armenian is the oldest language that has survived from last ice age. The Armenian language is immersed in the Sumerian language.

  3. बहुत उपयोगी जानकारी संग्रह करके दी है। यदि देवनागरी का क्रमविकास पर कुछ अनुसंधान सामग्री दे सकें तो पाठक आभारी रहेंगे।

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