Interesting Facts about the Oldest Living Languages

While some languages are relatively new, others are quite old. We’ll take a look at some of the oldest living languages and uncover interesting facts about them as we go.

Hebrew

Did you know Hebrew belongs to the Canaanite family? In fact, it’s the only living language from this family.

● This 3000-years old language is primarily spoken in Israel, by about 5 million people.
● There are more than 9 million speakers all over the world, which is strange yet astonishing for a language that was hardly spoken by 400 CE. Back then, it wasn’t a part of people’s everyday lives; they merely studied it or used it in literature.
● It was only in the late 19th century that with the return of Jews to Israel, things began to change and Hebrew gained popularity as a spoken language.

Tamil

Did you know that “the only language of contemporary India which is recognizably continuous with a classical past1” has close to 70 million native speakers?

● This 2200-years old language is not only spoken in India, but also by many in Sri Lanka, Malaysia and Singapore.

● Not that an example was needed, but when in 2004 some earthenware burial urns inscribed with Tamil-Brahmi script were found by archeologists, it became obvious that Tamil is in fact one of the oldest living languages. The urns ware claimed to have been carbon dated back to as early as 500 BCE.

● It didn’t take Tamil to gain popularity, and by 300 BCE, it was already thriving.

Persian

Did you know that Persian is still spoken today? It is, but under different names like Tajik, Farsi and Dari.

● This language that dates back to the Achaemenid Empire made its way to Iran and Central Asia through conquest, and is today spoken by nearly 45 to 60 million people.

● The oldest relevant inscription found shows that even Darius the Great, who is believed to be the composer, was in love with Persian.

Lithuanian

Did you know that Lithuanian has a lot in common with ancient Sanskrit and Greek?

● Spoken in Lithuania, the language is used by as many as 3 million people, and is a rarity among the oldest living languages.

● The first written Lithuanian text that was found may date back to a relatively recent time period, the 16th Century, but many believe that it’s as close as one may get to the Pro-Indo-European (PIE) language.

Chinese

Did you know that the Chinese language is believed to have its roots in the Yangshao culture?

● It’s spoken by as many as 1.2 billion people, i.e. around 16% of the world’s population, across China, Taiwan and Singapore, and is a favorite among translators who get the work outsourced by those looking to expand their businesses in these countries.

● The earliest written examples of the Chinese language go way back in history, right to the Shang Dynasty and are from somewhere around 1250 BCE

Basque

Did you know that Basque is a language isolate, and perhaps the oldest language in Western Europe?

● Linguists are of the opinion that it predates the arrival of Indo-Europeans on the continent

● Today, it’s spoken by roughly 7,50.000 people, of which only 6.8% of the speakers are in the French portion of the Basque Country

● The language is also spoken in Spainx

Arabic

Did you know that Classical Arabic is the fifth most spoken language in the world, and that Arabic translators are in great demand?

● Apart from the 22 states, including Egypt, Yemen and Kuwait, that comprise the Arab League, this ancient language is also spoken in some parts of Asia, Africa and Europe.

● Personal names dating back to the 9th Century BCE make Arabic one of the oldest living languages.

Irish

Did you know that some of the inscriptions in primitive Irish have stood the test of time?

● Irish language (read: Primitive Irish) evolved from what many believe to be the ancient Celtic Language spoken by a tribe that arrived in Ireland way back in 2600 BC.

● Today, as many as 1,168,000 people speak or use this Gaelic language

● Ogham inscriptions from 4th century AD can be considered as one of the first attestations of written Irish.

In addition, Greek and Aramaic languages are also believed to be relatively old, with the earliest known example of the former dating back to 1450-1350 BCE.


Hi, Myself Preeti Chauhan. I am an advanced level language learner and an aspiring foreign language translator. My passion and love for languages has always motivated me to travel to distant places, learn new cultures, languages and traditions. Therefore, whatever I learn or observe, I describe the same to my readers, in the form of detailed articles and blogs.

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