10 oldest languages still spoken today
According to Ethanlogue, 7,111 languages are spoken in the world as of 2019. The number continues to diminish as years pass because many languages become extinct as native speakers die. Languages evolve, just like human and cultural changes are inevitable. However, there are languages that have stood the test of time due to certain key characteristics. Following is a list of 10 of the oldest world languages that are still spoken today.
Hebrew is 3,000 years old language that fell out of common usage around 400 CE. But it was preserved and used by Jews around the world as a liturgical language. However, along with the rise of Zionism in the 19th and 20th centuries, Hebrew went through a revival. It is now the official language of Israel. While the modern version differs from the Biblical version, native speakers of Hebrew can fully comprehend what is written in the Old Testament and its connected texts.
Basque is a language isolate, meaning it is not related to any language used in the world. Only the Basque people residing in parts of France and Spain exclusively speak the language. The total users, according to the latest data available is 541,600. The history of the Basque language is still a mystery. But linguists believe that it existed in the area before the Romance languages, Spanish and French developed. Its exact origin is not known but linguists think that it existed before the Indo-Europeans descended in Europe. It’s believed to be Western Europe’s oldest language.
Tamil is more than 2,200 years old and used in Malaysia, Singapore, Sri Lanka and India. It is an official language in Singapore and Sri Lanka. About 68.7 million users are located in India, with 60.7 million speaking it as their first language. In total, it is spoken in 7 countries. Tamil holds the distinction of being the only classical language that survived from antiquity to modern age. It belongs to the Dravidian language family, which consists of other languages that are native to eastern and southern India. Tamil is an official language of Tamil Nadu. Some inscriptions in Tamil were discovered by researchers that were from the 3rd century BCE. The language was used continuously since that time. It continues to develop and is the 20th world language with the highest number of first language speakers.
The first written text in Lithuanian on record dates back to the 16th century. It belongs to the Baltic branch of the Indo-European language family. It retained most of the features of the Proto-Indo European family, which is said to be the origin of the Indo European language family. Due to the presence of these ancient features in Lithuanian, it is considered as one of the oldest of the living languages. It has things in common with Greek, Latin and Sanskrit. Lithuanian is spoken in Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia and has about 3 million speakers from these countries.
Farsi also known as Persian is spoken in Tajikistan, Afghanistan and Iran and some other countries. Farsi came from Old Persian, the language that was used during the time of the Persian Empire. In Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, the language is known as Tajik. The Afghans call it Dari and it is called Farsi in Iran. The modern form came into being about 800 CE. Many modern languages have many differences from its ancestors. Farsi on the other hand did not change much. Modern speakers would still be able to read Persian texts that were written around 900 CE.
Icelandic is a Germanic language from the Indo European language family. It came from the North Germanic branch. Just like Lithuanian, Icelandic retained many of the features of the Indo European languages. The Norse settlers brought the language into Iceland but even the Danish, which came into the country from the 14th to the 20th centuries, were not able to have that much influence in the Icelandic language. Thus, speakers of Icelandic today would be able to read Norse sagas that were written many centuries ago. Even the written Icelandic, despite the broader vocabulary, did not have that many changes since the 11th century. Icelandic is spoken by nearly 314,000 people. Some speakers are located in the United States, Canada and Denmark. The oldest preserved texts in the language date back to 1100 CE.
Macedonian is a language that is a closely related to Bulgarian. Ancient Macedonian is believed to either be one of the dialects of Greek or a different language that is associated to the Greek language. The ancient language was spoken in the 1st millennium BC and was used in the Kingdom of Macedonia. It is part of the Indo European language family that lost its use around the 4th century BC, replaced by Attic Greek. About 2 million people speak Macedonian as a first language and most of the speakers are located in the Republic of Macedonia and some parts of Serbia, Romania, Montenegro, Greece, Bulgaria and Albania.
The existence of the Finnish language was further back than the existence of its written version, which dates back to the 16th century. It is a member of the Finno-Ugric language family that also includes Hungarian, Estonian and other minor languages spoken in Siberia. Today, Finnish is spoken in Western Russia, Sweden, Norway, Finland and Denmark. About 5.4 million people speak Finnish as their first language. Overall, it is spoken by 5.6 million people from all countries.
The Caucasus region is a real hotbed for linguists who seek out difficult world languages. The main languages of the three south Caucasian countries, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia, come from three entirely different language families—respectively Indo-European, Turkic, and Kartvelian. Georgian is the biggest Kartvelian language, and it is the only Caucasian language with an ancient literary tradition. Its beautiful and unique alphabet is also quite old—it is thought to have been adapted from Aramaic as far back as the third century AD. While not a language island in the same sense as Basque, there are only four Kartvelian languages, all spoken by minorities within Georgia, and they are all unrelated to any other languages in the world.
The Irish language existed around the 3rd or 4th century CE. It’s mainly spoken in Ireland. More than 1.2 million speak Irish Gaelic today. A part of the Celtic branch of the Indo European language family, it has been spoken in the islands that are known as Ireland and Great Britain today. It was around 2600 BC, when an ancient Celtic-speaking tribe settled in Ireland. The language evolved into Primitive Irish around the 3rd or 4th century BCE. It is the oldest among the languages spoken in Western Europe.