Carlos asked in Society & CultureLanguages · 2 months ago

What is the oldest language still in use in the world currently ?

4 Answers

  • Pontus
    Lv 7
    2 months ago
    Favorite Answer

    There is no definitive answer.  It's harder question than you might think. 

    Every language we know about, living or dead, evolved from a previous one.  

    English, for example, started out as Anglo-Saxon (aka Old English, called Englisc by its speakers).  It evolved over many centuries into Modern English.  An actual Anglo-Saxon speaker would have a very hard time understanding a Modern English speaker, and vice versa, even in writing. 

    However, each generation of speakers from Anglo-Saxon to Modern English understood the generation before and after it, in an unbroken chain.  Only by comparing generations widely separated on the chain does it become apparent that a language has evolved into a new one (or new ones). 

    In other words, there is no magic date where one stage of a language chain ends and another begins.  Dates given in scholarly articles are educated estimates, based on surviving documents. 

    Classifying the oldest living language depends heavily on what is meant by oldest.  It is largely assumed that if an ancient document can be easily read by a modern speaker that the spoken forms would also be understood (and that is not always the truth.  Spellings change far more slowly than pronunciations unless there is an organization authorized to make and enforce spelling reforms). One candidate for a language that has changed very little over the past few thousand years is Tamil.  There are others.

    All living languages evolve over time, but the rate of change can vary dramatically, from barely over two to three thousand years to having evolved into a new language in roughly 500 years. 

    People saying Hebrew are very misinformed.  Hebrew was a dead language in the time of Jesus.  It was artificially revived roughly 2000 years later when the nation of Israel was created (in order to have a common language).  There are other candidates that have been spoken continuously during that time and for much longer. Some people also wrongly believe that Hebrew was the first language ever spoken (because - the Bible).  That is with utter certainty utterly false.  We do not know what the first language(s) was were, but human beings have been speaking for at least 100,000 years (and perhaps many times longer than that).  No language we know about could have survived linguistic evolution.  The furthest in time our knowledge of languages goes back is very roughly 12,000 years (give or take several thousand), by comparing languages we do know about that are related to each other and using rough estimates on the time it takes for languages to diversify into new ones. .

    There is no way a speaker of any modern language would be able to understand a speaker from 20,000 years ago.  All linguistic evidence points to a line of languages evolving into a new language anywhere from roughly 500 to 5000 years.  

    We do not have written records from any language 20,000 years, so any suggestion that people from that time would understand people today is wild speculation with plenty of reasons against it. 

    Tamil is often listed as the oldest living language, but it is definitely not the only candidate.  

    Source(s): studied linguistics; read many articles on the subject.
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  • Anonymous
    2 months ago


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  • 2 months ago

    It is likely Hadza or Sandawe.  They are both Khoisan languages, and both in small pockets surrounded by Bantu languages, far away from the main body of Khoisa-speakers, and close to the origin-location of homo sapiens.  They were cut off from the main body by the Bantu expansion around 1500 BC, and likely had existed long before that...perhaps as long as 20,000 years ago. 

    The Khoisan expanded into the current location of the main body well over 140,000 years ago, and then there was back-migration to the Rift Lakes area.  There is some question about whether they spoke to one another at that point in a pattern that could be called "language".  Some argue that repeatable "language" did not arise until 50,000 years ago (but that is as much conjecture as is the most ancient estimate of 150,000 years ago).  However, regardless of the exact timing of its development, it could be argued that language would be most likely to arise within a large population, and the Khoisan were the largest, densest, settled population on the planet for a hundred thousand years.  Therefore, it seems likely that the first languages occurred in that group.  Certainly it was present when the back-migration reached northern Tanzania 20,000 years ago, which was when those who eventually came to speak Hadza and Sandawe may have been planted in their current location.

    Of course, just because the first languages were likely Khoisan does not mean that any of those earliest languages survived alongside the genetic descendants of those earliest people.  But why assume they would not?  Languages can evolve year by year, even if the speakers stay genetically the same...but that evolution is almost always driven by cultural impacts:  invasions, agricultural plagues, etc.  Yet we know that, although the Khoisan were mostly driven from their northeastern range near the Rift Lakes by the Bantu, their languages survived unscathed by Bantu in their southwestern range by the Kalahari Desert...except for two little islands that have resisted Bantu influence for over 3500 years.  That suggests powerful forces for stasis - which in turn suggests the language spoken today is close to the language that was spoken a long time ago.  That peculiar circumstance is enough to make these two languages contenders for the oldest currently-spoken language (since even Chinese claims only to go back 3250 years)

    Source(s): Rito, Teresa; Richards, Martin B.; Fernandes, Verónica; Alshamali, Farida; Cerny, Viktor; Pereira, Luísa; Soares, Pedro; Gilbert, Tom (13 November 2013). "The First Modern Human Dispersals across Africa"
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  • 2 months ago



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    • DontTellMe
      Lv 7
      2 months agoReport

      ;-) Yeah, I don't care. Hence the reason I stated "one of the oldest languages in the world." You said I wasn't close. I was.

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