General Question

DryaUnda's avatar

What is the oldest language still spoken?

Asked by DryaUnda (176points) January 9th, 2008

I’m not asking for oldest written language but oldest living language period. I’m guessing the language in question is East African in origin but it may have migrated.

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28 Answers

WVPHOTOG's avatar

Tamil in India.

gailcalled's avatar

More questions than definitive answers on this issue…an interesting one.


omfgTALIjustIMDu's avatar

Hebrew’s come all the way from biblical times.

chaosrob's avatar

Gaelic is making a comeback in Ireland. That’s pretty old.

boydieshere's avatar

Well, it depends on whether you want a dead language or not :\ otherwise Latin is obviously pretty old, but the oldest is going to be an indigenous language that hasn’t moved anywhere. There’s a really old language in Australia and definitely some around the middle-east, but I couldn’t pinpoint it for you.

Breefield's avatar

I’d say love, but I won’t for fear of sounding cheesy…maybe fear then!?

christybird's avatar

Languages are constantly changing… so I don’t think there’s any easy answer to this question. For example, the Modern Greek language is directly descended from the Ancient Greek that Socrates spoke, but has changed quite a bit over the centuries. So, is it the “same” language?

I know you specified “spoken,” but in keeping with Breefield’s answer, I might suggest “body language.” People have been smiling and frowning at each other for thousands of years, and a lot of human gestures are surprisingly consistent across cultures.

Noon's avatar

First answer is correct so far in my research. Can’t be anything like Latin or Gaelic, considering they are both indo-european, and there are language much closer to the original Indo-European on the whole evolutionary tree.

And I could be wrong, but Hebrew was dead, and then was reconstructed into modern day Hebrew.

gailcalled's avatar

Classical Hebrew, as used in the Old Testament, has always been studied by Rabbis, biblical scholars, and 123 year olds. Hebrew as spoken in Israel today did evolve in manner similar to demotic Greek, which arose from various forms of classical (Attic, etc. and biblical also) Greek.

gailcalled's avatar

Erk. I meant *12-yr-olds.

papathm's avatar

Classical Hebrew is old but was dead and came back to life in the 20th century.
I think the answer is Greek. It is a scientific fact that modern Greek is a language naturally evolved from the attic dialect of Ancient Greek (the same way Shakespeare’s English evolved to modern English). The average Greek today understands 90% of the New Testament text, written in the 1st century, in the Kini dialect which was the Alexandrian simplification of the attic dialect and the international lingua of that period. The use of Bible texts is the reason Greek survived .

Mrs_Dr_Frank_N_Furter's avatar

hebrew…even though like 3 people have already said it…maybe two

morphail's avatar

There is no such thing as an “oldest language.” No language is older than any other. For instance, to say that Latin is older than French, we would need to determine exactly when Latin turned into French. And we can’t. French and Latin are the same language, spoken at different points in time. All (non-creole) languages consist of an unbroken line of speakers going back to a point beyond recorded history.

gambleAway's avatar

How come nobody has mentioned Chinese! The Chinese language is some 5,000+ years old, and its written form is some 3,500 years old.

Spargett's avatar

the Mesopotamian culture Sumer was practicing advanced agriculture 5,500 BC. Why people still insist on bringing up Hebrew blows me away. In the scope of time, the Hebrews were babies and borrowed alot of compounded culture of the thousands of cultures the preexisted before them.

I swear, the bible constantly keeps Americans from generating a single original thought outside of its labyrinth of fairy tails.

MsDefy's avatar

No one knows this answer. There is no way to know. There are many cultures that had spoken a language long before creating a written language. Therefor, there is no documentation as to how long the language had been spoken for. One thing for sure however, the answer in NOT Hebrew. Albanian is by far older. Sumarian or Egyptian are, as far as we know, the oldest written languges. The most well documented languages where born first in Asia, as well as in Africa. Chinese can very well be the oldest language still spoken. Tamil, and Sanskirt also are possibly the oldest language still spoken. There is no way to definitively prove one over the other. However, there is enough documentation to prove that these languages are older then Hebrew, much older. Language itself is estimated to have evolved about 100,000 bc.

appiusclaudius's avatar

I agree with those who give the answer of tamil (c. 8000BCE)and NOT hebrew, which stems from aramaic, orginally and still spoken, written in nepal, tamil is the oldest still spoken today in the from of sanskrit. and also acording to the recent theroy of archeo- astronomy which pushes all of our current time ideas back 4–5 millinea. to this day the most widespread, still used samanto-phoenetic language (character) is chineese (as much as i dont like to admit it), so for all those misguided jews out there who think they are gods creation, your WRONG AGAIN!! go cry to Abraham….

vitoz's avatar

Lithuanian is the oldest spoken language today. It was derived from Sanskrit which is belived to be the earliest form of a formal languuage in writing. Though many forms of languages were also derived from Sanskrit, the Lithuanian language is considered the earliest language derived from Sanskrip which is still spoken today.

bxgirl's avatar

Africa is the cradle of all humankind so it would stand to reason that it also has the oldest language. The Bushman language is varied and complicated with a preponderance of “clicks” and/or injective consonants. They seem to be doomed as a race, either through extinction or through fusion with their Bantu, Hottentot, and Damara neighbors. After all these millenia, it’s a shame Africa still doesn’t command the respect it deserves. Egypt is a country in Africa-it is NOT geographically part of the Middle East.

morphail's avatar

Again, no language is older than any other. If Tamil, or Lithuanian, or Albanian or whatever is the oldest language, then does that mean that English suddenly popped into existence 1000 years ago? Of course it didn’t. The language that developed into what we call “English” was spoken 2000 years ago, as were the languages that developed into what we call “French”, “Lithuanian”, “Hebrew”, etc. The fact that some languages are still called by the same name – for instance Hebrew is called “Hebrew” no matter when it was spoken – is just an accident of terminology. We don’t call the ancestor of English from 2000 years ago “English”, but it is the same language.

@appiusclaudius date of 8000BCE seems much too old. The earliest Tamil writing is from around the third century BC.

indian's avatar

Tamil is oldest language of the world… is the only International language of india…it is official in two more countries….......not hindi…not bengali….dont even think of sanskrit it is a dead language…..

jajabinx's avatar

Yeh i have to agree with those who say Tamil. Tamil is the longest LIVING spoken language. I’m not sure if it’s the longest living written language . . that may be chinese

sugabelly's avatar

All African languages except Swahili

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mugundhan's avatar

Tamil is certainly the oldest living language in this world. As pointed out, Sanskrit is neither older nor independent as Tamil. Infact most of the sanskrit words have their roots in Tamil. I present here the evolutionary steps of few sanskrit terms.

Shiva – from “Sivan”- a modified form of “Sivandavan”(one who is red in colour)
Pooja – from “Poo + Sei” (Poo-flower, sei-offer, to offer with flower)
Krishna – karuttanan > kruttanan > krushnan > krishnan > krishna (meaning black in colour)
Indra – Indiran = In + Irai (In-Inbam-joy, Irai – God, God of joy)
Rudra – Udhiram > Urudhiran > Rudhiram > Rudran > Rudra (meaning having the colour of blood)

Thus all these terms have their roots in Tamil.
Sanskrit doesn’t have its own grammer but borrows from prakrit text of Panini.
Sanskrit is the language of latter vedic period and was made glorious in medieval period by false claims due to which Tamil suffered heavily but stood up with time due to its independent evolution and Sanskrit broke into several sister languages

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morphail's avatar

@mugundhan those etymologies are not accepted by mainstream linguists

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