Have you ever wondered what languages people spoke thousands of years ago? How did they communicate with each other, write their stories, and express their thoughts? While many ancient languages have disappeared or evolved over time, some have survived and are still spoken today. Here are eight of the oldest languages in the world that you can still hear today.
– Hebrew: Hebrew is one of the oldest languages in the world, dating back to at least 3,000 years ago. It was the language of the ancient Israelites and the sacred language of Judaism. For about two centuries, Hebrew was only spoken by scholars and religious leaders, until it was revived in the 19th century with the rise of Zionism. Today, Hebrew is the official language of Israel and the mother tongue of more than five million people.
– Tamil: Tamil is another ancient language that has a continuous history of at least 2,500 years. It is spoken by more than 80 million people, mostly in India, Sri Lanka, Malaysia and Singapore. Tamil has a rich literature and culture, and is also used by some communities in Guyana, Fiji, Suriname, and Trinidad and Tobago.
– Sanskrit: Sanskrit is the language of the Vedas, the scriptures of Hinduism, and also has connections to Buddhism and Jainism. It emerged around 2000 BCE and was widely spoken in Central, South and Southeast Asia. Sanskrit is also the root of many Indian languages, such as Hindi and Bengali, and belongs to a broad family known as the Indo-European languages, meaning it has clear connections to English, French, Portuguese, Spanish, Russian, and many other languages widely spoken in Europe.
– Greek: Greek is one of the oldest languages in Europe, dating back to around 1300 BCE. Ancient Greek was the language of philosophers, poets, and scientists, and influenced many other languages and cultures. Modern Greek is spoken by about 13 million people in Greece, Cyprus, Turkey and other countries. Greek also has a strong presence in other western languages, as 60 percent of English words have Greek or Latin roots.
– Chinese: Chinese is one of the oldest and most widely spoken languages in the world. The earliest written records of Chinese date back to around 1250 BCE. Chinese has many varieties and dialects, such as Mandarin, Cantonese, Hakka, and Min. The standard form of Chinese is based on Mandarin and is spoken by about one billion people in China and other countries. Chinese characters are also used in Japanese and Korean writing systems.
– Arabic: Arabic is a Semitic language that originated in the Arabian Peninsula around the first century CE. It is the language of Islam and the Quran, and has influenced many other languages and cultures. Arabic has many dialects and varieties, such as Egyptian Arabic, Moroccan Arabic, Levantine Arabic, and Gulf Arabic. The standard form of Arabic is based on Classical Arabic and is spoken by about 420 million people in the Middle East and North Africa.
– Euskara (Basque): Euskara is one of the oldest languages spoken on Earth and has no proven connection to any other known language. It is related to no other known language family and is the only remaining language of the tongues spoken in southwestern Europe before the Romans colonized the area beginning in the second century. Euskara is spoken by about 750,000 people in the Basque Country, a region that spans parts of Spain and France.
– Nahuatl: Nahuatl is an indigenous language that was spoken by the Aztecs and other peoples in Mexico before the Spanish conquest. It is still spoken by about 1.5 million people in Mexico today. Nahuatl has contributed many words to Spanish and English, such as chocolate, tomato, avocado, chili, coyote, and cacao.
These eight ancient languages are not only fascinating examples of human history and culture but also living testimonies of linguistic diversity and resilience. Learning an ancient language can help you understand different perspectives, connect with different communities, and appreciate different ways of expression. So why not give it a try? You might be surprised by what you discover.
– Eight Ancient Languages Still Spoken Today, Discover Magazine, October 4, 2021
– 10 Oldest Languages In The World Still Spoken, Busuu Blog, March 2, 2022
– What’s The Oldest Language Still Spoken Today?, IFLScience, June 1, 2023
– Discovering The Top 10 Oldest Languages In The World, Mondly, May 11, 2023