Oldest Languages In The World

There is sufficient archaeological proof to allow us to recognize that the oldest dead language in the world is the Sumerian language. The first written language in Mesopotamia. Most of the early tablets come from the site of Uruk, in southern Mesopotamia. And it may have been there that this form of writing was invented. These texts were drawn on damp clay tablets using a pointed tool. Check out the World’s Oldest Jokes

World’s oldest languages spoken today

(in no particular order)

Egyptian 3400 BCE

The Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs dates back to 3400 BCE (ca.), when the it first appeared on memorial palettes and ivory tags. Linguists recognize five stages of the ancient Egyptian language: Old Egyptian, Middle Egyptian, Late Egyptian, Demotic and Coptic. These were written in at least four different scripts: Hieroglyphs, Hieratic, Demotic and Coptic.

rosetta stone - oldest languages
The Rosetta Stone is one of the most important objects in the British Museum 

The writing is still purely pictographic, and represents a transitional stage between proto-writing and the emergence of the partly syllabic writing of the cuneiform script proper. The “proto-literate period” of Egypt and Mesopotamia is taken to span about 3500 to 2900 BC.

The Rosetta Stone is a large block of black granite, over 2,000 years old, that was rediscovered in Egypt in 1799. It was a remarkable find as it contains inscriptions that enabled scholars to learn how to read hieroglyphs that were previously indecipherable.

It holds the key to understanding Egyptian hieroglyph. The text of the Rosetta Stone actually deals with a fairly banal piece of administrative business. It is a copy of a decree passed in 196 BCE by a council of Egyptian priests celebrating the anniversary of the coronation of Ptolemy V Epiphanes as king of Egypt. The Rosetta Stone, a symbol for different things to different people, is a dark-colored granodiorite stela inscribed with the same text in three scripts – Demotic, hieroglyphic and Greek.

The Coptic language remains one language in ancient Egypt that is still spoken today, and it’s used mainly as the liturgical language of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria and the Coptic Catholic Church.


The majority of linguist recognize Tamil as the oldest language in the world, and it is the oldest language of the Dravidian family. According to Bhadriraju Krishnamurti, Tamil, as a Dravidian language, descends from Proto-Dravidian, a proto-language. Linguistic reconstruction suggests that Proto-Dravidian was spoken around the third millennium BC, possibly in the region around the lower Godavari river basin in peninsular India.

Sanskrit: 1500 BC

Sanskrit is a mother or root language of all Indian languages except Dravidian languages. Hindi is directly derived from Sanskrit. The alphabets are same for both languages and the writing system/script is called Devanagari script though the languages are different.

Greek: 1450 BC

Ancient Greek civilization flourished from the period following Mycenaean civilization. Which ended about 1200 BCE, to the death of Alexander the Great, in 323 BCE. By that time, Greek cultural influence had spread around the Mediterranean and, through Alexander the Great’s campaign of conquest, as far afield as India.

Chinese: 1250 BC

The earliest written language discovered has been on Yangshao culture pottery from Paa-t’o, found in 1962 near Xi’an in the Shaanxi province of China. This bears proto-characters for the numbers 5, 7 and 8 and has been dated to 5000—4000 BC. And holds the Guinness World Record for First Written Language.

Oldest Languages Yangshao culture pottery
Yangshao culture pottery

Archeologists found Chinese character inscriptions in turtle shells dating back to the Shang dynasty1 (1766-1123 BC) proving the written language has existed for more than 3,000 years.

Old Chinese, sometimes known as “Archaic Chinese”, was the common language during the early and middle Zhou Dynasty (11th to 7th centuries B.C.), whose texts include inscriptions on bronze artifacts, the poetry of the “Shijing”, the history of the “Shujing”, and portions of the Yijing. Work on reconstructing Old Chinese started with Qing dynasty philologists.

Aramaic: 1100 BC

During its approximately 3,100 years of history, Aramaic has served as a language of divine worship and religious study, administration of empires and as the mother tongue of a number of Semitic people from the Near East.

Historically, Aramaic was the language of the Arameans, the Semitic-speaking people from the region between the northern Levant and the northern Tigris valley.

Hebrew: 1000 BC–200 CE

The modern versions of Hebrew differ from the Biblical version. However, native speakers of the language can understand what is written in the Old Testament and its connected texts. The native language of the earliest speakers of Modern Hebrew was Yiddish. This is why Modern Hebrew is significantly influenced by Yiddish. The Academy of the Hebrew Language ensures it invents about 2,000 new words in Hebrew each year. Nations do this to prevent the incorporation of English into this traditional language. Read all about the Semitic languages here!

Farsi: 522 BC

How old is the Persian language? Old Persian goes back at least to the Achaemenid empire, which lasted from 600 BCE to 300 BCE. The oldest inscription we’ve found so far in Old Persian dates back to between 522 BC and 486 BC. Darius the Great composed the inscription. However, it’s unlikely the great king took a chisel to the rock himself.

Korean: circa 57 BC

The Korean language is part of a northern Asian language known as Altaic. That group includes Turkish, Mongolian and Japanese, suggesting early Northern migrations and trade. Korean was also heavily influenced by Chinese, but have adopted its own writing system in the 16th century.

Italian: as a descendant of Latin, 100 BC

Early texts from Italy are written in dialects of the language that only later became standard Italian. Possibly the very first text is a riddle from Verona, dating from perhaps the 8th century, but its language is Latinized. More surely Italian are some 10th-century documents from Montecassino (testimonies in court—e.g., Placiti [decrees] of Capua, of Sessa, and so on), after which there are three central Italian texts of the 11th century. The first literary work of any length is the Tuscan Ritmo Laurenziano (“Laurentian Rhythm”) from the end of the 12th century, which was followed soon by other compositions from the Marches and Montecassino. In the 13th century lyric poetry was first written in a conventionalized Sicilian dialect that influenced later developments in Tuscany.

Italian writers and poets shaped the style and vocabulary of Italian over centuries making the language beautiful. As for the mechanics of the language itself, they tend to be attractive to many listeners. There are grammatical constructs that exist with the sole purpose of making the language more pleasant.

Arabic: roughly 100 CE

The Arabic Language has been around for well over 1000 years. Scholars believe it to have originated in the Arabian Peninsula. It was first spoken by nomadic tribes in the northwestern frontier of the Peninsula.

Arabic, which first emerged in the northwest of the Arabian Peninsula, is a member of the Semitic family of languages which also includes Hebrew and Aramaic.


Historians trace Finnish’s origins back to 1500 to 1000 BC. The Finnic languages evolved from the proto-Finnic tongue. The first known Finnic document can be traced back to the 13th century and the first written account of Finnish is from the year 1450.

Finnish is a Uralic language of the Finnic branch, spoken by the majority of the population in Finland and by ethnic Finns outside of Finland.


Its roots can be traced back to the oldest Nordic language which was spoken in Scandinavia between 200 and 800 A.D.. During the Viking age, year 793 A.D. to 1066 the Nordic language split into East and West.

It is an Indo-European language, belonging to the sub-group of North Germanic languages. It is closely related to Norwegian and Faroese, although there are slight traces of Celtic influence in ancient Icelandic literature.


Basque is a language spoken by Basques and others of the Basque Country. The region straddles the westernmost Pyrenees in adjacent parts of northern Spain and south-western France. Linguistically, Basque is a language isolate. The Basque language is spoken by 28.4% (751,500) of Basques in all territories. Of these, 93.2% (700,300) are in the Spanish area of the Basque Country and the remaining 6.8% (51,200) are in the French portion.


Lithuanian is a good example of why it’s so hard to answer the question “What is the oldest living language?” How old is Lithuanian? It’s hard to say, but the first written text we have is from the 16th century

On one hand, the earliest written record we have of Lithuanian is from 1500 AD.  On the other hand, Lithuanian is one of the most conservative Indo-European languages. In many ways, it’s as close as you’ll get to Proto-Indo-European. It also has quite a bit in common with ancient Sanskrit, Latin, and Greek.

Which is the first ancient language?

Sumerian and Egyptian had the oldest writing systems that date back to 3200 BC. However, these languages are no longer in use. Coptic, Biblical Hebrew, Canaanite and Akkadian are examples of ancient languages that failed to stand the test of time. 

The Kesh Temple Hymn (or Liturgy to Nintud) along with the tablet known as the Instructions of Shuruppak, are considered the oldest existing pieces of literature in the world.

The Instructions of Shuruppak, - World’s oldest languages
The Instructions of Shuruppak,
A Sumerian cuneiform tablet from around 3100–2900 BC.
A Sumerian cuneiform tablet from around 3100–2900 BC. 
Metropolitan Museum of Art

The tablets were found at the Temple of Nippur in modern-day Iraq and come from the ancient Sumerian civilization. The text of Instructions of Shuruppak contains advice from a man named Shuruppak to his son, the Sumerian flood hero Ziusudra. The tablet has been completely translated and offers some sage advice such as: never buy a donkey that brays too much, never stick around to watch a fight or let yourself get into a fight, and never curse too strongly or it will rebound on to you.

The Kesh Temple Hymn has been translated and contains about 134 lines, divided into eight songs referred to as “houses” or “temples.” The hymn praises the city of Kesh because its temple was chosen gathering place for the Sumerian gods.

While other copies of the Kesh Temple Hymn have shown up, the oldest tablets date back to around 2600 BCE — scribes copied the hymn faithfully, showing that it was important to the Sumerians.

Related: A brief History of Literature

The Reforms of Urukagina are considered the oldest legal code or “Bill of Rights” in recorded history. Urukagina was a Sumerian king who ruled the city of Lagash and was interested in improving the lives of his people.

One of the most important reforms that Urukagina made was to combat corruption throughout Lagash. Urukagina dismissed corrupt officials, including the chief boatmen, head herdsmen, and fishery inspectors who had illegally seized property. He also got rid of any priests who had taken bribes and any other officials that used tax revenue for personal gain.

In addition to getting rid of corrupt leaders, Urukagina ended debt-slavery and provided charity to the poor and elderly — he claimed that all of his actions were directed by the gods.

1.The World’s oldest joke traced back to 1900 BC is a saying of the Sumerians, who lived in what is now southern Iraq and goes: “Something which has never occurred since time immemorial; a young woman did not fart in her husband’s lap.”

This one from Sumeria in 1200 BC, is a brainteaser. “Three ox drivers from Adab were thirsty: one owned the ox, the other owned the cow and the other owned the wagon’s load.

“The owner of the ox refused to get water because he feared his ox would be eaten by a lion; the owner of the cow refused because he thought his cow might wander off into the desert; the owner of the wagon refused because he feared his load would be stolen.

“So they all went.

“In their absence the ox made love to the cow which gave birth to a calf which ate the wagon’s load.

“Problem: Who owns the calf?”

2. The world’s second oldest joke was found in the Ancient Egyptian story book known as the Westcar Papyrus. It goes:

A Sumerian cuneiform tablet from around 3100–2900 BC. 
Metropolitan Museum of Art

“How do you entertain a bored pharaoh?

“You sail a boatload of young women dressed only in fishing nets down the Nile and urge the pharaoh to go catch a fish.” There is another -A sex joke, Ancient Egypt, 30 BC. “Man is even more eager to copulate than a donkey. His purse is what restrains him.”

Related: Idioms from Greek Mythology

3. Greek literature is rich with puns and riddles such as: A pun on a name, Ancient Greece, 800 BC. In Homer’s “The Odyssey” — written 2,800 years ago — Odysseus indulges in some dark humor.

“Odysseus tells the Cyclops that his real name is “nobody”.”

“When Odysseus instructs his men to attack the Cyclops, the Cyclops shouts: “Help, nobody is attacking me!”

“No one comes to help.”

In “Oedipus Tyrannus,” by Greek playwright Sophocles, a character gives the following line, which is less of a joke and more of a brainteaser.

“Question: What animal walks on four feet in the morning, two at noon and three at evening?

“Answer: Man. He goes on all fours as a baby, on two feet as a man and uses a cane in old age.”

As well as, “Philogelos” (or “Laughter-Lover”), written by Greeks Hierocles and Philagrius in the 4th century.

“Asked by the court barber how he wanted his hair cut, the king replied: “In silence”.”

4. “Your mamma” joke, Ancient Rome, between 63 BC to 14 AD.

“The Emperor Augustus was touring the Empire, when he noticed a man in the crowd who bore a striking resemblance to himself.

“Intrigued he asked: ‘Was your mother at one time in service at the Palace?’

“‘No your Highness,’ he replied, ‘but my father was.’”

5. The oldest British joke dates back to the 10th Century and reveals the bawdy face of the Anglo-Saxons. — “What hangs at a man’s thigh and wants to poke the hole that it’s often poked before? Answer: A key.”

Which is the oldest language in the world?

Linguists consider Chinese and Tamil the two of the oldest surviving languages in the world.

Which linguist family does English come from?

The English language is an Indo-European language in the West Germanic language group. Modern English is widely considered to be the lingua franca of the world. It is the standard language in a wide variety of fields, including computer coding, international business, and higher education.

What Are Some Dead Languages?

We lost about 280 Native American Languages since the European Colonization.

  • Latin. As far as dead languages go, Latin is the most studied. …
  • Coptic. Ancient Egyptian is one of the earliest known written languages, and it was spoken until the late 17th century in the form of Coptic. …
  • Mandan. …
  • Sanskrit. …
  • Gothic. …
  • Aramaic
  • Old Norse. …
  • Hunnic
  • Ancient Greek
  • Serrano. …
  • Unami. …
  • Klamath-Modoc. …
  • Osage. …
  • Eyak

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