Many modern languages evolved from Latin, but humans were communicating long before that ancient tongue was ever developed.
Given the fact that so many languages have been lost to history, today’s experts face a tough task when attempting to identify the oldest one ever. But they’re nonetheless making some progress and have the list narrowed down to a few likely possibilities.
It all comes down to this
Although identifying the very first language ever used for human communication is an interesting and useful process, it’s also important to understand that countless dialects throughout the millennia have brought humanity to where it is today.
So what does modern communication around the world look like?
- There are an estimated 7,100 languages currently in use.
- Less than two dozen languages represent more than half of the world’s population.
- About 40% of modern languages are considered endangered.
All of these regional tongues have changed over generations, and understanding their respective evolutions will help us better reflect on our collective history.
So which one came first?
Since lost and obsolete languages don’t come with clear timelines attached, linguist Danny Hieber said trying to find the oldest of the bunch is “a deceptively complicated task.”
Some say the title should go to a language with clear written evidence of its usage while others believe there might be one mother tongue from which all other languages stemmed.
But as it stands, some of the oldest with reliable evidence include Sumerian, Akkadian, and Egyptian hieroglyphs, each of which can be traced by more than 4,600 years.
As for the oldest languages still in use, most experts cite Hebrew and Arabic, which have been in use for 3,000 years and developed out of a language family that might be 20,000 years old.