Language is an essential part of human communication, allowing people to express ideas, emotions, imagination and much more. But even while speaking the same language, no two people sound exactly alike. This lets people distinguish one another by their voices, dialects and accents.
About 7,151 languages are spoken in the world as of 2022, according to Ethnologue. Among them, only 23 languages account for more than half of world’s population. A third of total languages spoken are said to be endangered, meaning its users have a different dominant language and the endangered language might not be passed to the next generation.
Cherokee from the United States, Parsi from India, Korandje from Algeria are some of the endangered languages, according to Ethnologue.
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What is the oldest language?
There is no one way to answer this question. To understand why, the oldest language needs to be defined.
The oldest language to be spoken was the Proto-Human language, which is said to be the predecessor to all languages of the world, according to Wondrium Daily. It is a hypothetical language, susceptible to historical linguistic analysis.
The oldest written languages discovered in the form of cuneiform clay tablets are Hittite, Babylonian and Sumerian, dating to 6,000 years ago, according to linguist Peter J. Wright on Quora.
The oldest living language, still in use to date, might be Tamil. This fact is widely debated across linguistic communities. Tamil is proposed to be first attested somewhere between 5320 BC and 8th century CE. The Dravidian language has speakers in Southern India and Sri Lanka.
What is a dead language?
Oldest languages can be categorized as dead, extinct and living languages. Languages are considered "dead" when they're no longer the native language of any community, even if still in use, such as Latin.
Extinct languages are languages which are no longer in use and do not have any descendants that can carry the language to the next generation.
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What is the first language?
Sumerian can be considered the first language in the world, according to Mondly. The oldest proof of written Sumerian was found on the Kish tablet in today’s Iraq, dating back to approximately 3500 BC.
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Oldest languages in the world
Here are the oldest languages which are extinct today, according to Mondly:
And these are the oldest living languages that are still spoken today, according to Mondly:
Sanskrit, cc. 3500 years old
Greek, cc. 3400 years old
Coptic Egyptian, cc. 2200 years old
Hebrew, cc. 3000 years old
Chinese, cc. 3200 years old
Aramaic, cc. 3100 years old
Arabic, cc. 2800 years old
Persian (Farsi), cc. 2500 years old
Tamil, cc. 5000 years old
Irish Gaelic, cc. 1500 years old
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: What is the oldest language? The history of linguistics, explained.