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When we have to speak or write, we use a language. A language is a system of communication that consists the use of vocal sounds and/or written symbols like alphabets.

Researchers believe that spoken means of communication began around the time Homo sapiens evolved in Africa. Homo sapiens are modern humans who evolved around 2,00,000 years ago and had the modern skull shapes and vocal chords enabling the development of language from sign to oral. Today, there are 2,700 languages with over 7,000 individual dialects spoken around the world.

Researchers say that languages that were spoken before 5th century BC are considered as ancient languages. For example, Ancient Greek and Latin are ancient languages but they are no longer in use. But some old languages like Tamil and Arabic are still alive as they are actively spoken in many parts of the world.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the oldest languages of the world:

Sanskrit- This language is known as a founding language as many other languages spoken in India (like Hindi, Kannada and Malayalam), Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Nepal have evolved from it. Though it is not in popular use as an oral means of communication, it makes up a bulk of our written literature. Interestingly, several villages such as Mattur in Karnataka and Jhiri in Rajasthan are trying to revive the language by using it in their everyday communication.

Did you know?
A Sanskrit daily newspaper called Sudharma has been publishing since 1970 in Mysore.

Chinese– Chinese is the most spoken language in the world—around 16 percent of the world’s population. It is the official language of China, Taiwan and Singapore. Chinese is an umbrella term for a group of about 13 varieties of the Chinese language. The most spoken variety is Mandarin.  The first written records of Mandarin appeared over 3,000 years ago. It has served as China’s national language since the 14th century.

Did you know?
There are 50,000 characters in the Chinese language, but you need to know about 2,000 to be able to read a newspaper.

Latin- Latin is an ancient language that was spoken by the Romans in ancient Italy. The earliest record of Latin dates back to the 6th century BC and its script was adapted from the Etruscan alphabet (a variety of Greek alphabet). Some modern languages that are widely spoken today like French, Romanian and Italian evolved from Latin. In fact, 60–70 percent of English words come from Latin. Though it is not in use anymore—except in Vatican City where it is used as the spoken language—Latin is widely used in the scientific and legal community. In Botany, every species is given a Latin name beside a modern one. For example, the Latin name of the rose is Rosa rubiginosa.


Did you know?
Many words used in Science and Medicine were created from Latin words or are Latin words.  The word ‘bacteria’ comes from the Latin word bacterium.

Greek- It has the longest documented history of any living language—the language has been in use for 34 centuries, making it the oldest spoken language in Europe. The Greek language consists of 24 letters and the Greeks were the first to add vowels to their written language. The Ancient Greeks were the first Europeans to read and write with an alphabet. The word ‘alphabet’ itself comes from the first two letters of the Greek alphabet: alfa and beta.

Did you know?
Many English words that start with “ph” have Greek origin. For example, physics, philosophy.