8 Of the Oldest Languages Still Spoken Today

It might amaze you to know that there are over 6,500 languages spoken in the world today. More amazing still is the fact that nearly every fourteen days one of those languages is in danger of dying out. The reasons for this are numerous, ranging from the fate of their speakers, to the populations speaking them, and how fast globalization is reaching across the world.

Despite these factors, there is a persistent and evident truth: language is dynamic – never static – and carries within it the earmarks of change that each culture has had to experience since the very beginning.

Perhaps even more incredible is the thought that some languages have lasted for thousands of years, and there are even some languages that are still being spoken today!  With all those factors considered, it can be really helpful to have a translation service provider to encourage the continued connection between all of these languages and their speakers, all around the globe.

No matter how old they are, most languages are subject to the changes brought on by cultural shifts that occur due to the increasing interconnectivity of our global economy. What remains unchanged, though, is that a few of some of our oldest languages are still in common use. Fortunately, our means of translation has continued to evolve too, which makes it easy to maintain our global connections as we keep even our oldest languages intact.

1. Hebrew

Number of Speakers Worldwide:  9 million

You may not know that Hebrew underwent a dormant period of about 1500 years in 400 BCE. That means, that while the language was being used in religious texts, there was a long period in history where the language went largely unspoken. When spoken Hebrew came back into use in the 19th and 20th centuries, the speakers were able to pick up where the language left off! Today, the speakers of modern Hebrew are able to read and understand the closest thing to the original language.

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2. Farsi

Number of Speakers Worldwide: 110 million

Farsi is one of the oldest languages spoken on earth today, but that doesn’t mean people can’t understand it. In fact, Farsi speakers today are able to read and understand the Persian language of 1700 years ago with more ease than an English speaker might have reading an English text of even 500 years ago. It has been so well preserved, that modern-day Farsi speakers interpret ancient texts with more ease than English readers of Shakespeare.

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3. Tamil

Number of Speakers Worldwide: 77 million

The official language of Singapore and Sri Lanka is officially the oldest spoken language in the world. It is so old, in fact, that it was declared a UNESCO classical language in 2004, and inscriptions in Tamil have been found from the year 500 BCE.

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4. Lithuanian

Number of Speakers Worldwide: 3.2 million

You may not know that even though Lithuanian is a Baltic language of only about 3.2 million speakers, this language has its roots in Sanskrit. So much so that, speakers of Lithuanian can actually recognize certain words like man (vyras) and dog (suo) when listening to the Indian language.

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5. Greek

Number of Speakers Worldwide: 13 million

The Greek language is so old, and so influential that there are Greek loan words in nearly every language in Western culture. Whether they are in reference to anatomy, astronomy, or medicine, the Greek roots are there. Even the word “alphabet” is a word that takes its meaning from the first two letters of the Greek alphabet: Alpha and Beta.

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6. Arabic

Number of Speakers Worldwide: 420 million

Besides being a language that has many sounds that don’t exist in other languages, Arabic is fascinating for many other reasons. For example, despite having an alphabet that is based on an ‘abjad’, there are actually quite a few English words that are based in Arabic. Have you ever found yourself using “coffee”, or “lemon” or “alcohol” in a conversation? You can thank the influence of Arabic for that.

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7. Basque

Number of Speakers Worldwide: 751,500

Part of the mystique of the Basque language (known as Euskadi) is that it is a language isolate; that is to say that there are no roots to be found between Euskadi and any other European language. This, of course, makes it one of the most complicated languages for native English speakers to learn! As one of the oldest languages in the world, the Basque language can be traced back to its prehistoric origins.

Explore professional Basque translation services.

8. Icelandic

Number of Speakers Worldwide: 358,000

Although Icelandic has only been declared the official language of Iceland in 2011, it is a language that has remained unchanged for hundreds of years. That means that the same Icelandic spoken today remains close, if not identical to, the dialect spoken in its earliest days. With so much history attached to it, is it any wonder modern Icelanders had to invent a word for ‘computer’?

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Knowing about where our language comes from is fascinating for everyone, but it’s actually crucial for businesses, especially when they are trying to tap into the global market. In many cases, there are so many elements of culture that are intrinsically linked within the languages we speak, and businesses could really benefit from paying close attention to those cultural influences.

Fortunately, with our extensive network of translators and localization experts, we can help you navigate any sort of sensitive language translation, to ensure that your message is reaching where it should, and to every speaker, no matter how long the language has been around. If you are looking to extend your company’s reach, please get in touch with us to start your next project!