Tuesday December 11, 2018

World’s oldest Languages: 10 spoken in world today

Over the years, languages have taken up many forms diverging from different roots. These ten languages have survived the threat of extinction and are still spoken around the world today.

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10 oldest languages
One of the 10 oldest languages: The Torah is the holy book for the Jews. It is written in Hebrew, the Jewish language. Wikimedia
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June 7, 2017: 

Lingual identity is a part of community’s identity. Over the centuries of societal evolution, languages have evolved too. The languages that were born many years ago have provided the basis for some of the contemporary languages that we see today. However, these 10 of the world’s oldest languages still live today. 

Lithuanian

Lithuanian is the oldest surviving Indo-European Language. It is related to Sanskrit, Latin, and Ancient Greek. Around 4 million people in the world today speak Lithuanian. It was added to the official languages of the European Union in 2004. 

Oldest Lithuanian Book. Wikimedia

Farsi

Farsi is the name given to the Persian language in Iran and is the official language of the country. It is primarily spoken in Iran and Afghanistan. 

Farsi Alphabets. Wikimedia

Icelandic

About three and a half million people are estimated to speak the Icelandic language today. It’s spoken in Iceland and in Northern Ireland. It was named the official language of Iceland only in 2011! The language is so historically old that words had to be introduced by the language purists. Icelandic did not have the word for ‘computer’, so the people came up with one.

Extract of Icelandic language. Wikimedia

Finnish

Along with Swedish, Finnish is the official language of Finland. Around 7 million people in the world speak Finnish. The language emerged in written form only in the 16th century!

The first page of Abckiria (1543), the first book written in the Finnish language. Wikimedia

Georgian

Georgian is the biggest Kartvelian language. It is the official language of Georgia. So about 4 million people in Georgia speak the language and an additional 5 hundred thousand abroad. It is the only Caucasian language with an ancient literary tradition.

Georgian Language. Wikimedia Commons.

Basque

A mystery to the linguistics, Basque is spoken by Basque people in France and Spain. There is evidence that it existed long before the birth of romantic languages- before the Romans brought with themselves Latin to the European land. 

Location between France and Spain where Basque langue exists. Wikimedia Commons.

Hebrew

The Jewish language fell out of common usage back in 400 CE, but the Zionist movement popularized the language once again. While the Jews in Western Europe continued to speak the European language that prevailed on land, the Eastern European Jews sought a Jewish homeland in Israel and began using the Hebrew to establish Jewish solidarity. 

Tamil

There is compelling evidence that Jewish language Hebrew is in fact derived from Tamil. It was the Asura language of the Babylonians. Many African languages are derived from Tamil as well. Because of its antiquity, it is was declared a classical language by UNESCO. The official language of Sri Lanka and Singapore is spoken by 78 million people worldwide. 

Ancient Tamil Script – Tanjore Bragadeeshwara temple. Wikimedia Commons.

Macedonian

The Macedonian language dates further back than the origin of the Slavic languages. It shares the same dialectic continuum as Bulgarian. It is the official language of the Republic of Macedonia. 

Macedonian Language. Wikimedia Commons.

Irish Gaelic

Gaelic (called Gaeilge) is the official language of Ireland. It is called Irish Gaelic to differentiate it from Scottish Gaelic. It was used by the Celtics. The study of language is compulsory for school children. 

Advertisement in Irish Gaelic. Wikimedia

Though there exist many other languages that are counted amongst the oldest in the world- The two most popular and oldest being Sanskrit and Latin, from which contemporary languages have emerged, but the number of people still using this language is substantially small. Back in 2001, Sanskrit was estimated to be spoken by 15,000 people as their native language. The influence of Latin is also seen in various other languages (and fields) but as such the language is not spoken today.

by Saksham Narula of NewsGram. Twitter: @Saksham2394

 

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Angola Fossils Bring A New But Familiar Ocean in View

These fossils are the patrimony of Angola, these are their heritage, and for us to be able to bring them to the Smithsonian and ultimately back to Angola.

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Angola Fossils
This full-size fossil reconstruction of a sea turtle from the prehistoric South Atlantic looks very similar to the giant sea turtles which still swim in our oceans today. VOA

Some may be familiar with mythical sea monsters. For example, Scotland’s infamous Loch Ness Monster “Nessie,” and Giganto — fictional beasts of comic book fame. But millions of years ago, real-life sea monsters lived and thrived in what we now call the South Atlantic Ocean.

South Atlantic Ocean basin

As the continents of South America and Africa separated millions of years ago, scientists say a fantastic array of ferocious predators and other lifeforms colonized the newly formed body of water off the coast of Angola.

That diverse collection of marine reptiles included mosasaurs (aquatic lizards), plesiosaurs (which exhibited broad flat bodies, large paddlelike limbs, and typically a long flexible neck and small head), and the more familiar giant sea turtles.

But a catastrophic asteroid that hit earth 66 million years ago wiped most of them out, according to scientists.

Today, thanks to a project called Projecto PaleoAngola among Angolan, American, Portuguese and Dutch researchers, paleontologists have been able to visit the coastal cliffs of Angola to excavate and study what remains of these giant animals.

“We knew that there were fossils there, we just didn’t know how good they would be,” says Louis Jacobs, collaborating curator and professor emeritus of paleontology at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas.

“Nobody had been there, so this was a vast, unknown terrain and we wanted to get there.”

A 72-million year-old ecosystem

What the team of paleontologists discovered was a treasure trove, giving them an unprecedented look into a strange yet familiar ecosystem.

In addition to mosasaurs, plesiosaurs and sea turtles, there were fossilized remains of a variety of fish and other marine life forms.

Angola, fossils
Modern cliffs of coastal Angola where Projecto PaleoAngola paleontologists excavate fossils of life that once lived in Angola’s ancient seas. VOA

While mosasaurs have been known to exist on all continents and are relatively common in certain places, this particular sample is the largest collection of southern hemisphere mosasaurs known, according to the paleontologists.

“It’s certainly the best locality for these kinds of animals in sub-Saharan Africa and it could be one of the best in the world,” Jacobs said.

Rediscovering a lost world

Eleven authentic fossils from Angola’s ancient seas, full-size reconstructions of a mosasaur and an ancient sea turtle are on display for the first time in a new exhibit at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, titled “Sea Monsters Unearthed: Life in Angola’s Ancient Seas.”

There are also 3-D scanned replicas of mosasaur skulls, and photo-murals and video vignettes transport visitors to field sites along Angola’s modern rugged coast, where Projecto PaleoAngola scientists unearthed the fossil remains from this lost world.

 

Angola, fosiils
The seafaring lizard Prognathodon kianda was a top predator in the Cretaceous waters. Scientists named this species after Kianda, the ruler of the ocean in Angolan mythology. VOA

 

Jacobs, who was part of a team of scientists and students at SMU that helped prepare the fossils for the Smithsonian exhibit, says any visitor “can look and see and compare how the ecosystem and its animals of the cretaceous of 72 million years ago are similar to ecosystems today in the same general areas.”

“The species are different, but the ecological jobs of the species are very similar,” he added.

Giant lizards

Michael Polcyn, senior research fellow at SMU, pointed out an example in the exhibit.

Standing in front of a fossil skull and partial skeleton of a mosasaur, he described the reptile as an “optimized fish eater.”

“You see the long narrow snout, the interlocking teeth — this would be similar to what you would see in the ocean today, in a dolphin for instance,” he said.

He gestured to a graphic posted on the display case depicting a rough toothed dolphin which it described as “the analog for the animal in the modern ecosystem.”

Angola Fossils
An artist’s rendering of Angola’s Cretaceous seas 72 million years ago, dominated by many species of large, carnivorous marine reptiles. VOA

Shell-crushing mosasaur

Another great example of diversity within that ancient ecosystem is the hardshell-eating mosasaur, Polcyn said, which preyed on large oysters which were almost a meter (three feet) across.

“They were really big, so to crack an oyster three feet across you needed the dentition and the musculature to do that, and that’s what you see here in these very strange mushroom-shaped teeth that you see in this animal,” Polcyn explained.

Within the same ecosystem was another example of a top predator, the Prognathodon kianda. Its full-scale skeleton on display in the museum is almost eight meters long.

In addition to top predators like the monster-like mosasaur, the exhibit also includes fossils of gentler creatures; small fish and an ancient giant sea turtle.

“We have a snapshot of this moment in time 72 million years ago that has preserved all of these animals that were living together in one place,” Polcyn said.

Angola Fossils
This mosasaur fossil skull shows how its mushroom-shaped teeth were optimized to crack hard-shell prey like giant oysters. VOA

The big dig

Jacobs says the fossil find in Angola was a big deal for a number of reasons:

“First of all because it’s going into a country that never really had a heritage of fossils,” he said. “It basically was unknown at the level that we are opening it up.”

“Fossils,” he says, “instill a sense of pride in what’s in the country, and it provides something to use for education, and it builds science. And the way it builds science is because every country has fossils, so every country has something to offer, so every country is a piece of the puzzle and the Angola piece is now there.”

Michael Polcyn agrees that unearthing this cache of ancient fossils has been a huge breakthrough on a number of fronts.

Also Read: New Artifacts Found in Cairo, Egypt: Archaeologists

“From a purely scientific point of view it gives us an incredible window into an ecosystem 72 million years ago that is relatively complete,” he says. “From a very human point of view this really shows the people of Angola, and the people of the world, what incredible resources we have in our natural environments.”

And lastly, he says, “These fossils are the patrimony of Angola, these are their heritage, and for us to be able to bring them to the Smithsonian and ultimately back to Angola, on a very personal level, is a thrill for us.” (VOA)