Because of the way languages change gradually, it is usually impossible to pinpoint when a given language began to be spoken with any precision. In many cases, some form of the language had already been spoken (and even written) considerably earlier than the dates of the earliest extant samples provided here.
There are also various claims regarding still-undeciphered scripts without wide acceptance, which, if substantiated, would push backward the first attestation of certain languages.
A written record may encode a stage of a language corresponding to an earlier time — either as a result of oral tradition, or because the earliest source is a copy of an older manuscript that was lost. Oral tradition of epic poetry may typically bridge a few centuries, but in rare cases, over a millennium. An extreme case is the Vedic Sanskrit of the Rigveda: the earliest parts of this text are dated to ca. 1500 BC, while the oldest known manuscript dates to the 11th century AD, corresponding to a gap of approximately 2,500 years.
For languages that have developed out of a known predecessor, dates provided here are subject to conventional terminology. For example, Old French developed gradually out of Vulgar Latin, and the Oaths of Strasbourg (842) listed are the earliest text that is classified as "Old French". Similarly, Danish and Swedish separate from common Old East Norse in the 12th century, while Norwegian separates from Old West Norse around 1300.
A very limited number of languages is attested from before the Bronze Age collapse and the rise of alphabetic writing: The Sumerian, Hurrian, Hattic and Elamite language isolates, Afro-Asiatic in the form the Egyptian and a number of ancient Semitic languages, and Indo-European (Anatolian languages, Mycenaean Greek and traces of Indo-Aryan). There are a number of undeciphered Bronze Age records, possibly encoding a Minoan (Cretan hieroglyphs, Linear A), a Proto-Elamite and a "Harappan" (Indus script) language.
|c. 3100 BC||Sumerian||Jemdet Nasr||see Sumerian cuneiform; "proto-literate" period from about 3500 BC (see Kish tablet)|
|c. 2700 BC||Egyptian||tomb of Seth-Peribsen (2nd Dynasty, Umm el-Qa'ab||see Egyptian hieroglyphs; "proto-hieroglyphic" inscriptions from about 3300 BC (Naqada III; see Abydos, Egypt, Narmer Palette)|
|c. 2400 BC||Eblaite|
|c. 2300 BC||Akkadian|
|c. 2250 BC||Elamite||Awan dynasty peace treaty with Naram-Sin|
|c. 2000 BC||Hurrian|
|c. 1800 BC||West Semitic / proto-Canaanite||Middle Bronze Age alphabets|
|c. 1800 BC||Luwian||Luwian hieroglyphs|
|c. 1650 BC||Hittite||Various cuneiform texts and Palace Chronicles written during the reign of Hattusili I, from the archives at Hattusas||see Hittite cuneiform, Hittite texts|
|c. 1500 BC||Canaanite||Proto-Canaanite alphabet|
|c. 15th-14th / 13th century BC||Greek||Linear B tablet archive from Bronze Age Knossos|
|c. 1400 BC||Hattic||fragmentary, known only from a few glosses in Hittite texts|
|c. 1300 BC||Ugaritic||see Ugaritic script|
|c. 1200 BC||Chinese language||Oracle bone inscriptions from the Shang capital at Anyang||see also Chinese script|
From Late Antiquity, we have for the first time languages with earliest records in manuscript tradition (as opposed to epigraphy). Thus, Old Armenian is first attested in the Armenian Bible translation.
|1521||Romanian||Neacşu's Letter||The cyrillic ortographic manual of Constantin Kostentschi from 1420 documents earlier written usage.|
|1539||Classical Nahuatl||Breve y mas compendiosa doctrina cristiana en lengua mexicana y castellana||Possibly the first printed book in the New World. No copies are known to exist today.|
|1543||Modern Finnish||Abckiria by Mikael Agricola.|
|ca. 1550||New Dutch/Standard Dutch||Statenbijbel||The Statenbijbel is commonly accepted to be the start of Standard Dutch, but various experiments were performed around 1550 in Flanders and Brabant. Although none proved to be lasting they did create a semi-standard and many formed the base for the Statenbijbel.|
|1554||Wastek||A grammar by Andrés de Olmos.|
|1593||Tagalog||Doctrina Cristiana (Christian Doctrine), a book explaining the basic beliefs of Roman Catholicism|
|ca. 1650||Ubykh||The Seyahatname of Evliya Çelebi.|
|ca. 1695||Seri||Grammar and vocabulary compiled by Adamo Gilg.||No longer known to exist.|
|1728||Swahili||Utendi wa Tambuka|
|1743||Chinese Pidgin English|
|1770||Guugu Yimithirr||Words recorded by James Cook's crew.|
|1806||Tswana||Heinrich Lictenstein - Upon the Language of the Beetjuana||First complete Bible translation in 1857 by Robert Moffat|
|1814||Māori language||systematic orthography from 1820 (Hongi Hika)|
|1823||Xhosa||John Bennie’s Xhosa Reading sheet printed at Twali||Complete Bible translation 1859|
|1832||Gamilaraay||Basic vocabulary collected by Thomas Mitchell.|
|1833||Sesotho||Reduced to writing by French missionaries Casalis and Arbousset||First grammar book 1841 and complete Bible translation 1881|
|1837||Zulu||First written publication Incwadi Yokuqala Yabafundayo||First grammar book 1859 and complete Bible translation 1883|
|1844||Afrikaans||Letters by Louis Henri Meurant (published in Eastern Cape newspaper - South Africa)||Followed by Muslim texts written in Afrikaans using Arabic alphabet in 1856. Spelling rules published in 1874. Complete Bible published 1933.|
|1872||Venda||Reduced to writing by the Berlin Missionaries||First complete Bible translation 1936|
|ca. 1900||Papuan languages|
|ca. 1900||Other Austronesian languages.|
|1968||Southern Ndebele||Small booklet published with praises of their kings and a little history||Translation of the New Testament of the Bible completed in 1986 - translation of Old Testament ongoing|
|1879||Volapük||created by Johann Martin Schleyer|
|1887||Esperanto||Unua Libro||created by L. L. Zamenhof|
|1907||Ido||based on Esperanto|
|1917||Quenya||created by J. R. R. Tolkien|
|1928||Novial||created by Otto Jespersen|
|1935||Sona||Sona, an auxiliary neutral language||created by Kenneth Searight|
|1943||Interglossa||Later became Glosa||created by Lancelot Hogben|
|1951||Interlingua||Interlingua-English Dictionary||created by the International Auxiliary Language Association|
|1955||Loglan||created by James Cooke Brown|
|1985||Klingon||created by Marc Okrand|
|1987||Lojban||based on Loglan, created by the Logical Language Group|
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