Definitions

written record

List of languages by first written accounts

"Ancient Language" redirects here. For other uses, see ancient language (disambiguation).

This is a list of languages by first written accounts which consists of the approximate dates for the first written accounts that are known for various languages.

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.

Before 1000 BC

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.

Date Language Attestation Notes
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

First millennium BC

With the appearance of alphabetic writing in the Early Iron Age, the number of attested languages increases. With the emergence of the Brahmic family of scripts, languages of India become attested from after about 300 BC.

First millennium AD

(This list is incomplete.You can help by expanding it!)

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.

1000-1500 AD

(This list is incomplete.You can help by expanding it!)

After 1500 AD

Date Language Attestation Notes
1521 Romanian Neacşu's Letter The cyrillic ortographic manual of Constantin Kostentschi from 1420 documents earlier written usage.
1530 Latvian
1535 Estonian
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.
1545 Lithuanian
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
1600 Buginese
ca. 1650 Ubykh The Seyahatname of Evliya Çelebi.
1692 Sakha (Yakut)
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)
1819 Cherokee
1823 Xhosa John Bennie’s Xhosa Reading sheet printed at Twali Complete Bible translation 1859
ca. 1830 Vai
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.
1903 Lingala
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
1984 Gooniyandi

By family

Attestation by major language family:

Constructed languages

Date Language Attestation Notes
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

References

See also

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