In the earliest times of mankind, language was depicted with signs of hand and body. With time, the sign language changed into spoken and later written language. The development of words and language happened slowly over thousands of years, and it is not yet clear to scholars when language exactly came into being.
Among the oldest living languages in the world is Aramaic
It is not entirely possible to determine which language is older. What is possible, however, is a list of the oldest living languages still in use.
Chinese has probably one of the oldest written language forms in the world and is nearly 6,000 years old. The largest two varieties still spoken are Mandarin and Cantonese. In addition, there are many dozens of smaller dialects.
Aramaic dates back some 3,000 years from Beth Nahrin (Mesopotamia). It is one of the better-known languages through its use in the Old Testament. It was used in various disciplines and facilitated the exchange of ideas across the Middle East and Asia. It was the lingua franca of merchants and state officials in the Neo-Assyrian and Achaemenid empires. The Aramaic alphabet was used as the basis for Hebrew and Arabic.
Several Aramaic dialects are still in use today in Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon although the number of writers and speakers is decreasing. Aramaic in its various dialects is in great danger of extinction although efforts are being made to preserve and modernize its Syriac variant. When spoken Aramaic disappears, the language Jesus spoke disappears.
Greek also has a rich history of more than 3,000 years. Throughout its history, Greek has had great influence, especially on the languages of the ‘Western’ hemisphere.
The Tamil language is about 2,500 years old and derived from the Dravidian language. It may not be the oldest language, but it is in official use in several countries including Sri Lanka, Singapore and in major regions in India and Malaysia. There are about 70 million speakers of the Tamil language. It also has the one of the most ancient world literatures.
BBC’s The Forum about the Aramaic language: “An imperial language without an empire”
On June 10, 2021, BBC’s The Forum made the radio program “An imperial language without an empire” on Aramaic with scholars Prof. Holger Gzella (Ludwig-Maximilians University, Munich), Prof. Alison Salvesen (Oxford University), and Dr. Alinda Damsma (University College London). Press on the image to listen to the program on BBC Sounds.