Language has been around for almost as long as humans have, in one form or another. However, the written word is much less common. In this article we’ll look at some of the oldest forms of writing that have been discovered, some of which were written in languages that are still used to this day.
The modern Egyptian language is nothing like the ancient one, much like modern Egypt is nothing like the one of old. Hieroglyphs were the form of writing used in ancient times. These were works of art, much like the Chinese and Japanese languages today, only more visual. These can be found throughout the ancient Egyptian world, but one of the first forms of them discovered dates back to 2690 BC.
What may surprise some of you is that this writing wasn’t reserved for tombs and stylish graffiti. Not too long after this first form of written Egyptian was discovered, there were “war correspondents” who would follow pharaohs around and write on stone tablets about their exploits, much in the way that modern journalists do. This is the first form of written language we have, found on an Egyptian tomb, but the fact that such a thing existed not long after this suggests that things were much more advanced than a few scribbles on a tomb wall.
Created around the same time as the oldest Hieroglyphs still in existence, there exists a Sumerian hymn that was written in the Sumerian language. Known as Instructions of Shuruppak, this was found alongside some other texts from the same period, written in the same language.
The modern Greek language is different to the ancient one, so much so that it is taught as a separate language in some advanced Greek language schools and talking ancient Geek to a modern Greek speaker would get you nowhere (and vice versa). Still, this ancient language, laws and culture was what spawned the modern one and what spawned the modern civilized world on the whole.
The first Greek writing that has been found was created back in 1400 BC, written on a tablet from Knossos.
Written in Old Chinese, there exists an inscription that was dated as far back as 1200 BC, hailing from the reign of Wu Ding. This is actually the earliest example of the Old Chinese language and the dates often put forward for the historic use of this language (12th Century BC to 3rd Century BC) exist because of this inscription. Of course, the language is likely to have been used for some time before that suggested period.
One of the earliest recorded writings from a language that is still in use today comes from 329 AD, which is when the Namara Inscription was written in the Arabic language, a language that would later go on to dominate large parts of Asia, before moving into (and then out of) Spain and parts of North Africa.
By contrast, the first use of English, as Old English, was 300 years later, whereas Modern English was still another 1,000 years or so away.