List of languages by first written accounts
|This article needs additional citations for verification. (September 2012)|
Because of the way languages change gradually, it is usually impossible to pinpoint when a given language began to be spoken. 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, and in rare cases, over a millennium. An extreme case is the Vedic Sanskrit of the Rigveda: the earliest parts of this text may date to c. 1700 BC,1 while the oldest known manuscript dates to the 11th century AD, a gap of over 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 separated from common Old East Norse in the 12th century, while Norwegian separated from Old West Norse around 1300.
Before 1000 BC
Writing first appeared in the Near East at the beginning of the 3rd millennium BC. A very limited number of languages are attested in the area 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 of the Egyptian and Semitic languages and
- Indo-European (Anatolian languages and Mycenaean Greek).
- Proto-Elamite script and Linear Elamite
- the Indus script (claimed to record a "Harappan language")
- Cretan hieroglyphs and Linear A (encoding a possible "Minoan language")2
- the Cypro-Minoan syllabary
|c. 2690 BC||Egyptian||Egyptian hieroglyphs in the tomb of Seth-Peribsen (2nd Dynasty), Umm el-Qa'ab3||"proto-hieroglyphic" inscriptions from about 3300 BC (Naqada III; see Abydos, Egypt, Narmer Palette)|
|c. 2600–2500 BC||Sumerian||Cuneiform texts from Shuruppak and Abu Salabikh (Fara period)45||"proto-literate" period from about 3500 BC (see Kish tablet); administrative records at Uruk and Ur from c. 2900 BC.|
|c. 2400 BC||Akkadian||A few dozen pre-Sargonic texts from Mari and other sites in northern Babylonia6||Some proper names attested in Sumerian texts at Tell Harmal from about 2800 BC.7 Fragments of the Legend of Etana at Tell Harmal c. 2600 BC.8|
|c. 2400 BC||Eblaite||Ebla tablets|
|c. 2300 BC9||Elamite||Awan dynasty peace treaty with Naram-Sin|
|21st century BC||Hurrian||Temple inscription of Tish-atal in Urkesh10|
|c. 1650 BC||Hittite||Various cuneiform texts and Palace Chronicles written during the reign of Hattusili I, from the archives at Hattusa||see Hittite cuneiform, Hittite texts|
|c. 1450 BC||Greek||Linear B tablet archive from Knossos111213|
|c. 1400 BC||Luwian||Hieroglyphic Luwian monumental inscriptions, Cuneiform Luwian tablets in the Hattusa archives14||Isolated hieroglyphs appear on seals from the 18th century BC.14|
|c. 1400 BC||Hattic||Hittite texts CTH 725–745|
|c. 1300 BC||Ugaritic||Tablets from Ugarit15||see Ugaritic alphabet|
|c. 1200 BC||Old Chinese||Oracle bone and bronze inscriptions from the reign of Wu Ding161718|
First millennium BC
The earliest known alphabetic inscriptions, at Serabit el-Khadim (c. 1500 BC), appear to record a Northwest Semitic language, though only one or two words have been deciphered. In the Early Iron Age, alphabetic writing spread across the Near East and southern Europe. With the emergence of the Brahmic family of scripts, languages of India are attested from after about 300 BC. The earliest examples of the Central American Isthmian script date from c. 500 BC, but a proposed decipherment remains controversial.19
- Phoenician - c. 1000 BC: Ahiram epitaph
- Aramaic - 10th century BC
- Hebrew - 10th century BC: Gezer calendar
- Ammonite - c. 850 BC: Amman Citadel inscription20
- Moabite - c. 840 BC: Mesha Stele
- Phrygian - c. 800 BC
- Old North Arabian - c. 800 BC
- Old South Arabian - c. 800 BC
- Etruscan - c. 700 BC: proto-Corinthian vase found at Tarquinia21
- Latin - 7th century BC: Vetusia Inscription and Fibula Praenestrina from Praeneste22
- Umbrian - c. 600 BC
- North Picene - c. 600 BC
- Lepontic - c. 600 BC
- Tartessian - c. 600 BC
- Lydian - c. 600 BC14
- Carian - c. 600 BC14
- Thracian - c. 6th century BC
- Venetic - c. 6th century BC
- Old Persian - c. 500 BC: Behistun inscription
- South Picene - c. 500 BC
- Messapian - c. 500 BC
- Gaulish - c. 500 BC
- Oscan - c. 400 BC
- Iberian - c. 400 BC
- Meroitic - c. 300 BC
- Faliscan - c. 300 BC
- Volscian - c. 275 BC
- Middle Indo-Aryan (Prakrit) - c. 260 BC: Edicts of Ashoka2324 (Pottery inscriptions from Anuradhapura have been dated c. 400 BC.2526)
- Tamil - c. 200 BC: cave inscriptions and potsherds in Tamil Nadu2728
- Galatian - c. 200 BC
- Pahlavi - c. 130–170 BC
- Celtiberian - c. 100 BC
First millennium AD
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.
- Bactrian - c. 150: Rabatak inscription
- Common Germanic/Proto-Norse - c. 160: Vimose inscriptions (c. 100 BC if the Negau helmet inscription is accepted as Germanic)
- Cham - c. 200
- Mayan - 250–300 (with brief undeciphered inscription at San Bartolo dated to 3rd century BC)29
- Gothic - c. 300: Gothic runic inscriptions
- Ge'ez - c. 300 (pre)-Ezana inscriptions
- Arabic - 328: Namara inscription
- Primitive Irish - 4th century: Ogham inscriptions
- Georgian - c. 430: inscription in a Georgian monastery founded by Peter the Iberian near Bethlehem
- Armenian - 434: Armenian Bible of Saint Mesrob Mashtots
- Kannada - c. 450: Halmidi inscription30
- West Germanic - 6th century:
- Telugu - c. 575: Erragudipadu inscription30
- Korean - 591: Sinseong (新城) Stele in Namsan (Gyeongju)3334
- Tocharian - 6th century: Dunhuang manuscripts35
- Old Irish - c. 540-600: Luin oc elaib36
- Cornish - c. 600 Phillack stone inscription CLOTUALI MOBRATTI, in modern Cornish klos-wal moh-breus, meaning glory-worthy great-judgement.37
- Cambodian - c. 600
- Udi - c. 600: Mount Sinai palimpsest M13
- Tibetan - c. 650: Tibetan Annals
- Old Malay - c. 683: Kedukan Bukit Inscription
- Welsh - c. 700: Tywyn inscriptions
- Japanese - 711–2: Kojiki
- Old Turkic - 732: Orkhon inscriptions
- Old Frisian - c. 750
- Persian - c. 750
- Maithili-769:Dohakosh by Saraha,Charyapada in Maithili
- Angika-769:Dohakosh by Saraha in Old Angika39
- Old Hindi - 769: Dohakosh by Saraha
- Mozarabic - c. 800
- Old Norse - c. 800 (runic)
- Javanese - 804: initial part of the Sukabumi inscription40
- Malayalam - 9th century: Rajasekhara inscription at Vazhappally Maha Siva Temple28
- Old French - c. 842: Oaths of Strasbourg
- Old Church Slavonic - c. 862: religious literature translated by Cyril and Methodius
- Oriya language -c. 900 charyapada
- Assamese language -c. 900 charyapada
- Bengali Language -c. 900 charyapada
- Old Occitan - c. 900: Tomida femina
- Leonese - c. 959–974: Nodicia de Kesos
- Italian - c. 960–963: Placiti Cassinesi41 (The Veronese Riddle, dated c. 800, is considered a mixture of Italian and Latin.42)
- Khitan - 986: Memorial for Yelü Yanning
- Slovene - 972–1093: Freising manuscripts
- Russian - c. 1000
- Balinese - c.1000
- Ossetic - c. 1000
- Punjabi - 1000-1150
- Marathi - c. 100043
- Basque, Aragonese and Spanish - c. 1000: Glosas Emilianensesa
- Catalan - c. 1028: Jurament Feudal44
- Middle High German - 1050 (by convention)
- Middle English - 1066 (by convention)
- Croatian - c. 1100: Baška tablet
- Danish - c. 1100 (by convention)
- Swedish - c. 1100 (by convention; the Rök Stone (c. 9th century) is often cited as the beginning of Swedish literature)
- Burmese - 1113: Myazedi inscription
- Newari - 1114: palm-leaf manuscript from Uku Bahah45
- Middle Dutch - 1150 (by convention)b
- Portuguese and/or Galician - 1189
- Serbian - between 1186 and 1190: Miroslav Gospel
- Bosnian - 1189: Charter of Ban Kulin
- Hungarian - 1192: Funeral Sermon and Prayer; there are isolated fragments in earlier charters such as the charter of Veszprém (c. 1000) and the charter of Tihany (1055).
- Finnic - c. 1200: Birch bark letter no. 292 (Finnish proper: Abckiria, 1543)
- Czech - c. 1200–1230
- Mongolian - 1224–1225: Genghis stone
- Western Lombard - c. 1250: Sordello da Goito, "Sirventese lombardesco"
- Polish - c. 1270: Book of Henryków
- Yiddish - 1272
- Thai - c. 1292
- Tigrinya - 13th century: a text of laws found in Logosarda
- Old Norwegian - c. 1300
- Batak - c.1300
- Old Prussian - c. 1350
- Kashmiri - c. 1350
- Oghuz Turkic (including Azeri and Ottoman Turkish) - c. 1350 (Imadaddin Nasimi)
- Komi - 1372
- Vietnamese - c. 1440: Quốc âm thi tập46 (isolated names in Chữ nôm date from the early 13th century)
- Albanian - 1462: Formula e Pagëzimit - Short baptismal formula in a letter of Archbishop Pal Engjëllc
- Maltese - c. 1470: Il Cantilena
- Early Modern English - 1470s (by convention)
- Yi - 1485: bronze bell inscription in Dafang County, Guizhou47
- Tulu - c. 150048
|1521||Romanian||Neacşu's Letter.||The Cyrillic orthographic manual of Constantin Kostentschi from 1420 documents earlier written usage.49 Four 16th century documents, namely Codicele Voronetean, Psaltirea Scheiana, Psaltirea Hurmuzachi and Psaltirea Voroneteana, are arguably copies of 15th century originals.50|
|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.51|
|1543||Modern Finnish||Abckiria by Mikael Agricola.|
|1547||Lithuanian||Katekizmas by Martynas Mažvydas||Katekizmas is the first printed book in Lithuanian. The earliest surviving text in Lithuanian is the hand-written Lord's Prayer and Hail Mary on a slip of paper dated between 1503 and 1525.|
|c. 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||Modern Tagalog||Doctrina Cristiana (Christian Doctrine), a book explaining the basic beliefs of Roman Catholicism|
|The Seyahatname of Evliya Çelebi.|
|1639||Guarani||Tesoro de la lengua guaraní by Antonio Ruíz de Montoya|
|c. 1695||Seri||Grammar and vocabulary compiled by Adamo Gilg.||No longer known to exist.52|
|1728||Swahili||Utendi wa Tambuka|
|1743||Chinese Pidgin English|
|1760||Greenlandic language||Kalaallisut is written with the Latin alphabet (Hans Egede)|
|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|
|1826||Aleut language||Aleut is written with the Cyrillic alphabet (loann Veniaminov)|
|1832||Gamilaraay||Basic vocabulary collected by Thomas Mitchell.53|
|1833||Sotho||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.|
|1870||Inuktitut Syllabary||Inuktitut is written with the Canadian Aboriginal Syllabary alphabet/The Netsilik adopted Qaniujaaqpait by the 1920s.(Edmund Peck)|
|1872||Venda||Reduced to writing by the Berlin Missionaries||First complete Bible translation 1936|
|1880s||Oromo||Onesimos Nesib begins to translate European texts into Oromo||Onesimos, with the help of Aster Ganno, prepared a translation of the Bible into Oromo, which was published in 1893|
|1885||Carrier language||Barkerville Jail Text, written in pencil on a board in the then recently created Carrier syllabics||Although the first known text by native speakers dates to 1885, the first record of the language is a list of words recorded in 1793 by Alexander MacKenzie.|
|c. 1900||Papuan languages|
|c. 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|
Attestation by major language family:
- Afro-Asiatic: since about the 28th century BC
- Hurro-Urartian: c. 20th century BC
- Indo-European: since about the 19th century BC
- Sino-Tibetan: c. 1200 BC
- Dravidian: 3rd century BC
- Austronesian: 3rd century AD
- Mayan: 3rd century AD
- South Caucasian: 5th century (Georgian)
- Northeast Caucasian: 7th century (Udi)
- Austroasiatic: 7th century (Khmer)
- Altaic: 8th century
- Nilo-Saharan: 9th century (Old Nubian)
- Basque: 10th century
- Uralic: 11th century
- Tai–Kadai: 13th century
- Uto-Aztecan: 16th century
- Quechuan: 16th century
- Northwest Caucasian: 17th century (Abkhaz, Adyghe, Ubykh)
- Niger–Congo (Bantu): 18th century
- Indigenous Australian languages: 18th century
- Iroquoian: 19th century
- Hmong-Mien: 20th Century
- Papuan languages: 20th century
|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|
|2005-6||Na'vi||created by Dr. Paul Frommer and James Cameron|
- Alleged finds of c. 300 Basque inscriptions at Iruña-Veleia have been exposed as a forgery.
- Various texts, among which the Servaaslegende by Heinrich von Veldeke
- A few lines in the Bellifortis text have been interpreted as being Albanian. If this interpretation is correct, it would push the earliest attestation of the language back to 1405. See Elsie, Robert - The Bellifortis Text and Early Albanian.
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