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List of languages by first written accounts

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This is a list of languages arranged by the approximate dates of the oldest existing texts recording a complete sentence in the language. It does not include undeciphered scripts, though there are various claims without wide acceptance, which, if substantiated, would push backward the first attestation of certain languages. It also does not include inscriptions consisting of isolated words or names from a language.

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. An 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. 1500 BC,[1] while the oldest known manuscript dates to the 11th century AD, a gap of over 2,500 years. Similarly the oldest Avestan texts, the Gathas, are believed to have been composed before 1000 BC, but the oldest Avestan manuscripts date from the 13th century AD.[2]

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.

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

Further information: Bronze Age writing

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:

In East Asia towards the end of the second millennium BC, the Sino-Tibetan family was represented by Old Chinese. There are also a number of undeciphered Bronze Age records:

Date Language Attestation Notes
c. 2690 BC Egyptian Egyptian hieroglyphs in the tomb of Seth-Peribsen (2nd Dynasty), Umm el-Qa'ab[6] "proto-hieroglyphic" inscriptions from about 3300 BC (Naqada III; see Abydos, Egypt, Narmer Palette)
26th century BC Sumerian Instructions of Shuruppak, the Kesh temple hymn and other cuneiform texts from Shuruppak and Abu Salabikh (Fara period)[7][8] "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 Babylonia[9] Some proper names attested in Sumerian texts at Tell Harmal from about 2800 BC.[10] Fragments of the Legend of Etana at Tell Harmal c. 2600 BC.[11]
c. 2400 BC Eblaite Ebla tablets[12]
c. 2250 BC Elamite Awan dynasty peace treaty with Naram-Sin[13][14]
21st century BC Hurrian Temple inscription of Tish-atal in Urkesh[15]
c. 1700 BC Hittite Anitta text in Hittite cuneiform[16] Isolated Hittite words and names occur in Assyrian texts found at Kültepe, from the 19th century BC.
16th century BC Palaic Hittite texts CTH 751–754[17]
c. 1450 BC Mycenaean Greek Linear B tablet archive from Knossos[18][19][20] These are mostly administrative lists, with some complete sentences.[21]
c. 1400 BC Luwian Hieroglyphic Luwian monumental inscriptions, Cuneiform Luwian tablets in the Hattusa archives[22] Isolated hieroglyphs appear on seals from the 18th century BC.[22]
c. 1400 BC Hattic Hittite texts CTH 725–745
c. 1300 BC Ugaritic Tablets from Ugarit[23] see Ugaritic alphabet
c. 1200 BC Old Chinese Oracle bone and bronze inscriptions from the reign of Wu Ding[24][25][26]

First millennium BC

The Ahiram epitaph is the earliest substantial inscription in Phoenician.

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.

There is only fragmentary evidence for languages such as Iberian, Tartessian, Galatian, Thracian and Messapian.[27] The North Picene language of the Novilara Stele from c. 600 BC has not been deciphered.[28] The earliest examples of the Central American Isthmian script date from c. 500 BC, but a proposed decipherment remains controversial.[29]

Date Language Attestation Notes
c. 1000 BC Phoenician Ahiram epitaph[30]
10th century BC Aramaic royal inscriptions from Aramean city-states[31]
10th century BC Phoenician or Hebrew Gezer calendar[32]
c. 850 BC Ammonite Amman Citadel Inscription[33]
c. 840 BC Moabite Mesha Stele
c. 800 BC Phrygian Paleo-Phrygian inscriptions at Gordion
c. 800 BC Old North Arabian
c. 800 BC Old South Arabian
c. 700 BC Etruscan proto-Corinthian vase found at Tarquinia[34]
7th century BC Latin Vetusia Inscription and Fibula Praenestina[35]
c. 600 BC Umbrian
c. 600 BC Lydian inscriptions from Sardis[22]
c. 600 BC Carian inscriptions from Caria and Egypt[22]
c. 600 BC Faliscan Ceres inscription found at Falerii[36]
c. 550 BC South Picene Warrior of Capestrano[37]
late 6th century BC Venetic inscriptions at Este
c. 500 BC Old Persian Behistun inscription
c. 500 BC Lepontic inscriptions CO-48 from Pristino (Como) and VA-6 from Vergiate (Varese)[38][39] Inscriptions from the early 6th century consist of isolated names.
c. 500 BC Gaulish
c. 400 BC Oscan
3rd century BC Volscian Tabula Veliterna[40]
c. 260 BC Middle Indo-Aryan (Prakrit) Edicts of Ashoka[41][42] Pottery inscriptions from Anuradhapura have been dated c. 400 BC.[43][44]
c. 200 BC Tamil cave inscriptions and potsherds in Tamil Nadu[45][46]
2nd century BC Meroitic graffiti on the temple of Amun at Dukki Gel, near Kerma[47]
c. 100 BC Celtiberian Botorrita plaques
1st century BC Parthian ostraca at Nisa and Qumis[48]

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.

The Vimose inscriptions (2nd and 3rd centuries) in the Elder Futhark runic alphabet appear to record Proto-Norse names. Some scholars interpret the Negau helmet inscription (c. 100 BC) as a Germanic fragment.

Date Language Attestation Notes
c. 150 Bactrian Rabatak inscription
c. 150 Sanskrit Junagadh rock inscription of Rudradaman I[49]
c. 292 Mayan Stela 29 from Tikal[50] A brief undeciphered inscription at San Bartolo is dated to the 3rd century BC.[51]
c. 312–313 Sogdian Ancient Letters, found near Dunhuang[52]
c. 328 Arabic Namara inscription
c. 350 Ge'ez inscriptions of Ezana of Aksum[53]
c. 350 Cham Đông Yên Châu inscription found near Tra Kiêu[54]
4th century Gothic Gothic Bible, translated by Wulfila[55] A few problematic Gothic runic inscriptions may date to the early 4th century.
c. 430 Georgian Bir El Qutt inscriptions[56]
c. 450 Kannada Halmidi inscription[57] Kavirajamarga (c. 850) is the oldest literary work.[57]
c. 500 Armenian Inscription at the Tekor Basilica[58] Saint Mesrob Mashtots is traditionally held to have translated an Armenian Bible in 434.
c. 510 Old Dutch Formula for freeing a serf in the Malbergse Glossen on the Salic law[59] A word in the mid-5th century Bergakker inscription yields the oldest evidence of Dutch morphology, but there is no consensus on the interpretation of the rest of the text.[59]
6th century Tocharian manuscripts from Kucha, Karasahr and Dunhuang[60] Some Tocharian names and words have been found in Prakrit documents from Krorän dated c. 300 AD.
second half of 6th century Old High German Pforzen buckle[61]
c. 575 Telugu Erragudipadu inscription[57] Telugu place names are found in Prakrit inscriptions from the 2nd century AD.[57]
c. 591 Korean Sinseong (新城) Stele in Namsan (Gyeongju)[62][63]
c. 611 Khmer Angkor Borei inscription
c. 650 Tibetan Tibetan Annals
c. 650–700 Old Udi Sinai palimpsest M13
c. 683 Old Malay Kedukan Bukit Inscription
7th century Beja ostracon from Saqqara[64][65]
late 7th century Pyu Hpayahtaung funeral urn inscription of kings of Sri Ksetra
c. 700 Old English runic inscription on the Franks Casket The Undley bracteate (5th century) and West Heslerton brooch (c. 650) have fragmentary runic inscriptions.
c. 711–712 Japanese poems in the Kojiki
c. 732 Old Turkic Orkhon inscriptions
c. 750 Old Irish Würzburg glosses[66] Primitive Irish Ogham inscriptions from the 4th century consist of personal names, patronymics and/or clan names.[67][68]
c. 750 Persian
c. 750–900 Old Frisian Westeremden yew-stick
c. 769 Old Hindi Dohakosh by Saraha
late 8th century Breton Praecepta medica (Leyden, Codex Vossianus Lat. F. 96 A)[69] A botanical manuscript in Latin and Breton
c. 800 Old Norse runic inscriptions
c. 804 Javanese initial part of the Sukabumi inscription[70]
9th century Malayalam Rajasekhara inscription at Vazhappally Maha Siva Temple[46] Ramacaritam (12th century) is the oldest literary work.[46]
9th century Welsh Cadfan Stone (Tywyn 2)[71]
c. 842 Old French Oaths of Strasbourg
c. 862 Old Church Slavonic religious literature translated by Cyril and Methodius Developed in the Preslav Literary School and Ohrid Literary School, the two major cultural centres of the Bulgarian Empire.
c. 882 Balinese dated royal inscription[72]
c. 900 Old Occitan Tomida femina
c. 959–974 Leonese Nodicia de Kesos
c. 960–963 Italian Placiti Cassinesi[73] The Veronese Riddle (c. 800) is considered a mixture of Italian and Latin.[74]
c. 986 Khitan Memorial for Yelü Yanning
late 10th century Konkani/Marathi inscription on Bahubali statue at Shravanabelagola[75] inscription on Bahubali statue at Shravanabelagola are in Devanagari script, but the language has been in dispute between Marathi and Konkani scholars.[76][77]

1000–1500 AD

Date Language Attestation Notes
c. 972–1093 Slovene Freising manuscripts
c. 1000 Old East Slavic Novgorod Codex[78]
c. 1000 Basque, Aragonese and Spanish Glosas Emilianenses Alleged finds of c. 300 Basque inscriptions at Iruña-Veleia have been exposed as a forgery.
c. 1028 Catalan Jurament Feudal[79]
c. 1050 Middle High German by convention
c. 1066 Middle English by convention
11th century Mozarabic kharjas appended to Arabic and Hebrew poems[80] Isolated words are found in glossaries from the 8th century.[81]
c. 1100 Croatian Baška tablet
c. 1100 Danish by convention
c. 1100 Ossetian Zelančuk inscription[82]
c. 1100 Swedish by convention; the Rök Stone (c. 9th century) is often cited as the beginning of Swedish literature
c. 1106 Irish Lebor na hUidre ("Book of the Dun Cow")
c. 1113 Burmese Myazedi inscription
c. 1114 Newari palm-leaf manuscript from Uku Bahah[83]
c. 1160–1170 Middle Dutch Het Leven van Sint Servaes ("Life of Saint Servatius") by Heinrich von Veldeke[84]
c. 1175 Galician-Portuguese Pacto dos Irmãos Pais and A Notícia de Fiadores[85] The will of Afonso II of Portugal, dated 1214, is often cited as the first document written in Portuguese.
c. 1186–1190 Serbian Miroslav Gospel
c. 1189 Bosnian Charter of Ban Kulin
c. 1192 Old Hungarian 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).
c. 1200 Finnic Birch bark letter no. 292 Finnish proper: 1543, Abckiria.
c. 1200–1230 Czech founding charter of the Litoměřice chapter
c. 1224–1225 Mongolian Genghis stone
early 13th century Punjabi poetry of Fariduddin Ganjshakar
early 13th century Cornish prophesy in the cartulary of Glasney College[86] A 9th century gloss in De Consolatione Philosophiae by Boethius: ud rocashaas is controversially interpreted.[87][88]
c. 1250 Kashmiri Mahanayakaprakash ("Light of the supreme lord") by Shitikantha[89]
c. 1270 Old Polish Book of Henryków
c. 1272 Yiddish blessing in the Worms mahzor
c. 1274 Western Lombard Libro de le tre scritture, by Bonvesin de la Riva
c. 1292 Thai Ramkhamhaeng stele Some scholars argue that the stele is a forgery.
13th century Tigrinya a text of laws found in Logosarda
c. 1300 Old Norwegian
c. 1300 Batak
c. 1350 Oghuz Turkic (including Azeri and Ottoman Turkish) Imadaddin Nasimi
c. 1369 Old Prussian Basel Epigram[90]
c. 1372 Komi Abur inscriptions
c. 1440 Vietnamese Quốc âm thi tập[91] Isolated names in Chữ nôm date from the early 13th century.
c. 1462 Albanian Formula e Pagëzimit, a baptismal formula in a letter of Archbishop Pal Engjëll Some scholars interpret a few lines in the Bellifortis text (1405) as Albanian.[92]
c. 1470 Maltese Il Cantilena
c. 1470s Early Modern English by convention
c. 1485 Yi bronze bell inscription in Dafang County, Guizhou[93]
15th century Tulu inscriptions in an adaptation of Malayam script[94]

After 1500

Date Language Attestation Notes
c. 1503 Lithuanian Hand-written Lord's Prayer, Hail Mary and Creed[95] Katekizmas (1547) by Martynas Mažvydas was the first printed book in Lithuanian.
c. 1517 Belarusian Psalter of Francysk Skaryna
c. 1521 Romanian Neacșu's Letter The Cyrillic orthographic manual of Constantin Kostentschi from 1420 documents earlier written usage.[96] Four 16th century documents, namely Codicele Voronetean, Psaltirea Scheiana, Psaltirea Hurmuzachi and Psaltirea Voroneteana, are arguably copies of 15th century originals.[97]
c. 1530 Latvian Nicholas Ramm's translation of a hymn
c. 1535 Estonian Wanradt-Koell catechism
c. 1536 Modern Portuguese Grammatica da lingoagem portuguesa by Fernão de Oliveira. by convention.[98]
c. 1543 Modern Finnish Abckiria by Mikael Agricola.
c. 1550 Classical Nahuatl Doctrina cristiana en lengua española y mexicana[99] The Breve y mas compendiosa doctrina cristiana en lengua mexicana y castellana (1539) was possibly the first printed book in the New World. No copies are known to exist today.[99]
c. 1550 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.
c. 1554 Wastek A grammar by Andrés de Olmos
c. 1557 Kikongo A catechism[100]
c. 1561 Old Ukrainian Peresopnytsia Gospel
c. 1593 Tagalog Doctrina Cristiana
c. 1600 Buginese
c. 1610 Manx Book of Common Prayer[101]
c. 1639 Guarani Tesoro de la lengua guaraní by Antonio Ruíz de Montoya
c. 1650 Ubykh, Abkhaz, Adyghe and Mingrelian Travel Book of Evliya Çelebi[102]
c. 1651 Pashto copy of Xayru 'l-bayān in the library of the University of Tübingen[103] The Pata Khazana, purporting to date from the 8th century, is considered by most scholars to be a forgery.[103]
c. 1693 Tunisian Arabic Copy of a Tunisian poem written by Sheykh Hassan el-Karray [104] Before 1700, lyrics of songs were not written in Tunisian Arabic but in Classical Arabic. Even though Tunisian Arabic existed before, it was only used orally.[104]
c. 1695 Seri Grammar and vocabulary compiled by Adamo Gilg No longer known to exist.[105]
c. 1728 Swahili Utendi wa Tambuka
c. 1736 Greenlandic Grönländische Grammatica by Paul Egede[106] A poor-quality wordlist was recorded by John Davis in 1586.[107]
c. 1743 Chinese Pidgin English sentence recorded in Macau by George Anson[108]
c. 1800 Inuktitut "Eskimo Grammar" by Moravian missionaries[106] A list of 17 words was recorded in 1576 by Christopher Hall, an assistant to Martin Frobisher.[106][107]
c. 1806 Tswana Heinrich LictensteinUpon the Language of the Beetjuana First complete Bible translation in 1857 by Robert Moffat
c. 1819 Cherokee Sequoyah's Cherokee syllabary
c. 1820 Maori Grammar by Thomas Kendall and Samuel Lee Kendal began compiling wordlists in 1814.
c. 1820 Aleut Description by Rasmus Rask A short word list was collected by James King in 1778.
c. 1823 Xhosa John Bennie's Xhosa reading sheet Complete Bible translation 1859
c. 1833 Vai Vai syllabary created by Momolu Duwalu Bukele.
c. 1833 Sotho Reduced to writing by French missionaries Casalis and Arbousset First grammar book 1841 and complete Bible translation 1881
c. 1837 Zulu First written publication Incwadi Yokuqala Yabafundayo First grammar book 1859 and complete Bible translation 1883
c. 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.
c. 1851 Sakha (Yakut) Über die Sprache der Jakuten, a grammar by Otto von Böhtlingk Wordlists were included in Noord en Oost Tartarije (1692) by Nicolaas Witsen and Das Nord-und Ostliche Theil von Europa und Asia (1730) by Philip Johan von Strahlenberg.
c. 1856 Gamilaraay Articles by William Ridley[109] Basic vocabulary collected by Thomas Mitchell in 1832.
c. 1872 Venda Reduced to writing by the Berlin Missionaries First complete Bible translation 1936
c. 1882 Mirandese O dialecto mirandez by José Leite de Vasconcelos[110] The same author also published the first book written in Mirandese: Flores mirandezas (1884)[111]
c. 1885 Carrier 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. 1885 Motu Grammar by W.G. Lawes
c. 1891 Galela grammatical sketch by M.J. van Baarda[112]
c. 1893 Oromo Translation of the New Testament by Onesimos Nesib, assisted by Aster Ganno
c. 1901 Guugu Yimithirr Description by Walter Roth Several words were recorded by James Cook's crew in 1770.
c. 1903 Lingala
c. 1940 Kamoro materials by Peter Drabbe[112] A Kamoro wordlist recorded in 1828 by Modera and Müller, passengers on a Dutch ship, is the oldest record of any of the Papuan languages.[112][113]
c. 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
c. 1982 Gooniyandi survey by William McGregor[114]

By family

Attestation by major language family:

Constructed languages

Further information: Constructed language
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
2005–6 Na'vi created by Dr. Paul Frommer and James Cameron
2009 Dothraki created by George R. R. Martin and David J. Peterson for Game of Thrones

See also

References

Notes
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  2. ^ Hale, Mark (2008). "Avestan". In Woodward, Roger D. The Ancient Languages of Asia and the Americas. Cambridge University Press. pp. 101–122. ISBN 978-0-521-68494-1. 
  3. ^ Woodard (2008), p. 2.
  4. ^ "Linear A – Undeciphered Writing System of the Minoans". Archaeology.about.com. 2013-07-13. Retrieved 2013-09-17. 
  5. ^ Woodard (2008), p. 3.
  6. ^ Allen, James P. (2003). The Ancient Egyptian Language. Cambridge University Press. p. 2. ISBN 978-1-107-66467-8. 
  7. ^ Hayes, John (1990). A Manual of Sumerian: Grammar and Texts. Malibu, CA.: UNDENA. pp. 268–269. ISBN 0-89003-197-5. 
  8. ^ Woods (2010), p. 87.
  9. ^ Hasselbach, Rebecca (2005). Sargonic Akkadian: A Historical and Comparative Study of the Syllabic Texts. Otto Harrassowitz Verlag. p. 8. ISBN 978-3-447-05172-9. 
  10. ^ Andrew George, "Babylonian and Assyrian: A History of Akkadian", In: Postgate, J. N., (ed.), Languages of Iraq, Ancient and Modern. London: British School of Archaeology in Iraq, pp. 31–71.
  11. ^ Clay, Albert T. (2003). Atrahasis: An Ancient Hebrew Deluge Story. Book Tree. p. 34. ISBN 978-1-58509-228-4. 
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  22. ^ a b c d Baldi (2002), p. 30.
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  24. ^ Bagley (1999), pp. 181–182.
  25. ^ Keightley (1999), pp. 235–237.
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  28. ^ Woodard (2008), p. 4.
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  38. ^ Lexicon Leponticum, by David Stifter, Martin Braun and Michela Vignoli, University of Vienna.
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  40. ^ Baldi (2002), p. 140.
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