The debate on when human language developed is one that may never be resolved – there’s no recorded evidence of its beginnings, and so therefore we can only make estimated guesses on the topic. Having said that, some of our ancient languages are very old indeed – and that’s only the ones that can be confirmed due to the existence of written texts!
Egyptian - 4700 years old
With proto-hieroglyphics being dated back to 2000 BCE, Egyptian is the grandfather of written language. The most advanced civilization of their time, they developed many technological advances during the Bronze Age, including quarrying, construction techniques that led to the pyramids and a mathematics system, to name but a few. After centuries of use, the language eventually died out due to the rise of Islam (and subsequently the Arabic language) in the area and the persecution of other religions.
Sanskrit – 4000 years old
Often called “the language of the Gods”, Sanskrit the liturgical language of Hinduism, and the philosophical language for all the religions in the India/Nepal area. Amazingly, 15,000 people use it as their first language today! Sanskrit is the oldest Indo-European language that has a substantial amount of written text, and therefore is the subject of serious academic study. Though the language fell out of favour a long time ago, it is still often used at religious events.
Ancient Greek – Around 3500 years old
Ancient Greece was immensely influential on western language, arts, culture, philosophy and science, and is considered to be the base culture that the Romans built themselves on. Interestingly, as the empire was split into different city-states, only Alexander the Great of Macedonia was able to unite the empire. Through the centuries, Ancient Greek morphed into modern day Greek, and if you were to have a speaker from each language, they wouldn’t be able to understand each other.
Chinese – over 3000 years old
The only known proof of written Chinese are 3000-year-old markings in turtle shells, its thought that the language could be much older than that, perhaps even older than Egyptian. The written language has distinct symbols and characters to represent each word in the vocabulary, and therefore if you wanted to read a newspaper, you’d have to have a knowledge of around 3,000 different symbols. Similarly to Ancient Greek, a modern day reader would have a very difficult time understanding ancient Chinese.