List of languages by first written accounts: Wikis


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"Ancient Language" redirects here. For other uses, see ancient language (disambiguation).

This is a list of languages by first written accounts which consists of the approximate dates for the first written accounts that are known for various languages.

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 are dated to ca. 1500 BC, while the oldest known manuscript dates to the 11th century AD, corresponding to a gap of approximately 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

A very limited number of languages is attested 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 the Egyptian and a number of ancient Semitic languages, and Indo-European (Anatolian languages, Mycenaean Greek and traces of Indo-Aryan[1]). There are a number of undeciphered Bronze Age records, possibly encoding a Minoan (Cretan hieroglyphs, Linear A), a Proto-Elamite and a "Harappan language" (Indus script).

Date Language Attestation Notes
c. 3100 BC Sumerian Jemdet Nasr see Sumerian cuneiform; "proto-literate" period from about 3500 BC (see Kish tablet)
c. 2700 BC Egyptian tomb of Seth-Peribsen (2nd Dynasty, Umm el-Qa'ab see Egyptian hieroglyphs; "proto-hieroglyphic" inscriptions from about 3300 BC (Naqada III; see Abydos, Egypt, Narmer Palette)
c. 2400 BC Eblaite
c. 2300 BC Akkadian
c. 2250 BC Elamite Awan dynasty peace treaty with Naram-Sin
c. 2000 BC Hurrian fragmentary, known only from a few glosses in Hittite texts
c. 1800 BC West Semitic / proto-Canaanite Middle Bronze Age alphabets
c. 1800 BC Luwian Luwian hieroglyphs
c. 1650 BC Hittite Various cuneiform texts and Palace Chronicles written during the reign of Hattusili I, from the archives at Hattusas see Hittite cuneiform, Hittite texts
c. 1500 BC Canaanite Proto-Canaanite alphabet
c. 15th-14th / 13th century BC Greek Linear B tablet archive from Bronze Age Knossos
c. 1400 BC Hattic
c. 1300 BC Ugaritic see Ugaritic script
c. 1400 BC - 1000 BC Old Chinese Oracle bone script and bronze inscriptions[2] Because of the logographic nature of the Chinese script, it is difficult to date the age of the oldest Chinese texts, and the Shi Jing may date to as early as 1000 BC, which would still correspond to the Chinese Bronze Age. Old Chinese is a reconstructed language, dependent on the reconstruction of Middle Chinese.

First millennium BC

With the appearance of alphabetic writing in the Early Iron Age, the number of attested languages increases. With the emergence of the Brahmic family of scripts, languages of India become attested from after about 300 BC.[3]

First millennium CE

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.

1000-1500 CE

After 1500 CE

Date Language Attestation Notes
1521 Romanian Neacşu's Letter. The Cyrillic ortographic manual of Constantin Kostentschi from 1420 documents earlier written usage. [20] Four XVIth century documents, namely Codicele Voronetean, Psaltirea Scheiana, Psaltirea Hurmuzachi and Psaltirea Voroneteana, are arguably copies of XVth century originals.[21]
1530 Latvian
1535 Estonian
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.[22]
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.
ca. 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
1600 Buginese
ca. 1650 Ubykh The Seyahatname of Evliya Çelebi.
1692 Sakha (Yakut)
ca. 1695 Seri Grammar and vocabulary compiled by Adamo Gilg. No longer known to exist.[23]
1728 Swahili Utendi wa Tambuka
1743 Chinese Pidgin English
1760 Greenlandic language Kalaallisut is written with the Latin alphabet (Hans Edege)
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)
1819 Cherokee
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)
ca. 1830 Vai
1832 Gamilaraay Basic vocabulary collected by Thomas Mitchell.[24]
1833 Sesotho 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
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.
ca. 1900 Papuan languages
ca. 1900 Other Austronesian languages.
1903 Lingala
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
1984 Gooniyandi

By family

Attestation by major language family:

Constructed languages

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


  1. ^ EJVS 0703, Michael Witzel
  2. ^ Boltz, William G. (1994; revised 2003). The Origin and Early Development of the Chinese Writing System. American Oriental Series, vol. 78. American Oriental Society, New Haven, Connecticut, USA. ISBN 0-940490-18-8.
  3. ^ with earliest evidence of the presence of writing from the 6th century BC. ( article)
  4. ^ Vine, Brent. "A Note on the Duenos Inscription". Retrieved 2006-09-20.  
  5. ^
  6. ^ Rogers, Henry (2004). Writing Systems. Black Publishing. ISBN 0-6312-3464-0.   p. 204
  7. ^ Pollock, Sheldon (2003). The Language of the Gods in the World of Men: Sanskrit, Culture, and Power in Premodern India. University of California Press. ISBN 0-5202-4500-8.   p. 60
  8. ^ "The Brahmi script reached Upper South India (Andhra-Karnataka regions) and the Tamil country at about the same time during the 3rd century B.C. in the wake of the southern spread of Jainism and Buddhism" Iravatham Mahadevan (2003). Early Tamil Epigraphy from the Earliest Times to the Sixth Century A.D. Cambridge, Harvard University Press.("Early Tamil Epigraphy from the Earliest Times".   E. Annamalai, Sanford B. Steever, 'Modern Tamil' in: Sanford B. Steever (ed.) The Dravidian Languages Routledge (1998), 100–128, mention 254 BC as the date of the earliest datable inscription.
  9. ^ see tolkappiyam
  10. ^
  11. ^ "Onze Taal". Retrieved 2006-09-20.  
  12. ^ "Oldest written English?".  
  13. ^ "History of the Italian language.". Retrieved 2006-09-24.  
  14. ^ Pollock, Sheldon (2003). The Language of the Gods in the World of Men: Sanskrit, Culture, and Power in Premodern India. University of California Press. ISBN 0-5202-4500-8.   p. 289
  15. ^ Pollock, Sheldon (2003). The Language of the Gods in the World of Men: Sanskrit, Culture, and Power in Premodern India. University of California Press. ISBN 0-5202-4500-8.   p. 293
  16. ^ MORAN, J. i J. A. RABELLA (ed.) (2001). Primers textos de la llengua catalana. Proa (Barcelona). ISBN 84-8437-156-5.  
  17. ^ Various texts, among which the Servaaslegende by Hendrik van de Veldeke
  18. ^ 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.
  19. ^ "Tulu Academy yet to realise its goal". The Hindu. The Hindu Group. November 13, 2004. Retrieved 2009-10-28.  
  20. ^ Istoria Romaniei in Date, 1971, p. 87
  21. ^ Vers les sources des langues romanes: un itinéraire linguistique à travers la Romania, Eugeen Roegiest, ACCO, 2006, Apparition du Roumain standard écrit, p. 136
  22. ^ Schwaller, John Frederick (1973). "A Catalogue of Pre-1840 Nahuatl Works Held by The Lilly Library". The Indiana University Bookman 11: 69–88.  
  23. ^ Marlett, Stephen A. (1981) (PDF). The Structure of Seri.  
  24. ^ Austin, Peter K. The Gamilaraay (Kamilaroi) Language, northern New South Wales — A Brief History of Research

See also



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