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What Are The Oldest European Languages?

Posted by Anne Q. on February 22, 2022.

European languages have their ancient uniqueness that can tell many things about European cultures. These characteristics, however, distinguish them from one another, as well as how they have shaped today’s globe. As a result, while some languages have stood the test of time and survived the millennia, others have not.

This article will introduce the oldest European languages, which have been in use for a long time before they were written down, and some distinct traits of them. 

General Development of Language

Language is a key role to distinguish humans from other animals. To communicate, the apes employ a variety of noises and gestures. Surprisingly, despite their voices and motions, they are unable to converse like humans. Languages began to emerge on the globe between 30,000 and 100,000 years ago in Homo sapiens.

Different languages are spoken by people from various cultures around the world. When these individuals meet, they exchange cultural norms and values, resulting in the emergence of new languages. As new languages emerge, existing languages begin to go away. Different cultures’ civilizations are reflected in their languages. Languages, like everything else in the world, are always changing. As a result, some languages evolve while others fade out.

According to estimates, the total number of languages spoken in the globe is around 6,809, with 90% of those languages having fewer than 100,000 speakers. More than 1 million people speak between 150 and 200 different languages. There are approximately 357 languages spoken by barely 50 persons. Not only that but there are 46 languages with only one person speaking them.


The Indo-European Languages

Franz Bopp of Germany introduced the Indo-European world in 1816. These languages, he claims, come from Europe and parts of Asia. Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Northern India, and Bangladesh are among the Asian countries. The languages spoken in these nations are mutually intelligible. Hittite, Latin, Greek, Sanskrit, Gothic, Old Prussian, Bulgarian, old Irish, and many other languages have many of the same characteristics as European languages. Furthermore, Indo-European languages include languages spoken in Pakistan, Afghanistan, India, and Bangladesh.


The Oldest European Languages

Each language has its distinctive characteristics. Each one has something original and tells a narrative about our forefathers and culture. Let’s take a look at the 8 earliest languages in Europe.

#1. Lithuanian

Surprisingly, Lithuanian is one of the oldest surviving Indo-European languages. It is a member of the Baltic language family and its written form has a long history dating back to the 16th century. Only this language in the pool of European languages has the advantage of preserving a greater number of structural characteristics from the source languages. It has kept the long and short vowel sounds at the end of the words, unlike the Greek language. Furthermore, it emphasizes characters in the same way that the Sanskrit language does. Ancient Greek, Latin, and Sanskrit are all mutually comprehensible in Lithuanian. 

Lithuanian_European Languages

In 1918, it was designated as Lithuania’s official language. It has 32 letters and is spoken by 3 million people around the world. In 2014, Lithuanian was designated as the European Union’s official language. Because of its intricacy and beauty, this language draws linguists all around the world.


#2. Basque

Western Europe’s oldest language is Basque. This language is unrelated to any other language on the planet, and its structure is unique. It’s also unrelated to French, Spanish, or any other Romance language. Although it has borrowed some of their terminologies. The Basque language, according to many linguists, dates back to prehistoric Europe.


#3. Irish Gaelic

Being spoken in Ireland, Irish Gaelic is a Celtic language that evolved from Indo-European languages. Scottish, Gaelic, Manx, Breton, Welsh, Breton, and Cornish are other Celtic languages with similar roots. 

Irish Gaelic_European Languages

Irish Gaelic has a long history dating back to the 4th century. It was also regarded as one of the oldest forms of vernacular literature in Western Europe. Languages written in Latin are spoken in the rest of Europe. The Irish, on the other hand, chose to write in their own style. The demand for Irish Gaelic is dropping from the previous century due to political and cultural challenges. 


#3. Icelandic 

Between 800 and 1050 AD, according to Viking times, Icelandic is the Norse language, which is spoken in West and East Norse, as well as Scandinavian countries. 

Originally, Icelandic and Norwegian were Norse languages, and there was a slight distinction between them, according to the Old Testament. The distinction began to develop in the 13th century, and by the 14th century, it was obvious, that they were deemed a separate language. The Icelandic language that was spoken 20 years ago is completely different from what is spoken now.


#4. Greek

Greek, being native to Greece and Cyprus, is one of the oldest European languages, with people speaking it as far back as 1450 years before Christ. It comes from a Hellenic branch of the family. It is also regarded as one of Europe’s official languages. As a result, certain people in Ukraine, Hungary, Albania, Turkey, Romania, Australia, and Italy speak this language. Thirteen million people speak Greek as their first language.

Greek_European Language


#5. Persian

Although being classified as an ancient Indo-European language, Persian, however, is a branch of Indo-Iranian languages. It is widely spoken throughout Afghanistan, Iran, and Tajikistan. The Persian dialect that is spoken today evolved from the old Persian dialect that was spoken in 800 CE with little alterations.


#6. Sanskrit

Sanskrit is one of India’s official languages, with historical roots in Europe. As a 4000-year-old language, it belongs to the Indo-Aryan branch of the family. Sanskrit was written for the first time in the second millennium BCE. Furthermore, it is home to the world’s oldest literature.

Sanskrit_European Languages


#7. Finnish

Finnish belongs to the Finno-Ugric family of languages. Its origins can be traced back to 1500-1000 BC. The oldest written text in the Finnish language is the Birchbark letter 292 from the 13th century. Furthermore, Finnish is an official European language as well as a minority language in Sweden. It was designated as the European Union’s official language in 1955.


To Wrap Up

Understanding the languages and their history is essential for learning about our ancestors’ culture, and this article has assisted you in gaining knowledge of some ancient European languages. If you want to explore more about linguistics, check out our blog with much helpful information, and get in contact with GTE enthusiastic support team if you have any translation projects.