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How old are languages?

Discussion in 'Etymology, History of languages and Linguistics (EHL)' started by Brioche, Feb 1, 2006.

  1. Brioche

    Brioche Senior Member

    Adelaide
    Australia English
    Can we really say that one language is older than another?

    Since all Romance languages can be traced back to Latin in an unbroken continuum, is Modern Latin (French dialect) any older or younger than Modern Latin (Romanian dialect)?
     
  2. diegodbs

    diegodbs Senior Member

    Madrid
    Spain-Spanish
    I think that the only way we have to know if one language is older than any other, is based on when the first written records appeared. Trying to establish when it was spoken is just a guess, I think.
     
  3. Roi Marphille

    Roi Marphille Senior Member

    Moronland
    Catalonia, Catalan.
    I think most of Romance languages were originated at the same time more or less. I think about 1000 years ago, I'm not sure though.
    Reg. written documents. We can't be sure if the oldest found documents are actually the oldest. It's impossible to know. Some even older documents may be found in the future somewhere. It happened. Many of documents were destroyed or missing forever.

    Basque language is credited to be the oldest still-alive language in Europe.
     
  4. judkinsc

    judkinsc Senior Member

    Indiana
    English, USA
    There's a "proto-indo-european" language, from which derives a good part of Latin and Greek, as well as what we know of Etruscan and others. I don't know a lot about it, but it's come up every once in a while during my studies of Latin and Greek, usually in the form of roots common to all such languages.
     
  5. Outsider Senior Member

    Portuguese (Portugal)
    We don't call either of them Latin anymore.

    To answer your question more directly, it's very difficult to be sure of when a particular Romance language was "born". For starters, there's the obvious fact that the transition from Latin to Romance was gradual. But, more than that, for a long time after Latin had pretty much disappeared, Romance languages were not written down, only spoken, because the few people who could write preferred to use Latin. All we know is that Romance languages formed sometime between the 5th and the 9th or 10th centuries. The oldest available document is in medieval French, but that doesn't mean that other Romance languages couldn't already be spoken, but not written, at the same time.
     
  6. judkinsc

    judkinsc Senior Member

    Indiana
    English, USA
    Provincial Latin was often not very good, anyway. The roots of the divergences from the classical Latin of Rome are likely in the provinces, where Latin was never fully assimilated.
     
  7. Outsider Senior Member

    Portuguese (Portugal)
    That doesn't explain Italian.
     
  8. judkinsc

    judkinsc Senior Member

    Indiana
    English, USA
    Languages change over time. Italian is closer to Latin than French or Spanish still. There were how many dialects of Italian before it was condensed to the Florentine dialect?

    Without a solid governmental control and language transfer, various regions become more colloquial and eventually split off into divergent dialects over time.

    Plus, the number of immigrants from the provinces to Italy proper could explain some of it.

    Other than my ideas...there's likely someone who has written something on it.
     
  9. Outsider Senior Member

    Portuguese (Portugal)
    Exactly. That's why I don't think you need to appeal to a lower quality of the Latin of the provinces, to explain the fragmentation of the language.

    According to which criteria?

    There were and still are many dialects within Italian, which is another reason why I'm always skeptical of claims that 'Italian' is closer to Latin than other Romance languages. Which brand of Italian?...
     
  10. judkinsc

    judkinsc Senior Member

    Indiana
    English, USA
    Florentine Italian, which is the standard Italian. And it's closer from my own personal view of it. The verb formation, the roots, all have changed less than the French and Spanish equivalents. Spanish is closer to Italian, and thus Latin, than French.

    I have never studied Italian, but I can make sense of it, due to my study of Latin. The same is less true of Spanish and French.
     
  11. ampurdan

    ampurdan Modstachioed modnster

    jiā tàiluó ní yà
    Català & español (Spain)
    Written Latin was Classical Latin. Spoken Latin was Vulgar Latin, which was already spoken around the time of Cicero I think. We only know about it from some "graffitti" and thinks like that. So it's very complicated. I think that the vulgar language became more and more different from the classical reference maybe already in the first centuries of our Era, but as long as there was a strong connection between the different parts of the Roman Empire, this vulgar language could evolve more or less homogeneously... But when the structure of the Roman Empire collapsed and regions became isolated from one another, vulgar Latin evolved separetly from place to place... But people only wrote in the written register, if you'll forgive the repetition, which was a poorer version of classical Latin. There was a time when this Classical Latin became uncomprehensible for the speakers of what once had been vulgar Latin... So, now when they didn't understand all the message that was being transmitted to them, we can say that the new language was born. I think that around the year 800, Charles the Great made the priests speak their sermons in the vulgar language (not the German one), in order that everybody could understand all what was being said... So, we can say that at least some proto-French was spoken then.

    Basque is not the oldest language of Europe, according to this interview
    (here) published today by the Spanish newspaper "La Vanguardia" (it's in Spanish, sorry), it's the World's oldest language.
     
  12. Outsider Senior Member

    Portuguese (Portugal)
  13. ampurdan

    ampurdan Modstachioed modnster

    jiā tàiluó ní yà
    Català & español (Spain)
    Yes Outsider, this is the first document written in proto-French (proto-Occitan..., proto-Catalan?) but I was referring to an anterior document written in Latin where orders where given to made the sermons in the Mass in the vernacular lenguage.
     
  14. ampurdan

    ampurdan Modstachioed modnster

    jiā tàiluó ní yà
    Català & español (Spain)
  15. Brioche

    Brioche Senior Member

    Adelaide
    Australia English
    Isn't claiming that Basque is the oldest language is the word equivalent to saying that Basque has remained unchanged for countless centuries?

    Can any one demonstrated that Basque has not gone through a period of proto-Basque, classical Basque, vulgar Basque, early Basque, middle Basque and modern Basque?

    Is this really any different from Italic, proto-Latin, classical Latin, vulgar Latin, early Italian, middle Italian, Modern Italiano Centrale?

    Currently there are 6 Basque dialects, demonstrating, as one would expect, that the language has changed over the years.

    So which dialect is the real Basque? The pure, unchanged for centuries, oldest language?
     
  16. Outsider Senior Member

    Portuguese (Portugal)
    Why should there be only one of those?
     
  17. ampurdan

    ampurdan Modstachioed modnster

    jiā tàiluó ní yà
    Català & español (Spain)
    I don't know, Brioche, maybe a today's Basque would have much less trouble understanding an ancient Vascon than a today's Roman would, understanding latin... Or maybe not.
    We have to separate languages at one point... Or else we would have to say that we are all speaking the same language: some purported Humanian, of which Indo-European, Latin and Romanian are a part...
     
  18. WillyLandron

    WillyLandron Senior Member

    English United States
    It is likely that a form of rudimentary speech was at least anatomically possible as far back as 900,000 years ago (Fischer 1999: 44). McWhorter posits that it is almost certain spoken language began about 150,000 years ago (5).

    Fischer, Steven Rodger. A History of Language. London: Reaktion Books, 1999.

    McWhorter, John. The Power of Babel: A Natural History of Language. New York: Harper, 2001.
     
  19. WillyLandron

    WillyLandron Senior Member

    English United States
    First of all, there are several Basques. No one form has imposed itself over the others. And second of all, pure Basque is gone forever. Most of the vocabulary is either Latin, French, or Spanish.

    Where does Basque come from? A Basque friend of mine has the best answer ever :

    "That's easy! From the mountains!"
     
  20. Brioche

    Brioche Senior Member

    Adelaide
    Australia English
    My claim, essentially, is that all languages are equally old, as there is an unbroken continuum in every natural language through the generations back to whenever human language began.

    Naturally, this does not apply to consciously invented languages, such as Volapük, Interlingua or Klingon.
     
  21. Brioche

    Brioche Senior Member

    Adelaide
    Australia English
    By definition, there can be only one oldest language.
     
  22. WillyLandron

    WillyLandron Senior Member

    English United States
    There was a linguist named Joseph Greenberg who claimed to have reconstructed the first language. This was called "Proto-World." Some people actually think this is plausible.

    My claim is that all languages come from one language or lanaguage appeared separately in separate human communities perhaps even at different times. Either one. I don't see how it makes a difference which one of these scenarios happened.

    Human language is bascially the same thing everywhere. They are just dialects of humanese.
     
  23. ampurdan

    ampurdan Modstachioed modnster

    jiā tàiluó ní yà
    Català & español (Spain)
    Ok, sure, we all speak the same language... But saying that does not make us understand eachother. So, why not keep the word language to name those entities with separate understandability?
     
  24. WillyLandron

    WillyLandron Senior Member

    English United States
    I don't know what the world «language» means. I'm going to have to leave that to someone else to discuss. I use it as a term of convenience. Basically, because I don't know what else to call it.

    I can watch Brazilian TV and understand just as much as I understand Televisión Española. Yet I don't speak Brazilian. Which is another "language" or is it? Some lingusists say it's not. Some Brazilians say they understand Uruguayos better than Lisboans.

    So in short, I have no idea.

    One thing is sure, there is a list of things that ALL languages (whatever that means) do. And there is something in our brains that makes all of us, unless we have some disease, capable of learning ANY language as soon as we can learn to talk.

    And there has never been a documented language that prevented interhuman communication. No community has ever been sealed off from the rest of the human race because their language was too different.
     
  25. Roi Marphille

    Roi Marphille Senior Member

    Moronland
    Catalonia, Catalan.
    I've been told that "la Ruta de Santiago" was a big danger for Basque language because it led to some Latinization, even that, Basque remained. It is amazing. I'd be very proud to speak Basque, the oldest still-spoken language in the world! :rolleyes:
     
  26. diegodbs

    diegodbs Senior Member

    Madrid
    Spain-Spanish
    The oldest language is that which I speak here and now, because it is made up of an endless chain that brings me back to the beginnings of language.
    Every person in this world speaks the oldest language, be it Romanian, Basque or Urdu.
    I wouldn't have liked that, more than 2000 years ago, my Iberian ancestors had been left aside of Romanization, and I am proud of all the languages, peoples and cultural influence that made me just like I am.
    I think that the real danger, both for people and languages, is to remain isolated and "pure".
     
  27. Roi Marphille

    Roi Marphille Senior Member

    Moronland
    Catalonia, Catalan.
    yes, I understand your point. Influences may be good, richness.
    What I was saying is that the Basque-speakers keep a unique heritage which is very worthy. We all know that thousands of languages disappeared but theirs remained because of this or that..., I don't really know why. I admire them for this.
     
  28. ampurdan

    ampurdan Modstachioed modnster

    jiā tàiluó ní yà
    Català & español (Spain)
    I understand your point... And a good deal of my understanding comes from the fact that you are writing in English. If you wrote in Romanian, a Romance language that I have never studied, or even in Italian, I wouldn't understand you better. I don't know how to measure mutual understandability, but I think we have to take it into account. We can say that humans share a common linguistic inheritance, but I would keep the word language for the mutually incomprehensible organized ways to talk and words, somthing like that (I mean, in addition to our linguistic capability).

    I know I speak evolved Latin when I speak Catalan, but this evolution had made Classical Latin incomprehensible for me, unless I study it.
     
  29. Outsider Senior Member

    Portuguese (Portugal)
    Not if all the 'languages' you're talking about are equally old.
    But what you had asked was:

    Upon reflection, I'm not sure that anyone claims Basque is the oldest language in Europe. (I think you meant Europe, as the oldest language in the world is probably Chinese.)
    What I have read is that archeological and linguistic evidence supports the theory that the Basques are descendants of the oldest group of modern humans to reach Europe that we know about. The earliest ancestors of the Basques seem to have arrived in Europe before the Indo-Europeans.

    No one claims that Basque has not changed.

    The date of the split between Italian and Latin may be more recent than the date of the split between Basque and whichever was its parent language, though.

    I doubt very much that any of the dialects of Basque (or any other language, for that matter) has remained 'unchanged for centuries' ever since it appeared. In that sense, there is no oldest living language.
    (I suppose there is a dead language still in use in Europe which fulfills that requirement, Latin.)
     
  30. Brioche

    Brioche Senior Member

    Adelaide
    Australia English
    Someone certainly has:
    Quote: from Ampurdan above
    Basque is not the oldest language of Europe, according to this interview
    (
    here) published today by the Spanish newspaper "La Vanguardia" (it's in Spanish, sorry), it's the World's oldest language.

    So how is Chinese the oldest language in the world?

    The Chinese spoken when the earliest Chinese was written down [1500 BC] is at least as different from Mandarin as Modern Italian is from Latin.

    The various "dialects" of Chinese are also at least as divergent as the Romance languages and dialects that sprang from Latin.
     
  31. Outsider Senior Member

    Portuguese (Portugal)
    So?

    Brioche, you won't find any real-world, natural language that is free of change, dialectal variation, and sociopolitical dimensions. That's just a fact of life.
     
  32. Istriano

    Istriano Senior Member

    -
    In this book they say
    ''Tamil is the oldest living language in the world''

    But isn't that Hebrew or Greek?

    Written Tamil and Spoken Tamil function like two languages, for example ancient Greek and modern Greek, children learn it as if it were a foreign language (8 years of schooling needed to understand, write and speak the written Tamil).
     
  33. Frank06

    Frank06 Senior Member

    Nederlands / Dutch (Belgium)
    Depends on what is meant by "the oldest living language". The language with the earliest attestation which is still spoken/written today? The longest documented history?

    Any which way, "the longest living language" doesn't tell us a lot about how old languages are.

    This short article might be of interest, though personally, I find Trask's reply to the same question more clarifying:
    Frank
     

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