I believe a complex language in necessary for a religious ideology involving man, mind, awareness, material world, immaterial world and such to be passed on. Was sanskrit the first language that was sufficiently complex to convey these kinds of ideas or were there earlier ones? Would a proto-language been good enough for this or is not enough known about them?

  • 1
    Do you suggest Sumerian which was used 6000 years ago for all the spheres of society including religious ideology wasn't "complex" enough? What do you mean by "complex"? If the religious ideology is banging one's head against the wall saying, "Lord, get us out of here!" will a "simple" language suffice?
    – Yellow Sky
    Aug 5, 2015 at 15:39

1 Answer 1


You are demonstrably wrong in your belief. Apart from the fact that your definition of "complexity" is far too simplistic and not subject to any kind of measurement, the question of language commensurability has long been settled in linguistics. Perhaps most famously, Sapir summarized the position thus in 1921:

When it comes to linguistic form, Plato walks with the Macedonian swineherd, Confucius with the head-hunting savage of Assam.

He's referring to the fact that all languages exhibit sufficient syntactic and morphological complexity to be put to any use a human mind can put them.

However, that does not necessarily mean that all languages will have developed the vocabulary to describe some of the issues that Plato or Confucius deal with. But that has little to do with complexity. Many of the languages that used to be called primitive address vast biological taxonomies, kinship structures with fine distinctions and subtle cosmogonies. All of these Plato or Confucius would find difficult to address. Also, we should not confuse specialised vocabulary (such as that used by theologians, nuclear physicists or chartered accountants) with complexity.

All this obviously applies historically as well synchronically. Therefore, not only was Sanskrit not the first 'complex' language, it was not anywhere near the stage where language first achieved the structure and complexity it has now. No language prior to about 6000 years ago has been recorded but the material culture in evidence suggest complex communication tens of thousands of years into the past. However, this brings us to questions of the evolution of language complexity in general which are far outside what can be addressed in this context.

There have been some attempts recently to slightly soften this strict commensurability stance but certainly not to the degree your question expects.

  • maybe I should have asked which was the first language to lay out a theological doctrine. It seems the two oldest were Sanskrit and Aramaic which came out with very different doctrines.
    – Anoop Alex
    Aug 6, 2015 at 5:19
  • 3
    Even that is not true. A sensible question would be which is the earliest recorded theological doctrine. And even here Sanskrit (or more appropriately language of the Vedas) is at least a millennium younger than some of the earliest Summerian or Egyptian writing. Wikipedia has a nice chronology: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ancient_literature#List_of_ancient_texts. Aug 6, 2015 at 6:19

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.