I wonder that, among the oldest languages spoken today, which one is the best preserved resembling its oldest known form in terms of grammar and vocabulary. I know that we are limited in our knowledge about the language history before writing is invented so an answer starting with written languages is good enough too.

What fascinates me is a simple word like "selam" (or "shalom") used in greetings actually comes from Sumerians thousands of years ago. I wonder if there is a language which preserves its oldest known form at broader scale from thousands of years ago.

  • 2
    This question appears to be off-topic because it is about pure speculation. – curiousdannii Dec 14 '14 at 23:12
  • No one knows when human language began or what the first languages might have been like. We can be confident, however, that human language began thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of years before the invention of writing. This makes the question too speculative. – James Grossmann Dec 15 '14 at 1:33
  • "Eight, Bob. So that means that when I make a mistake, I have eight different people coming by to tell me about it. That's my only real motivation is not to be hassled, that and the fear of losing my job. But you know, Bob, that will only make someone work just hard enough not to get fired." --Office Space – Sedat Kapanoglu Dec 15 '14 at 9:15
  • Would "What is the oldest spoken language mutually intelligible with a modern one, apart from sound change?" be anywhere close to what you want to know? – Damian Yerrick May 7 '15 at 2:31
  • arabic nothing changed after the Quran has been written for about 1400 – user9838 May 26 '15 at 13:01

Everything about this question makes unwarranted assumptions about how language works.

Authentic is not a valid concept in language. Also historical similarity is always a modern construction.

At best you could ask about which language had best documented links with its earlier phases in the distant past. In that case, some candidates could be Sanskrit, Modern Greek, Modern Hebrew (a great example of conscious construction), Liturgical Coptic, Mandarin. Obviously even Latin could in some respects still make this list.

Every single one of these examples is fraught with controversy and questions about identity, continuity, evidence, etc. So while it is important to ask questions about the processes driving the development of languages, words like authentic or oldest are far too normative and politically laden to be of any use.

  • I didn't mean to use authenticity as a merit but more like a rate of closeness to the original form. Not a linguist myself, thanks for corrections and the answers! – Sedat Kapanoglu Dec 13 '14 at 13:27
  • "Original form" is also meaningless. – fdb Dec 13 '14 at 13:33
  • I edited the question and the title to avoid further confusion. "Historical similarity is always a modern construction". Does that mean everything we use today is a not a continuity but a form of revival? – Sedat Kapanoglu Dec 13 '14 at 13:35
  • @fdb I changed "original" to "oldest known". Does it make more sense now? – Sedat Kapanoglu Dec 13 '14 at 13:36
  • How about DNA? That would probably outrun anything spoken by humans by a large margin :) – wvxvw Dec 13 '14 at 22:13

It would be useful to first have a metric of change, to know whether a small amount of change over a thousand years is equivalent to twice as much change over two thousand years. Here are two candidate languages. Icelandic has been written for about 900 years, and hasn't changed much. Lithuanian has been written for about 500 years, and also hasn't changed much in that period (so Icelandic would probably be "least changed" given its longer period of attestation). But, Icelandic has changed much more from proto-Indo-European (spoken between 6 and 12 thousand years ago, depending on theory), compared to Lithuanian.

  • What makes you think that Icelandic has changed more from PIE than Lithuanian? – fdb Dec 14 '14 at 1:29
  • @fdb: whether or not that particular claim is true is irrelevant to the point though. The point is that change is hard to define, so unless the OP gives a particular definition/metric of change, this question is impossible to answer. – Lie Ryan Dec 14 '14 at 15:57

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