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For you language buffs out there...

Is Sanskrit a spoken language or a written language or both?

What is the oldest known written language?

What is the oldest known spoken language?


( 18 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 10th, 2007 04:49 pm (UTC)
Somehow I thought that the world's oldest written language was cuniform.
Sep. 10th, 2007 05:56 pm (UTC)
I believe this to be correct. Oldest written language where we actually have any clue how it might have been spoken might be ancient Egyptian, or possibly Aramaic. Oldest continuously spoken and written language would probably be either Sanskrit or Hebrew. No way to know what the oldest spoken language (now dead) would be.
Sep. 10th, 2007 06:23 pm (UTC)
Cuneiform is a script, not a language. It was used first in Sumerian, then later in Akkadian and a few others.

The oldest "spoken" langauge is trickier without knowing how she defines it.
Sep. 10th, 2007 06:31 pm (UTC)
We have some clue about the pronunciation of Sumerian, thanks to various dual texts of poems in Akkadian and the later transition to a more syllabic use of the cuneiform signs. It's probably not the oldest pronunciation, but it's something at least.

Ooh, here, wikipedia to the rescue -- their page on Sumerian language is pretty useful.
Sep. 10th, 2007 04:51 pm (UTC)
Oldest known written/spoken language currently in use, or all together? We probably wouldn't know the oldest spoken one not in use, if it was never written independently.

linguaphiles might be a good resource.
Sep. 10th, 2007 05:00 pm (UTC)
Sanskrit is both written and spoken. I'm pretty sure that Sumerian is the oldest written language, but the spoken language is trickier, since languages change too rapidly to accurately "date". Anything more than 1000 years or so is meaningless, since there's very little, if any, resemblance to the parent tongue. If you mean any language (dead or otherwise) that is still spoken today, then I'd guess Coptic, which is a direct descendant of ancient Egyptian and still used in Coptic Christian services.
Sep. 10th, 2007 10:16 pm (UTC)
Sanskrit was an oral language only until 1100 AD when it acquired the Devanagari script. Before that it was perpetuated with titanic feats of memory, aided by the fact that it is married to a musical tonal system.

Sanskrit is Indo European, not Dravidian - so its got strong ties to European languages. Sanskrit 'tri' became English 'three', for instance.
Sep. 10th, 2007 05:01 pm (UTC)
Sanskrit is both written and spoken, but it's pretty much only used as a liturgical language nowadays, sort of like Latin. AFAIK, the oldest evidence of writing comes from the fertile crescent region. "Counting tokens" - tokens incised with markings that appear to represent numbers of objects - date back about 9000 years, and the practice of simply embedding many of the counting symbols on a single piece of clay date back to c. 4000 BCE. Sumerian cuneiform pictographs evolved out of those over the next few hundred years into something roughly behaving like a written language.

As far as spoken language, the oldest would date back before humans were properly human. We started to evolve roughly modern vocal folds about 100k years ago, and have been grunting things at one another ever since. :)
Sep. 10th, 2007 10:27 pm (UTC)
Noticing the similarities between Sanskrit and the Classical Languages of Europe such as Greek and Latin he declared:

"The Sanskcrit language, whatever be its antiquity, is of wonderful structure; more perfect than the Greek, more copious than the Latin, and more exquisitely refined than either, yet bearing to both of them a stronger affinity, both in the roots of verbs and in the forms of grammar, than could not possibly have been produced by accident; so strong indeed, that no philologer could examine them all three, without believing them to have sprung from some common source which, perhaps, no longer exists; there is a similar reason, though not quite so forcible, for supposing that both the Gothick and the Celtick, though blended with a very different idiom, had the same origin with the Sanskcrit; and the old Persian might be added to the same family..." (Jones, Collected Works, Volume III : 34-5).
The Prot-Indo-European Language-PIE

The statement of Sir Jones was both revelatory and revolutionary. It shook the foundations of the age old European belief that Hebrew was the source languages of all the world languages and introduced a new concept which, a few decades later in the 19th century, led to the comparative study of the origin and evolution of all the Indo European languages that possible came from a common source, now referred as the Proto Indo European Language, or simply PIE.
The Pioneers

Prominent among those who did the pioneering work in this field were the Danish philologist named Rasmus Rask (1818), the German philologist named Franz Bopp, (1791- 1837), Fick August, Ferdinand de Saussure, Jacob Grimm, Karl Brugmann of the neogrammarian school and many more. The term Indo-European was actually coined by Thomas Young in 1914.

The following languages are supposed to have been derived from the Proto-Indo-European Language and, after extensive research, have been classified into the following groups or branches.
1 Indo-Iranian Divided into Indic (Indo-Aryan) comprising of Sanskrit and its derivative languages on one side and the Iranian languages most popular among them being Avestan, Persian and Pashto
2 Baltic, Lithuanian, Latvian, etc.
3 Slavic Russian, Polish, Serbo-Croatia, etc.
4 Armenian Albania
5 Greek
6 Celtic Irish, Scottish Gaelic, Welsh, and Breton;
7 Italic Latin and its descendants.
8 Romance languages Italian, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Romanian and others.
9 Germanic, German, English, Dutch, and the Scandinavian language
10. Anatolian Hittite, Palaic, and Lydian, Cuneiform Luwian, Hieroglyphic Luwian, and Lycian. Hitite is now extinct, but considered by many as the oldest IE language with written records (1700 BC). This author disagrees with this observation and the reasons are sited elsewhere.
11 Tocharian Also called Tocharish, was spoken in northern Chinese Turkistan during 1st century AD, written in a form of Brahmi and used by the Buddhists.



Background: The period of Prakrits and Classical Sanskrit (dates are approximate):
750 BCE: Gradual emergence of post-vedic Sanskrit
500 BCE: Prakrit texts of Buddhists and Jains originate (Eastern India)
400 BCE: Panini composes his Sanskrit grammar (Western India), reflecting transition from Vedic to Paninian Sanskrit
322 BCE: Brahmi script inscriptions by Mauryas in Prakrit (Pali)
250 BCE: Classical Sanskrit emerges. [Vidhyanath Rao] 100 BCE-100 CE: Sanskrit gradually replaces Prakrit in inscriptions
320: The Gupta or Siddha-matrika script emerges.

Apabhranshas and emergence of old Hindi:
400: Apabhransha in Kalidas's Vikramorvashiyam
550: Dharasena of Valabhi's inscription mentions Apabhramsha literature
779: Regional languages mentioned by Udyotan Suri in "Kuvalayamala"
769: Siddha Sarahpad composes Dohakosh, considered the first Hindi poet
800: Bulk of the Sanskrit literature after this time is commentaries. [Vidhyanath Rao]
933: Shravakachar of Devasena, considered the first Hindi book
1100: Modern Devanagari script emerges
1145-1229: Hemachadra writes on Apabhransha grammar


Sep. 10th, 2007 11:16 pm (UTC)
Sumerian may have originated in Bolivia, though...

n 1958/60 Don Max Portugal Zamora, a Bolivian archaeologist, learned of the Fuente Magna bowl's existence. Pastor Manjon, Mr. Portugal "baptized" the site with the name it bears today, "Fuente Magna".

The Fuente Magna bowl was found in a rather casual fashion by a country peasant from the ex-hacienda CHUA, property of the Manjon family situated in the surrounding areas of Lake Titicaca about 75/80 km from the city of La Paz. The site where it was found has not been subject to investigation until recently. The piece in question is a little out of place. It is beautifully engraved in chestnut-brown both inside and out. It reveals zoological motifs and anthropomorphic characters within.

Controversy surrounds the writing on the Fuente Magna Bowl. Dr. Alberto Marini, translated the cuneiform writing on the bowl and discovered that these inscriptions were written in the Sumerian writing.

After a careful examination of the Fuente Magna, linear writing I determined that the writing was probably Proto-Sumerian. The Proto-Sumerian writing is found on many artifacts discovered in Mesopotamia. An identical script was used by the Elamites called Proto-Elamite.




the Sumerians were small people with straight, dark hair who were called the 'Sea People'. They have no known linguistic or cultural antecedents in Mesopotamia and appear abruptly in the historical record. They may have traveled to Mesopotamia in a fleet of reed boats, and settled there bringing their language, proto-Sumerian. Sumerian is agglutinative and based on tying consonants to vowels, completely unlike all Semitic languages.
Sep. 10th, 2007 11:34 pm (UTC)
more on the possible Bolivian origins of Sumerian
Bernardo's discovery of the Pokotia monument supports the research of the Verrills that the Sumerians came to South America in search of metals. A.H Verrill and R. Verrill, Americas ancient civilizations (New York: Putnam, 1953), and J. Bailey Sailing to Paradise, (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1994) maintain that the area around Lake Titicaca may have been called Lake Manu, by the Sumerians. According to the Verrills and Bailey the Sumerians came to this area in search of tin. They support this view by a discussion of the Sumerian traditions, that Sumerians set sail to the land west of the Mediterranean that they called the "Tin land of the West" or "Sunset Land". It is interesting to note that a major center in this area is Potosi. Bailey suggest that Potosi may relate to the Sumerian term Patesi the Sumerian term for 'priest king'.

The writing on the Pokotia monument makes it clear that the Pokotia oracle was a heard by many people in ancient Bolivia. This is interesting because the Pachacamac oracle was very popular in this area in historic times. According to Moseley, satellite shrines of one or another of his offspring were worshipped by South Americans (p.68).

During Inca (Sumerian: En-ka - Enki - "Great Lord") times, the temple city of Pachacamac , contained the idol of Pachacamac which was a commanding oracle drawing devotees from Ecuador in the North through Bolivia in the South. People came from far and wide for a Pachacamac prophesy (Moseley, p.68). The Pokotia statue makes it clear that the popularity of oracles in this part of South America existed all the way back in time to the creation of the Putaki oracle.

There is other support of the early presence of writing in South America dating back to ancient times. Moseley published a number of inscribed Moche bricks and a Tiwanaku portrait head. The characters on the bricks and statue are identical to the Pokotia writing. The symbols on the inscribed Moche bricks are identical to the na, I, a, mash/bi, mi, ma, po, ki, ta and su signs listed on the Pokotia sign list above. The symbols on the Tiwanaku head are identical to the me and mash/bi signs found on the Pokotia statue.

In addition to evidence from South American popular culture (oracle worship) and archaeology there is linguistic evidence that support the Sumerian presence in Bolivia. Mario Montano has found startling linguistic evidence that indicates a Sumerian substratum in the Aymara and Quechua languages. These languages are spoken in Peru-Bolivia.

Many Aymara terms relate to the metaphysical world. This is not surprising given this decipherment of the Pokotia statue and the Magna Fuente bowl which indicated that the Sumerians had established many aspects of their religion in Bolivia.

The linguistic evidence supports the view that many of these Sumerians were miners. The Sumerian term for copper was urudu, this term agrees with the Aymara terms for gold 'ouri ' and copper 'anta, yawri '. The similarity between urudu and, yawri and ouri suggest that the Sumerians may have been the first people in the area to exploit the metals found throughout the Titicaca area and Bolivia.

The presence of Sumerian terms in the Aymara language, and Sumerian writing on the Fuente Magna bowl and Pokotia statue make it obvious that Sumerian civilization was formerly widespread in South America. This leads me to believe that Bolivia and Peru, may represent the "Tin Land of the West" mentioned in the Sumerian inscriptions. If this is true ancient Bolivia-Peru may have been called the mountains of Sunset or the "Sunset Land", by the ancient Sumerians.
Sep. 10th, 2007 11:42 pm (UTC)
Re: more on the possible Bolivian origins of Sumerian
This is all great information but who are you?
Sep. 11th, 2007 12:18 pm (UTC)
Re: more on the possible Bolivian origins of Sumerian
Just in case you weren't clear, that's not "information." Sumerian civilization in Bolivia? Not so much.
Sep. 11th, 2007 01:18 pm (UTC)
Re: more on the possible Bolivian origins of Sumerian
Yeah, looking at the sites, he strikes me as a linguistic Graham Hancock.
Sep. 11th, 2007 02:11 pm (UTC)
Re: more on the possible Bolivian origins of Sumerian
The artifacts and other archaeological evidence, and the translations from those artifacts speak for themselves.

The Fuente Magna bowl is sitting in a museum, on public view.
Sep. 11th, 2007 05:21 pm (UTC)
Re: more on the possible Bolivian origins of Sumerian
One of the reasons I would like to know who this person is.
Sep. 11th, 2007 05:39 pm (UTC)
there are at most a dozen scholars in the world who can deal with proto-Sumerian. how many of them do you think were going about Bolivia in the 1950's creating amazing stone artifacts covered in PS and then burying them?
Sep. 11th, 2007 05:53 pm (UTC)
Re: well...
Please let me know who you are otherwise I will be forced to freeze all comments. I know the credentials of the other people responding. I do not know yours.
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