List of languages by first written accounts

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This is a list of languages arranged by the approximate dates of the oldest existing texts recording a complete sentence in the language. It does not include undeciphered scripts, though there are various claims without wide acceptance, which, if substantiated, would push backward the first attestation of certain languages. It also does not include inscriptions consisting of isolated words or names from a language.

A written record may encode a stage of a language corresponding to an earlier time, either as a result of oral tradition, or because the earliest source is a copy of an older manuscript that was lost. An oral tradition of epic poetry may typically bridge a few centuries, and in rare cases, over a millennium. An extreme case is the Vedic Sanskrit of the Rigveda: the earliest parts of this text may date to c. 1500 BC,[1] while the oldest known manuscript dates to the 11th century AD, a gap of over 2,500 years. Similarly the oldest Avestan texts, the Gathas, are believed to have been composed before 1000 BC, but the oldest Avestan manuscripts date from the 13th century AD.[2]

Because of the way languages change gradually, it is usually impossible to pinpoint when a given language began to be spoken. In many cases, some form of the language had already been spoken (and even written) considerably earlier than the dates of the earliest extant samples provided here.

For languages that have developed out of a known predecessor, dates provided here are subject to conventional terminology. For example, Old French developed gradually out of Vulgar Latin, and the Oaths of Strasbourg (842) listed are the earliest text that is classified as "Old French". Similarly, Danish and Swedish separated from common Old East Norse in the 12th century, while Norwegian separated from Old West Norse around 1300.

Before 1000 BC

Further information: Bronze Age writing

Writing first appeared in the Near East at the beginning of the 3rd millennium BC. A very limited number of languages are attested in the area from before the Bronze Age collapse and the rise of alphabetic writing:

In East Asia towards the end of the second millennium BC, the Sino-Tibetan family was represented by Old Chinese. There are also a number of undeciphered Bronze Age records:

c. 2690 BCEgyptianEgyptian hieroglyphs in the tomb of Seth-Peribsen (2nd Dynasty), Umm el-Qa'ab[4]"proto-hieroglyphic" inscriptions from about 3300 BC (Naqada III; see Abydos, Egypt, Narmer Palette)
26th century BCSumerianCuneiform texts from Shuruppak and Abu Salabikh (Fara period)[5][6]"proto-literate" period from about 3500 BC (see Kish tablet); administrative records at Uruk and Ur from c. 2900 BC.
c. 2400 BCAkkadianA few dozen pre-Sargonic texts from Mari and other sites in northern Babylonia[7]Some proper names attested in Sumerian texts at Tell Harmal from about 2800 BC.[8] Fragments of the Legend of Etana at Tell Harmal c. 2600 BC.[9]
c. 2400 BCEblaiteEbla tablets
c. 2300 BC[10]ElamiteAwan dynasty peace treaty with Naram-Sin
21st century BCHurrianTemple inscription of Tish-atal in Urkesh[11]
17th century BCHittiteAnitta text in Hittite cuneiform
c. 1450 BCGreekLinear B tablet archive from Knossos[12][13][14]
c. 1400 BCLuwianHieroglyphic Luwian monumental inscriptions, Cuneiform Luwian tablets in the Hattusa archives[15]Isolated hieroglyphs appear on seals from the 18th century BC.[15]
c. 1400 BCHatticHittite texts CTH 725–745
c. 1300 BCUgariticTablets from Ugarit[16]see Ugaritic alphabet
c. 1200 BCOld ChineseOracle bone and bronze inscriptions from the reign of Wu Ding[17][18][19]

First millennium BC

The Ahiram epitaph is the earliest substantial inscription in Phoenician.

The earliest known alphabetic inscriptions, at Serabit el-Khadim (c. 1500 BC), appear to record a Northwest Semitic language, though only one or two words have been deciphered. In the Early Iron Age, alphabetic writing spread across the Near East and southern Europe. With the emergence of the Brahmic family of scripts, languages of India are attested from after about 300 BC. The earliest examples of the Central American Isthmian script date from c. 500 BC, but a proposed decipherment remains controversial.[20]

c. 1000 BCPhoenicianAhiram epitaph
10th century BCAramaicroyal inscriptions from Aramean city-states
10th century BCHebrewGezer calendar
c. 850 BCAmmoniteAmman Citadel inscription[21]
c. 840 BCMoabiteMesha Stele
c. 800 BCPhrygianPaleo-Phrygian inscriptions at Gordion
c. 800 BCOld North Arabian
c. 800 BCOld South Arabian
c. 700 BCEtruscanproto-Corinthian vase found at Tarquinia[22]
7th century BCLatinVetusia Inscription and Fibula Praenestrina[23]
c. 600 BCUmbrian
c. 600 BCNorth PiceneNovilara Stele
c. 600 BCLepontic
c. 600 BCTartessian
c. 600 BCLydianinscriptions from Sardis[15]
c. 600 BCCarianinscriptions from Caria and Egypt[15]
c. 6th century BCThracian
late 6th century BCVeneticinscriptions at Este
c. 500 BCOld PersianBehistun inscription
c. 500 BCSouth Picene
c. 500 BCMessapian
c. 500 BCGaulish
c. 400 BCOscan
c. 400 BCIberian
c. 300 BCFaliscan
3rd century BCVolscianTabula Veliterna[24]
c. 260 BCMiddle Indo-Aryan (Prakrit)Edicts of Ashoka[25][26]Pottery inscriptions from Anuradhapura have been dated c. 400 BC.[27][28]
c. 200 BCTamilcave inscriptions and potsherds in Tamil Nadu[29][30]
2nd century BCMeroiticgraffiti on the temple of Amun at Dukki Gel, near Kerma[31]
c. 100 BCCeltiberianBotorrita plaques
1st century BCParthianostraca at Nisa and Qumis[32]

First millennium AD

From Late Antiquity, we have for the first time languages with earliest records in manuscript tradition (as opposed to epigraphy). Thus, Old Armenian is first attested in the Armenian Bible translation.

c. 150BactrianRabatak inscription
c. 150SanskritJunagadh rock inscription of Rudradaman I[33]
c. 160Common Germanic/Proto-NorseVimose inscriptionsc. 100 BC if the Negau helmet inscription is accepted as Germanic
c. 292MayanStela 29 from Tikal[34]A brief undeciphered inscription at San Bartolo is dated to the 3rd century BC.[35]
c. 300GothicGothic runic inscriptions
c. 300Ge'ez(pre)-Ezana inscriptions
c. 328ArabicNamara inscription
c. 350Chaminscription found at Tra Kiêu[36]
4th centuryPrimitive IrishOgham inscriptions
c. 430Georgianinscription in a Georgian monastery founded by Peter the Iberian near Bethlehem
c. 434ArmenianArmenian Bible of Saint Mesrob Mashtots
c. 450KannadaHalmidi inscription[37]
c. 510Old Low FranconianSalic law[38]
c. 550Old High GermanPforzen buckle
c. 575TeluguErragudipadu inscription[37]
c. 591KoreanSinseong (新城) Stele in Namsan (Gyeongju)[39][40]
6th centuryTocharianDunhuang manuscripts[41]
c. 540–600Old IrishLuin oc elaib[42]
c. 600CornishPhillack stone inscription CLOTUALI MOBRATTI, in modern Cornish klos-wal moh-breus, meaning glory-worthy great-judgement.[43]9th century gloss in De Consolatione Philosophiae by Boethius: ud rocashaas meaning "it (the mind) hated the gloomy places".[44]
c. 611KhmerAngkor Borei inscription
c. 650TibetanTibetan Annals
c. 650Old EnglishUndley bracteate; Franks Casket; West Heslerton brooch[45]
c. 650–700Old UdiSinai palimpsest M13
c. 683Old MalayKedukan Bukit Inscription
late 7th centuryPyufuneral urn inscriptions of kings of Sri Ksetra
c. 700WelshTywyn inscriptions
c. 711–712JapaneseKojiki
c. 732Old TurkicOrkhon inscriptions
c. 750Persian
c. 750–900Old FrisianWesteremden yew-stick
c. 769Old HindiDohakosh by Saraha
c. 800Mozarabic
c. 800Old Norserunic inscriptions
c. 804Javaneseinitial part of the Sukabumi inscription[46]
9th centuryMalayalamRajasekhara inscription at Vazhappally Maha Siva Temple[30]
c. 842Old FrenchOaths of Strasbourg
c. 862Old Church Slavonicreligious literature translated by Cyril and Methodius
c. 900Oriya languagecharyapada
c. 900Assamese languagecharyapada
c. 900Bengali Languagecharyapada
c. 900Old OccitanTomida femina
c. 959–974LeoneseNodicia de Kesos
c. 960–963ItalianPlaciti Cassinesi[47]The Veronese Riddle (c. 800) is considered a mixture of Italian and Latin.[48]
c. 986KhitanMemorial for Yelü Yanning
late 10th centuryMarathiinscription on Bahubali statue at Shravanabelagola[49]

1000–1500 AD

c. 972–1093SloveneFreising manuscripts
c. 1000Old East Slavic
c. 1000Balinese
c. 1000–1150Punjabi
c. 1000Basque, Aragonese and SpanishGlosas EmilianensesAlleged finds of c. 300 Basque inscriptions at Iruña-Veleia have been exposed as a forgery.
c. 1028CatalanJurament Feudal[50]
c. 1050Middle High Germanby convention
c. 1066Middle Englishby convention
c. 1100CroatianBaška tablet
c. 1100Danishby convention
c. 1100OssetianZelančuk inscription[51]
c. 1100Swedishby convention; the Rök Stone (c. 9th century) is often cited as the beginning of Swedish literature
c. 1113BurmeseMyazedi inscription
c. 1114Newaripalm-leaf manuscript from Uku Bahah[52]
c. 1150Middle Dutchby convention[a]
c. 1186–1190SerbianMiroslav Gospel
c. 1189BosnianCharter of Ban Kulin
c. 1192HungarianFuneral Sermon and PrayerThere are isolated fragments in earlier charters such as the charter of Veszprém (c. 1000) and the charter of Tihany (1055).
c. 1200FinnicBirch bark letter no. 292Finnish proper: 1543, Abckiria.
c. 1200–1230Czechfounding charter of the Litoměřice chapter
c. 1214Galician-PortugueseNotícia de Torto
c. 1224–1225MongolianGenghis stone
c. 1250Western LombardSordello da Goito, "Sirventese lombardesco"
c. 1270PolishBook of Henryków
c. 1272Yiddishblessing in the Worms mahzor
c. 1292ThaiRamkhamhaeng steleSome scholars argue that the stele is a forgery.
13th centuryTigrinyaa text of laws found in Logosarda
c. 1300Old Norwegian
c. 1300Batak
c. 1350Old Prussian
c. 1350Kashmiri
c. 1350Oghuz Turkic (including Azeri and Ottoman Turkish)Imadaddin Nasimi
c. 1372KomiAbur inscriptions
c. 1440VietnameseQuốc âm thi tập[53]Isolated names in Chữ nôm date from the early 13th century.
c. 1462AlbanianFormula e Pagëzimit - Short baptismal formula in a letter of Archbishop Pal Engjëll[b]
c. 1470MalteseIl Cantilena
c. 1470sEarly Modern Englishby convention
c. 1485Yibronze bell inscription in Dafang County, Guizhou[54]
c. 1500[55]Tulu

After 1500

c. 1503LithuanianHand-written Lord's Prayer, Hail Mary and Creed[56]Katekizmas (1547) by Martynas Mažvydas was the first printed book in Lithuanian.
1521RomanianNeacșu's LetterThe Cyrillic orthographic manual of Constantin Kostentschi from 1420 documents earlier written usage.[57] Four 16th century documents, namely Codicele Voronetean, Psaltirea Scheiana, Psaltirea Hurmuzachi and Psaltirea Voroneteana, are arguably copies of 15th century originals.[58]
1530LatvianNicholas Ramm's translation of a hymn
1535EstonianWanradt-Koell catechism
1539Classical NahuatlBreve y mas compendiosa doctrina cristiana en lengua mexicana y castellanaPossibly the first printed book in the New World. No copies are known to exist today.[59]
1543Modern FinnishAbckiria by Mikael Agricola.
c. 1550New Dutch/Standard DutchStatenbijbelThe Statenbijbel is commonly accepted to be the start of Standard Dutch, but various experiments were performed around 1550 in Flanders and Brabant. Although none proved to be lasting they did create a semi-standard and many formed the base for the Statenbijbel.
1554WastekA grammar by Andrés de Olmos.
1593Modern TagalogDoctrina Cristiana (Christian Doctrine), a book explaining the basic beliefs of Roman Catholicism
1639GuaraniTesoro de la lengua guaraní by Antonio Ruíz de Montoya
c. 1650Ubykh
The Seyahatname of Evliya Çelebi.
1651Pashtocopy of Xayru 'l-bayān in the library of the University of Tübingen[60]The Pata Khazana, purporting to date from the 8th century, is considered by most scholars to be a forgery.[60]
1692Sakha (Yakut)
c. 1695SeriGrammar and vocabulary compiled by Adamo Gilg.No longer known to exist.[61]
1728SwahiliUtendi wa Tambuka
1743Chinese Pidgin Englishsentence recorded in Macau by George Anson[62]
1744Greenlandictranslation of the New Testament by Paul Egede and ArnarsaqEgede also published a dictionary in 1750 and a grammar in 1760.
1770Guugu YimithirrWords recorded by James Cook's crew.
1806TswanaHeinrich Lictenstein - Upon the Language of the BeetjuanaFirst complete Bible translation in 1857 by Robert Moffat
1814Māori languagesystematic orthography from 1820 (Hongi Hika)
1823XhosaJohn Bennie's Xhosa Reading sheet printed at TwaliComplete Bible translation 1859
1826Aleut languageAleut is written with the Cyrillic alphabet (loann Veniaminov)
c. 1830Vai
1832GamilaraayBasic vocabulary collected by Thomas Mitchell.[63]
1833SothoReduced to writing by French missionaries Casalis and ArboussetFirst grammar book 1841 and complete Bible translation 1881
1837ZuluFirst written publication Incwadi Yokuqala YabafundayoFirst grammar book 1859 and complete Bible translation 1883
1844AfrikaansLetters by Louis Henri Meurant (published in Eastern Cape newspaper - South Africa)Followed by Muslim texts written in Afrikaans using Arabic alphabet in 1856. Spelling rules published in 1874. Complete Bible published 1933.
1870Inuktitut SyllabaryInuktitut is written with the Canadian Aboriginal Syllabary alphabet/The Netsilik adopted Qaniujaaqpait by the 1920s.(Edmund Peck)
1872VendaReduced to writing by the Berlin MissionariesFirst complete Bible translation 1936
1880sOromoOnesimos Nesib begins to translate European texts into OromoOnesimos, with the help of Aster Ganno, prepared a translation of the Bible into Oromo, which was published in 1893
1885Carrier languageBarkerville Jail Text, written in pencil on a board in the then recently created Carrier syllabicsAlthough the first known text by native speakers dates to 1885, the first record of the language is a list of words recorded in 1793 by Alexander MacKenzie.
c. 1900Papuan languages
c. 1900other Austronesian languages
1968Southern NdebeleSmall booklet published with praises of their kings and a little historyTranslation of the New Testament of the Bible completed in 1986 - translation of Old Testament ongoing

By family

Attestation by major language family:

Constructed languages

Further information: constructed language
1879Volapükcreated by Johann Martin Schleyer
1887EsperantoUnua Librocreated by L. L. Zamenhof
1907Idobased on Esperanto
1917Quenyacreated by J. R. R. Tolkien
1928Novialcreated by Otto Jespersen
1935SonaSona, an auxiliary neutral languagecreated by Kenneth Searight
1943InterglossaLater became Glosacreated by Lancelot Hogben
1951InterlinguaInterlingua-English Dictionarycreated by the International Auxiliary Language Association
1955Loglancreated by James Cooke Brown
1985Klingoncreated by Marc Okrand
1987Lojbanbased on Loglan, created by the Logical Language Group
2005–6Na'vicreated by Dr. Paul Frommer and James Cameron

See also


  1. ^ Various texts, among which the Servaaslegende by Heinrich von Veldeke
  2. ^ A few lines in the Bellifortis text have been interpreted as being Albanian. If this interpretation is correct, it would push the earliest attestation of the language back to 1405. See Elsie, Robert - The Bellifortis Text and Early Albanian.


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Works cited