Oldest Languages of Europe

9 Oldest Languages of Europe

Time and processes of evolution are responsible for creating new languages, dialects, and sub-languages. The process of evolution is also responsible for making some languages obsolete or nearly extinct. Through natural selection, some languages have flourished while others have faded away with time.

These lesser-known old European languages are no less fascinating than popular ones like French, German, or Greek. These lesser-known ancient European languages have their own charm and history, which you might find fascinating and amazing as well.

Even though English is widely spoken and understood among most native speakers of other European languages, there are still plenty of words that can only be found in the tongues of other countries or regions. So, if you want to impress your friends or learn new study materials for school, let’s take a look at the nine oldest languages in Europe.

9. Lithuanian

Year Started: 1600s
No. of Speakers: More than 3 million
Language Family: Indo-European, Baltic
Autonym: Lietuviškai, Lietuvių kalba

Lithuanianphoto source: Wikiwand

Lithuanian is one of the oldest European languages and is believed to have originated in the southern region of Lithuania. It has a distinct dialectal structure, with a large number of dialects. Lituanians also have a rich literary heritage, with works by such writers as Vytautas the Great and Kajetan Smetana.

Other interesting facts about Lithuanian include its status as one of the official languages of the European Union and its significant population of speakers in the United States. Lithuanian is the official language of Lithuania and is spoken by more than 3 million people worldwide.

Did You Know?

Lithuanian is also the only European language that has an alphabet with 32 letters.

8. Finnish

Year Started: 1450
No. of Speakers: 11.2 million
Language Family: Uralic, Finnic
Autonym: Suomi

photo source: Wikipedia

Finnish is also one of the oldest European languages and it has a long history. The Finns are a people who migrated to Finland from southern Scandinavia about 1,000 years ago.

Finnish is closely related to Swedish and Danish, and these languages are also known as the Scandinavian languages.

Some other interesting facts about Finnish include that it is the official language of Finland and it is also the first language of many immigrants who have come to the United States. Finnish is spoken by more than 11 million people around the world.

Did You Know?

Finnish is also spoken in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, and it is thought that the language might have originated in what is now Finland.

7. Spanish

Year Started: 1300s
No. of Speakers: More than 450 million
Language Family: Romance
Autonym: Castellano, Español

photo source: Wikipedia

Spanish, also known as Castilian, is a Romance language that originated in the Iberian Peninsula of Europe. It is the third most spoken language in the world after Mandarin Chinese and English. As of 2019, there are an estimated 450 million Spanish speakers worldwide.

Spanish is one of the oldest European languages, with records dating back to the 1300s. It is also one of the few languages to have retained its Latin alphabet.

Other interesting facts about Spanish include its status as the official language of 21 countries, its use in international organizations such as the United Nations and the European Union, and its popularity as a second language in the United States.

Did You Know?

Spanish is a Romance language, meaning it is derived from Latin.

6. Basque

Year Started: 2 to 1 BCE
No. of Speakers: More than 750,000
Language Family: Isolated
Autonym: Euskara

photo source: The Language Gulper

Basque, being one of the oldest European languages, is spoken by around 750,000 people in Spain and France. It is an isolated language, meaning it is not related to any other known language.

The language has no known connection to any other language and is thought to be a remnant of the languages spoken by the people who lived in the area before the Indo-European languages arrived.

It has the oldest known written text in any European language, which is a funerary inscription dating back to the 8th century AD. It has a very complex grammar, with concepts such as case and gender that are not found in other languages.

Did You Know?

Its speakers have one of the highest rates of bilingualism in the world, with around 80% being able to speak both Basque and Spanish.

5. Irish Gaelic

Year Started: 5 CE
No. of Speakers: 1.2 million
Language Family: Goidelic, Celtic, Indo-European
Autonym: Gaeilge

Irish Gaelicphoto source: OpenEdition Journals

Irish Gaelic is one of the oldest European languages, with a history dating back to 5 CE. It is a member of the Celtic language family and is closely related to Welsh and Breton. Irish Gaelic was once the dominant language of Ireland, spoken by the majority of the population.

However, it began to decline in the 19th century due to a number of factors, such as the Great Famine and the rise of English as the dominant language in the British Empire.

Today, Irish Gaelic is spoken by a minority of the population but is experiencing a revival thanks to language initiatives such as the Gaeltacht movement.

Other interesting facts about Irish Gaelic include its unique grammatical features, such as its use of initial mutations, and its rich literary tradition.

Did You Know?

The language has no words for “yes” or “no”. Instead, it uses words like “ceart” (right) and “míle” (a thousand). Irish Gaelic also has a unique writing system, known as “dual-script”. This means that the language can be written using both Latin and Cyrillic letters.

4. Icelandic

Year Started: 9 CE
No. of Speakers: 314,000
Language Family: Indo-European, North Germanic
Autonym: íslenska

photo source: Wikipedia

Icelandic is believed to have originated from the Proto-Germanic language, which was spoken by the ancient Germanic tribes. The first written records of the Icelandic language date back to 9 CE, when the Icelanders began to use the Latin alphabet.

Icelandic has remained relatively unchanged since then, and is now one of the most conservative Germanic languages.

Other interesting facts about Icelandic include its unique phonology, which includes a large number of guttural and glottal sounds, and its use of the letter ð (eth), which is not used in any other Germanic language. Icelandic also has a very rich vocabulary, with many words derived from Old Norse and Icelandic folklore.

Did You Know?

Icelandic also has a rich literary tradition, with a number of famous works, such as the Icelandic sagas, being written in the language.

3. Persian

Year Started: Around 525 to 300 BCE
No. of Speakers: 110 million
Language Family: Indo-European
Autonym: Unspecified

Persianphoto source: Pinterest

With a history dating back to at least 525 BCE, Persian is considered one of the oldest European languages. It is a member of the Iranian branch of the Indo-European language family and is closely related to other Iranian languages such as Pashto and Kurdish.

Persian has been a major language of culture and learning in the Muslim world for centuries, and is today spoken widely in countries such as Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. Persian is also one of the official languages of the United Nations.

Did You Know?

Persian include its unique alphabet (which includes 32 letters, four of which are vowels), its rich literary tradition (including some of the world’s most famous poets, such as Rumi and Hafez), and its status as the national language of one of the world’s oldest civilizations (Persia/Iran).

2. Latin

Year Started: 700 BCE
No. of Speakers: N/A
Language Family: Indo-Iranian, Romance
Autonym: Latina

Latinphoto source: Antigone

Latin is one of the oldest European languages and has been spoken for over two thousand years. It is the official language of Vatican City, aside from Italian, and is used in many Catholic churches around the world. Latin is also the language of the Roman Catholic Church.

Having said that, it is one of the oldest and most influential languages in the world. It was also the language of the Roman Empire, which was one of the largest empires in history. After the fall of the Roman Empire, Latin continued to be used as a language of learning and scholarship.

Did You Know?

Latin is a descendant of the Indo-European language family, which means it is related to languages such as English, Spanish, French, and German.

1. Greek

Year Started: Around 1200 to 300 BCE
No. of Speakers: 14 million
Language Family: Indo-European
Autonym: Νέα Ελληνικά‎ (Néa Ellīniká), ελληνικά‎ (Elliniká)

Greekphoto source: Adobe Stock

The Greek language is considered the oldest European language, dating back more than 3,000 years ago. It has been spoken in Greece for thousands of years, and it has also been used by many other countries throughout the world.

Greek is unique in that it is an agglutinative language, meaning that words are formed from combining roots that have been modified to create new words with different meanings. This means that more than one root can be combined in order to create new words with different meanings.

For example, the word “piros” can be made by combining the root “pyr” (“fire”) and the root “oros” (“mountain”). This makes Greek a very difficult language for foreigners who do not know any Greek, because there are so many different ways that words can be combined!

Did You Know?

The Greek alphabet consists of 44 letters, which were derived from the Phoenician script.


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