List of languages by first written account

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

This is a list of languages arranged by age of the oldest existing text recording a complete sentence in the language. It does not include undeciphered writing systems, 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. In most 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.

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 manuscripts date to c. 1040 AD.[2] 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.[3]

For languages that have developed out of a known predecessor, dates provided here follow 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".