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Get to Know the 11 Oldest Languages in the World

Get to Know the 11 Oldest Languages in the World

Man has been living on this planet for millions of years. Obviously, he needed to communicate. Interestingly, he chose to use different languages and not just one. This shows the versatility of man’s knowledge.

If you have a look at some of the oldest languages in the world, the idea of multiple languages will be pretty straightforward. Even if they still remain in use, they are not used as they were in the past.

A number of languages have been erased from the world, leaving only a few traces of their origins. Many others have been modified into something completely different. There are still some warriors who are fighting to sustain themselves in this modern world.

In all honesty, the story of the oldest languages in the world is quite interesting. Before checking out this list, let’s see how many languages do you know about. Let’s do this.

Enumerate the languages that you think are from the oldest languages in the world? 

Also, which do you think is the oldest language in the world? i

Take a wild guess!

Let me give you a heads up. There are some languages in this list that you can never imagine being so old. 

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1. Hebrew

One of the Oldest Languages in the World Spoken by Moses

Hebrew came into light in 400 CE. It is the mother tongue of Jews around the world. It also became the official language of Israel after its formation. The modern version of the language differs from the Biblical version but nevertheless, the native speakers of Hebrew can fully comprehend what is written in the Old Testament.

Modern Hebrew replaced Yiddish as the native Jewish language and other connecting languages and became what is known today, the unified language of the Jews around the world.

2. Tamil

Another Oldest Language in the World That Brought Indians & Arab Traders Closer  

Tamil has inscriptions that date back to the 3rd century BC. Some facts about it will surely astonish people who think that it is a language spoken only by South Indians. It is the only ancient language that has been relevant and existing since its inception whereas many of its counterparts were eradicated by new substitute languages.

It is spoken by about 78 million people (which means it’s spoken outside India too) and is the official language in Sri Lanka and as well as Singapore. Yes! You read it right, Singapore.

Since it is a part of the Dravidian language family, it is also the official language of the state of Tamil Nadu. Unlike Sanskrit which is another ancient Indian language that fell out of common use around 600 BC, Tamil has continued to develop and is now the 20th most commonly spoken language in the world.

Other similar older languages in the world can now only be found only in texts or scriptures. So, Tamil is a great example of being the world’s oldest language that is still relevant and living.

Read: The Shilajit Story – Its Composition, Uses & Benefits

3. Mayan  

The Pictorial Language 

The Mayan family of languages is another one from the oldest languages in the world. Do you know that there are 32 different dialects of the Mayan language? Hush Hush, all of them can be traced back to the original, which comes from 292 AD.

The original Mayan language didn’t have words to communicate messages but instead used pictures called glyphs. An ancient city discovered in the rain forest of Guatemala called Tikal where a temple having stone shafts was the first place in the world to indicate evidence of the existence Mayan language. It is a native language of the people of Mesoamerica, Honduras, Belize, and Mexico and has about 6 million speakers today.

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4. Ancient Chinese 

The Cho Cho Mo Cho Sounds

Ancient Chinese dates back to more than 3,000 years ago. It is said to have originated in around 1250 B.C. as a part of the Sino-Tibetan language family. The oldest known example of Old Chinese was found at the archaeological site of the ancient city of Yinxu.

At this site, oracle bones with the earliest form of the Chinese language were reported to be found. It was also discovered that there were about 4,000 different characters in Old Chinese but unfortunately today, only half of those have been translated with meaning.

Do you know why?

Because it is a very complicated language and it is very difficult to understand the grammar of Old Chinese. Old Chinese evolved into Middle Chinese around 600 AD and ultimately upgraded into modern Mandarin and Cantonese, thus eradicating one of the oldest languages in the world completely.

Read: What is the Best Saffron Brand in India?

5. Sumerian

World’s Oldest Written Language

Sumerian is known as the oldest written language in the world and it dates back to at least 3500 BC. The earliest proof that the written Sumerian language existed was the Kish Tablet, which was found in Iraq. Sumerian is said to be older than Egyptian, but unfortunately, it only lasted as a spoken language until around 2000 BC. Later it was replaced by another language, called Akkadian.

It was unknown to the world until the 19thcentury. It was discovered by some archaeologists while researching ancient Arabic and European cultures.

6. Arabic 

The Language of the Quran 

Arabic can be traced all the way back early 328 A.D. Arabic is a member of the Afro-Asiatic language family. Today, it is spoken by citizens of the Arab league and parts of Africa, Asia and also Europe. It currently has about 420 million speakers. Perhaps it is one of the world’s oldest languages with the highest number of speakers. 

In 1901, the proof of the Arabic language to be ancient was discovered from the Namara inscription and with time it has evolved drastically and unfolded into many variants. New versions of the original Arabic vocabulary and grammar have evolved lately.

Though there are some debates over the inscription being incomplete Arabic language, still it is said to be a very early form of the language. To be exact, its inscriptions were found on a basalt rock, which is alleged to have come from a tomb proving a certain connection between the Romans and Arabs dating back to the fourth century.

The holy book of the Muslims known as the Quran is also written in the Arabic Language. It is one of the most memorized books on the planet. That is a reason through which Classic Arabic has been preserved over the last 1400 years. 

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7. Egyptian 

The Language the Pharos Spoke

The first known record of Egyptian language was found in a tomb that dates back to 2690 BC. Egyptian is said to have originated in 3300 B.C. It is an Afro-Asiatic language that was native to the people of Ancient Egypt and was spoken until the 17th century.

It was gradually replaced by modern Arabic and other local forms of the language. Today, it has vanished completely as a written language and as well as a spoken language. It has been successfully translated over the years by many well-known linguists and many texts and scriptures have been understood giving vivid details about the ancient Egyptian culture as well.  

8. Mycenaean Greek

The mystery is always Greek

Mycenaean Greek is one of the earliest forms of the Greek language. It dates as far back as the 1600 BC. As a member of the Indo-European language family, it is was spoken in Southern Balkans and Modern Greece. Just like many other Greek tragedies, this language is officially extinct. It was deciphered in the 1950s.

As of today, the text mostly exists in inventories and lists and doesn’t have any form of literature written in it. Although not significant, there are still some small existing examples of Mycenaean Greek. It is believed that the use of this language ended when the Mycenaean civilization fell. A point to note is that Arcadocypriot Greek, another form of the Greek language, is very similar to the Mycenaean version.

9. Aramaic

They say, Jesus spoke this

Aramaic is a biblical language that has been around for more than 3,000 years. It is said to have originated in 900 B.C. Just to give proof for how ancient this language is, it is said that it was spoken by Jesus and his disciples.

In today’s modern era, Aramaic is an obsolete language and there isn’t a soul alive today who speaks it. Or perhaps, some claim it is about to die. They say that there are few villages today that speak the same language but slowly and rapidly every form of this language is fading away with time and as of now out of 7 billion people, there are only 450,000 people today that speak this language.

10. Latin

Remember Latino Heat? 

The oldest form of Latin is known as Old Latin. It can be traced back to 700 B.C.

Latin was the common language in the Roman Empire and most parts of Southern Europe. Just like Sanskrit, it is recognized as a part of the Indo-European language family. In many parts of Europe many ancient documents and monuments, dating back to the earliest of centuries, are scribbled with ancient Latin.

Although gradually it has faded away as a spoken language and replaced by languages like French, Italian, and Spanish, etc., it is still seen as a written language. It is not known how many people speak a form of Latin in today’s time, but there are many Latin enthusiasts even today. These people are keen on keeping Latin, which is one of the oldest languages in the world, alive. 

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11. Sanskrit 

The language that Indians love, but don’t speak

Just like its fellow language Tamil, Sanskrit is another ancient language that dates to around 100 AD. Sanskrit is also a member of the Indo-European family it is spoken by Indians, Nepalese and people from neighboring areas of the subcontinent.

As of today, it is spoken by only 14000+ people. The first known example of the existence of ancient Sanskrit was found in the city of Ayodhya and also in other states like Gujrat. There are many variations of Sanskrit known to researchers. Interestingly, for about 2,000 years, it was the main language of several areas of Southeast Asia but was gradually replaced by Hindi and other local official languages.

Over to You

So tell me did the list of the oldest languages in the world surprise you? Numbers 1 and 2 surely did surprise me.

Apart from this small list, there are many more languages that have their roots tracing back to the beginning of time. There are many other undiscovered languages with deep cultures and history embedded in them, waiting to be unfolded.

Let’s see with time, how many of the oldest languages of the world can we discover?

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The Life & Legacy Mirza Ghalib – All You Want to Know

The Life & Legacy Mirza Ghalib – All You Want to Know

I was introduced to the amazing works of Mirza Ghalib in my school. As a child, I used to study the Urdu language and that’s when the names and works of some awesome people like Ghalib from the world of Urdu were introduced to me.

This opportunity to be able to know some of these great personalities ignited a passion in me. The passion was to study Urdu poetry & literature in depth! And thankfully this passion has not died ever since.

I am writing this blog post to give you a complete insight into the life of Mirza Ghalib. The life of a magnificent poet. A poet forgotten!

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Honestly, the lives of some of our venerated Urdu poets have been lost and are in a dire need of a rebirth, at least in mention.

Who was Mirza Ghalib?

Mirza Asadullah Baig Khan, widely known as Mirza Ghalib / Mirja Ghalib or simply Ghalib was a conspicuous Urdu and Persian poet. He lived during the last years of the Mughal Empire.

Due to his marvelous abilities as a poet both in Urdu & Persian, he was given a number of honorific titles. Some of those titles are Dabir-ul-Mulk, Najm-ud-Daula and Mirza Nosha.

Some academics have regarded Mirza Ghalib as the last great poet of the Mughal Era. He is also considered from the pioneers who transformed the Urdu language.

Early Life of Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib

Mirza Ghalib was born on 27th December 1797 in Kala Mahal, Agra into a family descended from Aibak Turks who had moved to Samarkand (Uzbekistan). His paternal grandfather, Mirza Qoqan Baig, was a Seljuq Turk who had immigrated to India from Samarkand during the reign of Ahmad Shah. After his migration to India, Ghalib’s grandfather worked throughout the country including in cities like Lahore, Delhi and Jaipur. But destiny made him to finally settle in Agra.

A Tribute to Mirza Ghalib

A Tribute to Mirza Ghalib

Mirja Ghalib’s grandfather married and had four sons and three daughters. Mirza Abdullah Baig (Ghalib’s father) and Mirza Nasrullah Baig were two of his sons. Mirza Ghalib’s father married Izzat-ut-Nisa Begum, an ethnic Kashmiri. 

On a side note, like all other great men like Iqbal and Sanullah Amritsari, Ghalib had roots in Kashmir too. That makes me wonder if greatness is a Kashmiri thing. And I love to joke!  

Coming back to the discussion, when Ghalib was a little over 5 years of age, his father died in a battle. This grief-filled year was 1803. He was buried in Alwar. Mirza Ghalib was then raised by his Uncle Mirza Nasrullah Baig Khan.

Mirza Nasrullah Baig Khan was the governor of Agra under the Marathas. The British appointed him as an officer of 400 cavalrymen, fixed his salary at Rs.1700/- month, and awarded him two Parganas in Mathura. When he died in 1806, the British took away the Parganas and fixed his pension as Rs. 10,000 per year.

He was linked to the state of Firozepur Jhirka (present-day Mewat, Haryana). The Nawab of Ferozepur Jhirka reduced the pension to Rs. 3000 per year. So, Ghalib’s share was Rs. 62.50 / month.

A Sneak Peak into Ghalib’s Career

Mirza Ghalib started composing poetry at the age of 11. Although his first language was Urdu, Persian and Turkish were also spoken at home due to his ancestry. Apart from Urdu, he received an education in Persian and Arabic at a young age. When Mirza Ghalib was in his early teens, a tourist from Iran Abdus Samad, who had recently converted to Islam from Zoroastrian, came to Agra and stayed at Ghalib’s home for two years and taught him Persian, Arabic, Philosophy, and Logic.

He had written most of his famous ghazals by the age of nineteen. That’s too young for the quality and depth of his ghazals. At that time ghazals were written mostly to express love, pain and sadness. But Mirza Ghalib had different ideas.

He revolutionized this genre and expressed philosophy and the struggles and mysteries of life. Mirza Sahab wrote ghazals on many other subjects, vastly expanding the scope of the ghazal.

At that time the Urdu language was very decorative and formal.  But the genius in Mirza Ghalib made this language very familiar and relatable. This is most notably seen in the letters that he used to send to his friends. These letters were filled with humor and wit.

Letter writing subsequently became an art which he mastered. His letters were written in a first-person narrative and seemed like he was conversing with the receiver in person. These letters were very informal. He would just write the name of the person and start the letter.

His style was revolutionary and he gave letter writing a whole new meaning. This art of letter writing was so inculcated in him that many scholars say that Mirza Ghalib would have had the same place in Urdu literature as he has today, only if he just wrote letters.

The Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar II was himself a poet. Mirza Ghalib was appointed as his tutor in 1854, thus he became an important courtier of the royal court. He was also appointed as the tutor of Prince Fakhr-ud Din Mirza, eldest son of Bahadur Shah II. Another feather in his cap was his appointment as the royal historian of Mughal Court.

Last Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah II with sons Mirza Jawan Bakht & Mirza Shah Abbas

Last Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah II with sons Mirza Jawan Bakht & Mirza Shah Abbas

Contemporaries & Disciples of Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib

Mirza Ghalib’s closest rival was the poet Zauq. Zauq was also the tutor of Bahadur Shah Zafar II. There are some amusing anecdotes of the competition between Mirza Ghalib and Zauq and exchange of jibes between them. However, there was mutual respect for each other’s talent.

Interestingly, both these men admired and acknowledged the supremacy of Meer Taqi Meer, a towering figure of 18th century Urdu Poetry.

Another poet Momin, whose ghazals had a distinctly lyrical flavor, was also a famous contemporary of Ghalib.

Surprisingly, Asadullah Khan Ghalib was not only a poet, but he was also a prolific prose writer. His letters are a reflection of the political and social climate of the time. They also refer to many contemporaries like Mir Mehdi Majrooh, who himself was a good poet and Ghalib’s life-long acquaintance.

In 1855, Sir Syed Ahmed Khan finished his well-researched and illustrated edition of Abul Fazl’s Ai’n-e Akbari and approached the Ghalib to write a taqriz (in the convention of the times, a laudatory foreword) for it.

Although Ghalib accepted it with utmost respect, yet the story is interesting. Mirza Ghalib produced a short Persian poem that criticized the Ai’n-e Akbari greatly and with it the Mughal culture which the book represented. Ghalib basically reprimanded Syed Ahmad Khan for wasting his talents on such a piece and in turn praised the British.

As a result, Sir Syed Ahmad Khan never again wrote a word in praise of the Ai’n-e Akbari and in fact gave up taking an active interest in history and archaeology and became a social reformer.

Personal Life of Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib

When Mirza Ghalib was thirteen years old, in accordance with upper-class Muslim tradition he got married to Umrao Begum, daughter of Nawab Ilahi Bakhsh who was the brother of the Nawab of Ferozepur Jhirka. He soon moved to Delhi, along with his younger brother. Ghalib described his marriage as a form of captivity in one of his letters.

During his marriage, he had seven children but none of them survived beyond infancy, a pain prominently felt in many of his ghazals. There are conflicting reports regarding his marriage and relationship with his wife. She was considered to be a pious and God-fearing woman whereas Ghalib was proud of his reputation as a prodigal person.

It is said that he was once imprisoned for gambling and subsequently relished the affair with pride. In the Mughal court circles, he even acquired a reputation as a “ladies man”. He loved food and especially mangoes.

Later Life of Mirza Sahab

Ghalib saw the decline of the Mughal dynasty and its whole bureaucracy and aristocracy, and subsequently saw the rise of the British Rule. During his lifetime he never worked for a livelihood and lived on either royal patronage of Mughal Emperors, or credits and generosity of his friends.

The Mirza Ghalib we know today became so after his death as he had himself mentioned. It was a prediction that he himself had made. After the decline of the Mughal Empire and the rise of British Raj, despite his many attempts, Ghalib could never get the full pension restored.

Mirza Ghalib Poetry

Mirza Ghalib Poetry

Ghalib was a reporter of this turbulent period and saw the end of the feudal elite to which Ghalib had belonged. One by one, Ghalib saw the bazaars of Delhi like Khas Bazaar, Urdu Bazaar, Kharam-ka Bazaar, disappear along with whole mohallas and lanes slowly vanish. The havelis of his friends were demolished and he stated that Delhi was longer the rich cultured place as it used to be. It had turned into a desert and a military camp of the British.

He died in Delhi on February 15, 1869, and was buried in Hazrat Nizamuddin near the tomb of Nizamuddin Auliya.

The house where he lived in Gali Qasim Jaan, Ballimaran, Chandni Chowk, in Old Delhi has now been turned into ‘Ghalib Memorial’ and houses a permanent Ghalib exhibition.

Legacy & Books of Mirza Ghalib

The first complete English translation of Ghalib’s ghazals was written by Sarfaraz K. Niazi and published by Rupa & Co in India and Ferozsons in Pakistan. The title of this book is Love Sonnets of Ghalib and it contains complete Roman transliteration, explication and an extensive lexicon.

His letters have been translated by Ralph Russell in The Oxford Ghalib. Urdu Letters of Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib, have been translated by Daud Rahbar in the SUNY Press in 1987.

Kulliyat-e-Ghalib Farsi, an anthology of Persian poetry of well-known Urdu poet Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib first released at Maulana Azad National Urdu University (MANUU) and later released at Tehran by Ambassadors of India and Pakistan jointly at a function sponsored by Iranian Ministry of Arts and Culture in Tehran on 20 September 2010.

This rare collection contains 11,337 verses of Ghalib, was compiled by Dr. Syed Taqi Abedi. Speaking at the occasion, Dr. Abidi said that the study of Ghalib would be incomplete without his Persian poetry. Although Ghalib had earned his reputation in Urdu literature, the poet of the Mughal era was more inclined towards Persian and produced high-order poetry in that language.

At the literary “ru-ba-ru session” organized by the Haryana Urdu Academy, where Dr. Taqi offered an analytical study of the works of legendary poet Mirza Ghalib, both in Persian as well as Urdu.

He informs that Ghalib wrote 1,792 couplets in Urdu by the year 1865 as against the 11,340 in Persian. He also opined that Ghalib was a visionary, a poet of humanism whose works are popular even after three centuries.

Mirza Ghalib & the Cinema

The sub-continental cinema has paid much tribute to the great poet. Be that through films, television, plays or music. Sheila Bhatia’s productions, Begum Abida Ahmed and Surendra Verma’s play performed by the National School of Drama are only some of the many artists who have made plays on the life and works of Mirza Ghalib.

Many ghazal singers have sung his poetry immortalizing his poems for the generations to come. Maestros of music like Jagjit Singh, Mehdi Hassan, Abida Parveen, Farida Khanum, Tina Sani, Madam Noor Jehan, Mohammed Rafi, Asha Bhosle, Begum Akhtar, Ghulam Ali, Lata Mangeshkar, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Rahat Fateh Ali Khan have sung his ghazals.

Gulzar produced a TV serial, Mirza Ghalib (1988) which used to be telecasted on DD National and was a massive success in India. Naseeruddin Shah played the role of Ghalib in the serial, and it featured ghazals sung and composed by Jagjit Singh and Chitra Singh. The serial’s music has since been recognized as Jagjit Singh and Chitra Singh’s magnum opus, enjoying a cult following in the Indian subcontinent.

Conclusion

Mirza Asadullah Baig Khan aka Mirza Ghalib is a towering figure in the ranks of literary figures of the Indian Subcontinent. And is an important poet who needs to be studied by every lover of Urdu literature and poetry. 

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