refers to a system of communication consisting of a set of small
parts and a set of rules that decide the ways in which these parts
can be combined to produce messages that have meaning. They can
be divided into spoken and written and have existed since the ancient
times. In this article, I shall briefly give an overview of the
evolvement of these 2 forms of languages in some of the ancient
civilizations. Are they still in use today?
Sumerian language is the oldest written language that has ever existed,
which developed around 3100 BC in southern Mesopotamia and flourished
during the 3rd millennium BC. The first Sumerian literary texts
were written in around 2600 B.C., which included several hymns and
proverbs. About 2000 BC, the language of Akkadian (Assyro-Babylonian)
replaced the Sumerian language as a spoken language, but the Sumerian
language was still used in writing, almost to the end of the life
of the Akkadian language, which was around the beginning of the
ancient Mesoamerica, the Mayas spoke their own forms of Maya language
which were rather different in various parts of Mesoamerica. The
chart below shows the diversity of the Mayan language in the different
regions of Mesoamerica as well as during the different eras of the
The Ancient Egyptians too had their own form of language called
Egyptian. Egyptian has been divided into five periods. The first,
Old Egyptian, was spoken from before 3000 BC until about 2200 BC.
Next, Middle Egyptian, was in use from about 2200 BC to about 1300
BC and regarded as the classical Egyptian literary language. It
was mainly written, not spoken. By the time of the New Kingdom (1550
BC-1070 BC), many changes had been made to the Egyptian language
in terms of grammar and phonetics, to become a new form of language
called the Late Egyptian. In about 700 BC, demotic Egyptian, ("popular
Egyptian"), which was written with a unique script called demotic
script, became the accepted literary language. The last phase of
the Egyptian language was the Coptic language, introduced in A.D.300.
ancient Chinese used a language that is known even up to today.
The written language used characters that stood for things or ideas
and so, unlike groups of letters, they cannot and need never be
sounded. As a result, the Chinese language could be read and understood
by people all over the country despite gradual changes in pronunciation,
the evolvement of regional and local dialects, and the modification
of the characters. The following shows the transformation that the
Chinese language has undergone from pictographs to the Chinese characters
that we know of today.
Today, there are about 4000 languages spoken all over the world,
though only about a hundred of them are widely spoken. Some of the
ancient languages such as Sumerian and Egyptian no longer exist.
The official language of Egypt today is Arabic, though there are
many dialects of the language. As most all of us probably know,
English, a language which originated in England, is the most widespread
language today, spoken by people all over the globe in countries
such as the United States, Australia, New Zealand, and even in various
parts of Asia. Mandarin Chinese on the other hand, is a language
that is spoken by the most number of people. In my country Singapore,
the 4 main languages spoken are English, Mandarin, Hindi and Malay.
What about yours?