"Moreover, you scorned our people, and compared the Albanese to sheep, and according to your custom think of us with insults. Nor have you shown yourself to have any knowledge of my race. Our elders were Epirotes, where this Pirro came from, whose force could scarcely support the Romans. This Pirro, who Taranto and many other places of Italy held back with armies. I do not have to speak for the Epiroti. They are very much stronger men than your Tarantini, a species of wet men who are born only to fish. If you want to say that Albania is part of Macedonia I would concede that a lot more of our ancestors were nobles who went as far as India under Alexander the Great and defeated all those peoples with incredible difficulty. From those men come these who you called sheep. But the nature of things is not changed. Why do your men run away in the faces of sheep?"
Letter from Skanderbeg to the Prince of Taranto ▬ Skanderbeg, October 31 1460

Oldest Language

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Oldest Language


Post by Arta » Mon Aug 24, 2009 8:33 pm

What's the "oldest language"?
How old is language?

Answer provided by Elizabeth Pyatt, Pennsylvania State University

What's the "oldest language"?

In my opinion, we don't know the answer to this question, although some people will give one anyway. Here are some criteria people use, and reasons why linguists don't think they really work.

Oldest Written Form

Some people base their answer on which language got written down first. If you're counting absolute oldest, probably Sumerian or Egyptian wins because they developed a writing system first (both start appearing in about 3200 BC). If you're counting surviving languages, Chinese is often cited (first written in 1500 BC), but Greek is a possible tie because it was written in Linear B beginning ca. 1500 BC.*

*Data from "Ancient Scripts of the World" (http://www.ancientscripts.com)

But all of this is irrelevant, because writing is not equal to speaking.

In 3200 BC, there were many, many languages spoken besides Sumerian and Egyptian, but they weren't fortunate enough to have a writing system. These languages are just as old. To take one interesting case, the Albanian language (spoken north of Greece) was not written down until about the 15th century AD, yet Ptolemy mentions the people in the first century BC.* The linguistic and archaeological evidence suggests that Albanians were a distinct people for even longer than that. So Albanian has probably existed for several millennia, but has only been written down for 500 years. With a twist of fate, Albanian might be considered very "old" and Greek pretty "new".

*See An Introduction to the Indo-European Languages by Philip Baldi.

Longest in the Region

Another criteria people use is how long a language has been spoken in a particular region. For instance, Basque is considered very old because the evidence is that there have been Basque speakers in Spain and France since at least the 2nd century BC and probably longer than that. Similary, Welsh is considered the "oldest language in Britain" because its speakers were there first.

But population movements cannot determine a language's age.

English speakers have moved all over the world, but even if English only arrived on a continent in the 19th century, it does not negate the fact that some form of English was spoken in the 6th century AD in England. Even Welsh has moved a bit, establishing foot holds in Patagonia (Argentina) and Canada - however, this language still originated in Britain.

Age of Sister Languages

Many linguists do date languages to when they split from their parent tongue. For instance, French and Spanish are both descended from Latin, so their age is determined by when they evolved into separate languages (between 400-700 AD). Some languages like Greek and Basque are considered older because they never "split" into daughter languages (although both have dialects), and so maintain their status as a "language." In that criteria, there may be a language with the world record of being spoken the longest without having spawned daughter languages - but no one could tell you which one it is.

Even with this criteria, the situation is still murky. It's true that there was a spoken form of Greek in 1500 BC during the Bronze Age, but if a Bronze Age Greek was transported to Modern Athens, he or she would probably not be able to understand Modern Greek. Even speakers of Classical Greek (500 BC) are lost in Athens unless they have also learned Modern Greek. Speakers of Modern English have trouble with Shakespeare from just 500 years ago.

Languages are continuously evolving over time, and probably most languages, even conservative ones, require special training in order for modern speakers to fully understand older texts. In the final analysis, most modern languages are equally young.

How old is language?

Although this question is still being debated, most linguists assume that the full language capacity had evolved by 100,000 BC. This is when modern humans (homo sapiens sapiens) evolved in Africa with a modern skull shape (indicating modern brain function) and a modern vocal tract which would allow these people to articulate all the sounds found in modern languages. Some anthropologists speculate that language or parts of the language ability may have developed earlier, but there is no firm consensus yet.

"I never gave anybody hell! I just told the truth and they thought it was hell."~Harry S. Truman

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Re: Oldest Language


Post by Arbëri » Sat Nov 21, 2009 2:51 pm

(Old) Albanian - Living legacy of a dead language?

According to the central hypothesis of a project undertaken by the Austrian Science Fund FWF, Old Albanian had a significant influence on the development of many Balkan languages. Intensive research now aims to confirm this theory. This little-known language is being researched using all available texts before a comparison with other Balkan languages is carried out. The outcome of this work will include the compilation of a lexicon providing an overview of all Old Albanian verbs.

Different languages in the same geographical area often reveal certain similarities, despite there being no evidence of a common origin. This phenomenon, known as "Sprachbund", is also evident in the Balkan region where the Albanian, Greek, Bulgarian, Macedonian and Romanian languages display common words and structures. The question is whether these languages have influenced one another, or whether one specific language has been decisive in shaping the evolution of the others?

A project by the Department of Linguistics at the University of Vienna aims to prove that (Old) Albanian was a major influence on the other Balkan languages. Linguist Dr. Stefan Schumacher and his colleague Dr. Joachim Matzinger are undertaking pioneering research in two key areas. The initial stage involves an in-depth examination of Old Albanian, as research into this language is extremely scarce in comparison to modern Albanian. This includes an analysis of the Old Albanian verbal system using all available written sources - the first study of its kind. In the second stage, the results are compared with the verbal systems of the other Balkan languages to establish where similarities occur.

Influences from Albania
As project leader Dr. Schumacher explains, the research is already bearing fruit: "So far, our work has shown that Old Albanian contained numerous modal levels that allowed the speaker to express a particular stance to what was being said. Compared to the existing knowledge and literature, these modal levels are actually more extensive and more nuanced than previously thought. We have also discovered a great many verbal forms that are now obsolete or have been lost through restructuring - until now, these forms have barely even been recognized or, at best, have been classified incorrectly." These verbal forms are crucial to explaining the linguistic history of Albanian and its internal usage.

However, they can also shed light on the reciprocal relationship between Albanian and its neighbouring languages. The researchers are following various leads which suggest that Albanian played a key role in the Balkan Sprachbund. For example, it is likely that Albanian is the source of the suffixed definite article in Romanian, Bulgarian and Macedonian, as this has been a feature of Albanian since ancient times.

This project is based on the entire body of available Old Albanian literature dating from between the 16th and 18th centuries. This will prove a real challenge for the researchers as it comprises 1,500 pages of text, each of which must be analysed extremely carefully. Dr. Matzinger comments: "Until now, very little research has been carried out on these texts, as we are dealing almost exclusively with Catholic religious literature that was first forgotten and then became taboo, particularly during the Communist era. Following the fall of Communism, this literature has once again emerged from the shadows, but, so far, there has been a lack of money and of background knowledge about Catholicism."

Due to their role in the FWF project, these old texts are receiving a new lease of life and taking their place as part of Austria's rich tradition of research into this area - indeed, the Austrian professor Norbert Jokl, who was killed by the Nazis, is known as the "father of Albanology". Jokl would no doubt have been proud to witness the first complete representation of the Old Albanian verbal system in the form of the lexicon that is to be produced at the conclusion of the research. This will provide a foundation for all future investigations into the verbal system of Albanian and will also prove invaluable to Indo-European studies and linguistics as a whole.

Scientific Contact
Dr. Stefan Schumacher
University of Vienna
Institute of Linguistics / Indo-European Studies
Dr.-Karl-Lueger-Ring 1
1010 Wien, Austria
T +43 / 1 / 4277 - 41 753
M +43 / 676 / 79 73 521

Austrian Science Fund FWF
Mag. Stefan Bernhardt
Haus der Forschung [/b]
Sensengasse 1
1090 Wien, Austria
T +43 / 1 / 505 67 40 - 8111

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Re: Oldest Language


Post by jay_albania_fan » Sat Nov 21, 2009 11:21 pm

What is interesting about the Balkan Sprachbund is that the languages are all related yet some of their shared features are not due to that relationship. It does seem that Albanian and its predecessor language probably was the one that influenced the others. For some reason, neighboring languages (be they related or not) over time will influence each other. This must be due to some form of bilingualism I think. I don't think you borrow a feature from another language unless you are familiar with it. The Balkan Sprachbund especially is one based on more on structure and grammar. I am trying to decide if there are any marked phonological similarities between the Balkan languages. There are some for sure, but how compelling? Hmmmm....

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Re: Oldest Language


Post by Arbëri » Wed Feb 03, 2010 9:35 pm

Cavalli Sforza is an Italian population geneticist who teaches at Stanford University in California. He claimed that the Albanian and Armenian languages originated with the first wave of Neolithic farmers. He said maybe Greek originated at the same time, but there was not enough evidence to support this claim. Albanian together with Armenian are the oldest languages that came into use when humans first started to farm. . These claims are documented in Genes, Peoples, and Languages by Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza, it was published in 2001 after 10 years of intense research by different scientists

Dipartimento di Genetica, Biologia e Biochimica,
Università di Torino,
via Santena 19, 10126 Torino, Italy
Department of Genetics,
Stanford University,
Stanford, CA 94305,USA
In a study by Cavalli-Sforza et al. (1988), the spread of anatomically modern
man was reconstructed on the basis of genetic and linguistic pieces of evidence:
the main conclusion was that these two approaches reflect a common underlying
history, the history of our past still frozen in the genes of modern populations.
The expression `genetic history' was introduced (Piazza et al. 1988) to point out
that if today we find many genes showing the same geographical patterns in
terms of their frequencies, this may be due to the common history of our species.
A deeper exploration of the whole problem can be found in Cavalli-Sforza et al.
(1994). In the following, some specific cases of structural analogies between
linguistic and genetic geographical patterns will be explored that supply further
and more updated information. It is important to emphasize at the outset that
evidence for coevolution of genes and languages in human populations does not
suggest by itself that some genes of our species determine the way we speak;
this coevolution may simply be due to a common mode of transmission and
mutation of genetic and linguistic units of information and common constraints
of demographic factors.

A new treatment of the problem has been given in a still unpublished
analysis (Piazza et al., but see Cavalli-Sforza, 2000 where main results are
anticipated) of a set of lexical data (200 words) in 63 Indo-European languages
published by Dyen et al. (1992).
“Nëse doni të zbuloni historinë para Krishtit dhe
shkencat e asaj kohe, duhet të studioni gjuhën shqipe !"
Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz - albanolog, matematicient, filozof gjerman

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