How old is your language?
When researching the background of the Siraiki language, which I’ve just added to Omniglot, I came across a claim that this language might be “the oldest language … of the world”. The arguments in support of this claim don’t appear to be particularly credible, but it’s interesting that the text includes such an assertion.
An article I came across in The Hindu News today describes the efforts being made be the Official Language Commission of Andhra Pradesh to obtain classical status for Telugu. In the article claims are made that the Telugu language is much older than generally accepted, and therefore should be considered a classical language.
Antiquity seems to confer special status on languages and those who speak them. However from a linguistic point of view, no language is older or younger than any other language, and asking the question, “How old is x language?” makes little sense.
Languages change all the time and when you look at the history of a particular language, you can’t say with any degree of certainity exactly when it first appeared. For example, English developed from the Germanic languages of the Angles, Saxons and Jutes, but this was a gradual process that occured over a period of many centuries. People didn’t just wake up one morning and all start speaking English rather than Angle, Saxon, etc.