What is the oldest language known that we have full grasp of?

General discussion about learning languages
jimmy
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Re: What is the oldest language known that we have full grasp of?

Postby jimmy » Sat Apr 03, 2021 2:32 pm

Iversen wrote:The problem with the original question is that "full grasp" is a very hard thing to achieve - if not downright impossible. So we have to lower the treshold to get any meaningful answers.

Let me summarize a bit: we have tons of writings from languages that are more than two thousand years old, but they may not represent the spoken language - and they definitely don't contain every single word or expression that was in common use when those texts were written. And even though we may now something about the pronunciation it is unlikely that we know enough to say how any single person from an old culture would have sounded. Finally there is the problem with dialectal differences, sociolects and cultural things like degrees of politeness.

Even today there are languages with enormous stylistic and even grammatical differences between speech and writing - for instance French. We do have some texts by Plautus and the famed Satyricon by Petronius plus the graffitti of Pompei and Ercolano to give us a glimpse of how Romans from Rome actually spoke 2000 years ago, but if we read similar works in a presumed 'popular' style by modern authors we can not necessarily recognize the way we speak among ourselves - partly because we don't belong to the social and geographical groups whose speech those authors have tried to mimick. And in older times where writing skills were limited to a few well educated specialists the gorge between the stylish written style and common smalltalk, which rarely was written down, must have been much deeper.

The Quran has been mentioned, but how much do we know about the spoken language in Mecca or Medina in the 6. century? Did the merchants and their wifes communicate in MSA about their daily life? I know that at least one irritated wife in Ancient Egypt wrote to her absent husband and asked what the h**l he was up to since he hadn't returned home already. Lots of similar texts would be necessary to claim that we know other registers than the stuffy or poetic 'high speech' - even partially. But knowing everything? Did the last native speaker of Dalmatian know everything about his language? Probably not...

As for the pronunciations in the old cultures we often know more than you might expect, partly through the efforts of learned scholars that have been cast in iron in sound laws that indicate how something once probably was pronounced, but also through clever interpretations of small things like writing errors and random comments by contemporary writers. And I'm fairly sure that the old ones would have understood you if you used the reconstructed pronunciation. You don't need living native native speakers to get there. For example I had heard very little spoken Italian when I came to Milano in 1972 on my first interrail trip. I had learnt Italian from a textbook with the usual dubious explanations concerning the pronunciation, and nevertheless the Italians seemed to understand everything I said. And by the way - what about the dialectal differences, like where to apply closed versus open o's and e'? Appparently they they weren't that important (at my level, at least).

We probably know enough about the old pronunciations to be in principle potentially understandable in several old languages (not just Latin and Greek, but also a number of Asiatic languages), like me when I arrived in Milano in 1972 with my homebrewed Italian. But asking for a full grasp of anything just serves to make the requirements insurmountable.


hi iversen,
thank you very much for expressing the contexts one by one each points.
to begin with, first I checked whether I have mistake in understanding the thread , and the quotation is below to recall/remember the core query:

By full grasp I mean: we understand it enough to learn it and use it as the ancient natives would have (including pronunciation). Perhaps not "complete" knowledge, but close enough.

What are some others? (either slightly younger, or not quite "full grasp," but close)


in this regard, I think arabic is sufficiently satisfying the aim to me personally. but I say it was personal because here, as you mention the phonology may be an obstacle in learning as normally some of us have variously.

for instance as one of my native language is kurdish ,and the pronunciation of these languages are similar , I really do not have so much problems on how to pronunciate it.

but normally even if we have some obstacles and such obstacles are way difficult ,this most probably should not be in the central point of check lists. because as you express (or I understand,that will reach almost or equal to impossiblity) which will allow us to reach a decision

why should I learn it, it is already impossible?


:)

so, I do not pay attention such details. However, some language s (for instance turkish) is really has aesthetical usage ...
because ...especially when you observe the people who are using istanbul accent and are professional in their diction and expression in daily life, you will evventually see that it was not as that simple thing.

you mention egypt but to be honest although I am not still good in arabic, I think this dialect is significantly different than MSA.

maybe someone who are from madinah would be good to leave some comment(s), because as I heard they use the closest dialect to Quranic tongue.
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Dragon27
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Re: What is the oldest language known that we have full grasp of?

Postby Dragon27 » Sat Apr 03, 2021 2:58 pm

tungemål wrote:- Icelandic: The modern language is almost exactly the same as the Old Norse that was in use from the 7th century.

I've heard that there is not much difference between modern Icelandic and the language of Icelandic Sagas. It's still not identical though. But that goes for written form, the pronunciation has changed quite a lot since back then.
But Icelandic Sagas were written down much later than the 7th century, so I'm not sure if we can go that far into the past.

jimmy wrote:I remember a text do not remember where it comes from or the source but it was saying
that both chinese and arabic alphabets (i.e. texts,there is no aphabet in chinese,i know that) were produced by images or of natural drawings.

The arabic alphabet (more specifically, abjad) was derived (like most of the alphabets) from Phoenician alphabet.

jimmy wrote:todays turkishes are still researching ancient turkish language.
also, very interestingly in a documentary program,I saw someone going to mid-china and could particularly understand each them.

is not that interesting?
turkey is in erope

but china is in east asia.
so,how..?

Not sure what you're talking about. Uyghurs, probably? Uyghur is a Turkic language, so it shouldn't be too hard to develop some level of understanding for another Turkic language speaker (it should be especially easy for Uzbeks, but harder for Turks, I guess).
Last edited by Dragon27 on Sat Apr 03, 2021 2:59 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Iversen
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Re: What is the oldest language known that we have full grasp of?

Postby Iversen » Sat Apr 03, 2021 2:58 pm

Oh yes, Jimmy, but the point is not whether people speak Arabic differently now (and differently from the way they pronounce MSA) - they apparently do - but whether any living person knows the language used for common smalltalk at the time where Quran was written.

How far was that language from the version used in the Quran? Or in other words: did Mohammed just write in the 'normal' local Arabic or did he use a somewhat more polished version of that language? Like when the ancient Romans spoke Latin - but just not quite the language used by Cicero or Vergil. If the Quran doesn't represent the spoken language back then, how well do we then know the language people actually used for casual conversations?

Dragon27 wrote:I've heard that there is not much difference between modern Icelandic and the language of Icelandic Sagas. It's still not identical though. But that goes for written form, the pronunciation has changed quite a lot since back then. But Icelandic Sagas were written down much later than the 7th century, so I'm not sure if we can go that far into the past.

Well, the sagas were written down after the introduction of Christianity, but given how conservative the Icelanders were (and are) I'm not sure that the difference was that big. The really big changes between Proto-Norse and Ancient Norse happened between 200 and 400 AC, i.e. long before the settlement of Iceland in 874. But actually we know a lot about Old Norse pronunciation because an anonymous genius wrote the 'first Icelandic grammar' in the 12. century and told us for instance that the Vikings used nasal sounds - you couldn't know that just from reading the sagas.

Apart from that: the masculine singular noun ending -r (or older: -z) has now become -ur, the old letter ǫ is now written as ö and the use of subjectless sentences has gone down. But more importantly: all the 'Old Norse' sagas you see now in normal editions have had their orthography regularized in such a way that it would be hard to guess what the original looked like - see a triple example from Egil's saga in Wikipedia, so the differences between true Old Norse and Modern Icelandic are deliberately obscured. Nevertheless I'm fairly sure that Egil Skallagrimsson would have understood the speech of Katrín Jakobsdóttir (the current prime minister since 2017), but maybe not agreed with it.
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jimmy
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Re: What is the oldest language known that we have full grasp of?

Postby jimmy » Sat Apr 03, 2021 3:19 pm

Iversen wrote:Oh yes, Jimmy, but the point is not whether people speak Arabic differently now (and differently from the way they pronounce MSA) - they apparently do - but whether we know the language used for common smalltalk at the time where Quran was written.


I think yes , we know the language used for common smalltalk at the time where Quran was written. (but to define an approximate ratio might be more meaningful , so , to me: the ratio shoul be no less than %60
saudi arabia accept qoran as I know as a law book or the criteria's are taken from this book,so..

How far was that language from the version used in the Quran? Or in other words: did Mohammed just write in the 'normal' local Arabic or did he use a somewhat more polished version of that language? Like when the ancient Romans spoke Latin - but just not quite the language used by Cicero or Vergil. If he Quran doesn't represent the spoken language back then, how well do we then know the language people actually used for casal conversations?

really I do not deal thoroughly with religious contexts in the current position. but again to me, that is already impossible as default acceptance.

because if Muhammed (s.a.w) had changed the original text, then it would be accepted as a written material by a human/mankind.
but in islamic world ,we do not accept that thing.
so,simply the original text is protected and not interferrable.
Last edited by jimmy on Sat Apr 03, 2021 3:26 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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jimmy
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Re: What is the oldest language known that we have full grasp of?

Postby jimmy » Sat Apr 03, 2021 3:24 pm

Not sure what you're talking about. Uyghurs, probably? Uyghur is a Turkic language, so it shouldn't be too hard to develop some level of understanding for another Turkic language speaker (it should be especially easy for Uzbeks, but harder for Turks, I guess).


yes, but i think that is extraordinarily interesting.

people here in turkey are generally not familiar with transatlantic ideas /events. :) :)
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