Which has the longest language history, China or the West?
This is a very brief essay I wrote today in Chinese and English. Some of you might find it interesting.
I was watching CCTV9 awhile ago, and I heard an old Chinese expert talk about (and I am paraphrasing a bit) how the Chinese language has the longest history out of all the languages in the world. I am not so sure about this.
I looked online to find out when Chinese started writing characters. Answer: somewhere between 14th -11th centuries BCE to ca. 1200 to ca. 1050 BCE the Chinese produced writing on the oracle bones. But of course, these were only the ancestors of today's Chinese characters. The vast majority of today's Chinese cannot even begin to read them.
Now what about the West? Most of the West uses the Latin alphabet. The Latin alphabet's oldest ancestor is the written alphabet Linear A, which was fully developed somewhere around 1900-1800 BC. As we can see, this is significantly older than the oracle bones.
PS: This was hastily thrown together, so I won't be surprised if my argument is holier than Swiss cheese. Anyway, that's my caveat. By the way, I hope to continue contrasting the development of Western and Chinese languages (very superficially) in the near future, so this probably is just the start.
changyeAugust 06, 2009, 01:07 PM
Chinese oracle bone scripts (甲骨文), found in Anyang (安阳), Henan (河南省) about one hundred years ago, dates back about 3,300 years. And recently much older bone scripts were found in Changle (昌乐) in Shandong (山东省). This archaeological find has been named "昌乐甲骨文" .
Many Chinese scholars claim that these scripts date back more than 4,000 years, although it's still not the accepted theory. If this claim proves to be true, "昌乐甲骨文" might be a little older than Linear A, but still much newer than Sumerian cuneiform scripts (苏美尔文字/锲形文字).
What is very interesting for me is that Changele (昌乐) is only 400 kilometers away from Anyang (安阳), and I think it's highly possible that 昌乐甲骨文 was one of the direct predecessors of oracle bone scripts found in Anyang. I look forward to further archaeological discoveries in China.
4,500 yr old archaeological discovery rewrites earliest Chinese characters dating
Chinese inscriptions 1000 years older than other previously found?
sydcartenAugust 05, 2009, 08:58 AM
Dammit! I hate it when that ^ happens. Hopefully it won't happen this time:
According to Wikipedia, Sanskrit "as defined by Pāṇini, had evolved out of the earlier "Vedic" form. Beginning of Vedic Sanskrit can be traced as early as around 1500 BCE (accepted date of Rig-Veda)."
but Sumerian texts begin with Archaic Sumerian — 3100 – 2600/2500 BC
xiaophilAugust 05, 2009, 09:05 AM
sydcarten, assuming your info is correct (I read something similar), the next question is which modern language group is most directly related to Archaic Sumerian. Whoa. That might be too much for us 业余.
miantiaoAugust 05, 2009, 09:07 AM
don't have any link, read it a while back, i like paper, and a comfortable bed to lay on while i read. i'm always willing to be trumped mate, if i wasn't then i'd just be your everyday run of the mill, holier than thou my fecal matter smells of rasberries type ;)
cheers for the research syd, so i guess vedic-sanskrit was a product of the indus-valley civilisation.
sydcartenAugust 05, 2009, 09:15 AM
I think Sumerian is a language isolate, in other words it is not related to any other known language.
It's structure is described as agglutinative (most words are formed by joining morphemes together.)
sydcartenAugust 05, 2009, 09:38 AM
I think Chinese might be unique in the sense that while it has evolved over the millennia it still spans an unbroken linguistic continuum from ancient times to the present, and it is still very much alive and kicking.
I don't know of any other language that can boast that.
xiaophilAugust 05, 2009, 08:55 AM
I was wondering about that. I did go so far as to check out Wikipedia (which who knows how accurate that is). It said this:
The pre-Classical form of Sanskrit is known as Vedic Sanskrit, with the language of the Rigveda being the oldest and most archaic stage preserved, its oldest core dating back to as early as 1500 BCE, qualifying Rigvedic Sanskrit as one of the oldest attestation of any Indo-Iranian language, and one of the earliest attested members of the Indo-European language family."
This seems to indicate that it was one of several written languages started around 1500 BCE-ish, but I am by no means trying to shoot down your response. If you have a good link, I would like to read it.
sydcartenAugust 05, 2009, 09:57 AM
The written language may have had some abrupt changes, but I think the spoken language has evolved more organically, and I don't think non-chinese languages have had a great influence on its evolution
xiaophilAugust 06, 2009, 06:49 AM
都没意思 = "boring"、"meritless"、还是"futile"?
changyeAugust 06, 2009, 08:16 AM
More than four thousand different oracle bone scripts (甲骨文) have been found so far, and about a third of them have been deciphered by linguists. Therefore knowing only twenty 甲骨文 can't make you an expert of oracle bone scripts, unfortunately. Haha, I know you're just kidding.
As for small seal scripts (小篆), most of them are still somewhat difficult for modern Chinese people to read without learning them boforehand. Maybe clerical scripts (隶书) are the oldest Chinese characters modern people can easily read, provided you know traditional characters (繁体字).
BEBCAugust 06, 2009, 11:09 AM
If we are talking about the oldest continuous language, Greek is a good candidate. Classical scholars with no understanding of modern greek are able to make sense of modern greek to the extent that, say, a layman in England might today make sense of Middle English. The language of classical Greece extends way back into the Mycenaean period, as evidenced in the linear B script, at present dated to about 1500BC, and the spoken form of the language obviously dates back further. The archaic mycenaean form of greek itself developed from a subdivision of a subdivision of Indo-European. You can literally go back thousands of years BC, but of course, precise dates and forms of language are impossible to fix.
As for the modern greek writing system, it differs exceedingly little from that of ancient greece, which is traced to a borrowing of phoenecian script around 800 BC. If you can read modern greek, you can read and vocalise ( but not necessarily understand ) ancient greek texts. You might have some initial difficulty with the tone-marks, though ( yes, ancient greek was a tonal language like chinese ). It would be interesting to hear the opinion of any greek member.....how much ancient greek can an educated modern greek person understand ? It's absolutely clear that modern greek script differs from ancient greek script far less than modern Traditional ( !?!! ) chinese script over the same period.
By the way, when are we getting a greekpod.com ?
xiaophilAugust 05, 2009, 09:48 AM
Hmmm, I'm not so sure of that. I think that written Chinese has gone through several abrupt changes. I guess abrupt changes doesn't exactly mean broken continuum, but I would argue that the West's written language development is very similar. But I will try to hold off a bit. That is for my next little essay.
Anyway, I guess most of this stuff just really depends on how one wants to see it. It would be really cool if I could lure a Chinese antagonist in here.