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First civilization/Language?

  1. Jan 14, 2004 #1
    I am doing some research and was hoping some of you can help.

    I wasn't sure where I should put this, but General Philosophy seemed the most appropriate section.

    I know there are many opinions regarding the oldest civilizations/languages in the world.
    Most accounts I have read point to:

    Phoenicians - I read that the Phoenicians based their written language on the Egyptian Heiroglyphs.
    I read that their history goes back to ancient India (10,000 BCE).
    I read that they originated language and all the languages on earth can be traced back to them.

    Sumerians - Coptic. Claimed by many to be the creator of the first civilization, and the first written accounts of creation of man (the first religion).

    Indians - Sanskrit (Devanagari). The Vedas say that "God-men" brought Sanskrit to Earth men as a language of musical tones.

    It is difficult to separate fact from fiction from opinion.
    Does anyone know of a reliable objective source that presents the available facts in an unbiased way?

  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 14, 2004 #2


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    Try searching "language trees," and "paleolinguistics." You won't find much that's definitive/conclusive, but it is information. The other approach that's been more enlightening for me is the history of mathematics and/or mathematical notations --- this is a precursor to language and written language in some hypotheses.
  4. Jan 14, 2004 #3

    Sanskrit is definitely oldest language

    Let me tell you that the oldest book is "Rig Veda" so this implies that the language in which it is written is the oldest one and it is written in Sanskrit and You are infact correct
  5. Jan 14, 2004 #4
    I'm Quoting from one of Hymns in RIG VEDA

    A time is envisioned when the world was not, only a watery chaos (the dark, "indistinguishable sea") and a warm cosmic breath, which could give an impetus of life. Notice how thought gives rise to desire (when something is thought of it can then be desired) and desire links non-being to being (we desire what is not but then try to bring it about that it is). Yet the whole process is shrouded in mystery.

    U can visithttp://sanskrit.safire.com/pdf/RIGVED.PDF
  6. Jan 14, 2004 #5
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  7. Jan 14, 2004 #6
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  8. Jan 14, 2004 #7
    Thank you for all your help.

    Let me show you one of the problems I have been encountering when researching the Vedas.

    The translation from the site you linked to:
    1. Agni, showerer (of benefits), thou who
    art the lord, thou verily combinest with all
    creatures, thou art kindled upon the
    footmark of Ila, bring unto us riches.
    2. Go together, speak together, know
    your minds to be functioning together from
    a common source, in same manner as the
    impulses of creative intelligence, in the
    beginning, remain together united near the
    3. Integrated is the expression of
    knowledge, an assembly is significant in
    unity, united are their minds while full of
    desires. For you I make use of the
    integrated expression of knowledge.
    4. United be your purpose, harmonious
    be your feelings, collected be your mind,
    in the same way as all the various aspects
    of the universe exist in togetherness,

    The copy I have (translated by Ralph Griffith [1896]) says this:
    1. THOU, mighty Agni, gatherest up all that is precious for thy friend.
    Bring us all treasures as thou art enkindled in libation's place
    2 Assemble, speak together: let your minds be all of one accord,
    As ancient Gods unanimous sit down to their appointed share.
    3 The place is common, common the assembly, common the mind, so be their thought united.
    A common purpose do I lay before you, and worship with your general oblation.
    4 One and the same bt your resolve, and be your minds of one accord.
    United be the thoughts of all that all may happily agree.

    Granted, they are similar, but not at all the same.
    What's the story?
  9. Jan 14, 2004 #8


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    The accepted "oldest civilization" is the Sumerian civilization. There is a lot of hoopla about a 9500 year old Indian city, but it is unsubstantiated and unaccepted. For some reason, it seems to be very important to Indian archaeologists that India have the oldest civilization. There always seems to be some new discovery that predates Sumeria, but later gets discredited.

  10. Jan 14, 2004 #9
    Ok I want to ask which is the oldest book of the world
  11. Jan 14, 2004 #10


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    What do you mean by "book"? Books as we know them, pages bound together, didn't come into existence until quite late, say about the beginning of the current era (Roman empire, time of Jesus, etc.). By that time writing was over two thousand years old already. The Sumerians and the later Akkadians (a Semitic people) wrote with strokes of a stylus on wet clay, a method called Cuneiform. Vast quantities of texts in this form have been retrieved dating back to 2500 years before the current era. I don't believe there is a single complete text in Sumerian, just fragments. But there are long mythological texts in Akkadian, from maybe -2200 CE. I believe this is the best candidate for the oldest "book". It's older than any continuous Egyption text.

    As has already been pointed out, Sanskrit is not the oldest language since it is related to Indo-Iranian and other Indo-European languages and is thus a derived language.
  12. Jan 14, 2004 #11
    It is one of the classical languages of the world, with rich literature spanning over 2,000 years, making it arguably the oldest living language. The pride of many Tamilians is the language Tamil itself. Today, there are sizable Tamil speaking populations in Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Singapore, Mauritius and other countries.

    It is surprising that a language as old as Tamil has survived for such a long time and is still in everyday use. It survives in two distinct forms: the spoken form and the written form. It is still spoken by 80 million Tamils all over the world. Having been assimilated the changes the language has grown with the ages. This adaptability of Tamil is unique in character. Perhaps because of its age, it has an unusually diverse literature.

    As in the case of every language the socio- political climate of the period has been affecting the growth and well being of Tamil. Tamil has been successfully emerging victorious by embracing and enabling each successive generation because of its structural perfection as well as adaptability.

    The other older languages are Sumarian,Latin,Greece and Sanskrit.

    But our tamil scholars say that Thalai sangam(11000 BC) was around 14000 years back.

    Other languages Latin,Greece and Sanskrit has derived words from Tamil.

    Yaam arindha Mozhigalail Tamizh mozhi pol inithengum kaanoem ! - Bharathiyaar
  13. Jan 14, 2004 #12
    Sanskrit, earliest of the ancient languages.
    There is sufficient evidence available today to say that Sanskrit is the oldest language of the world.
    Among the current languages which possess a hoary antiquity like Latin or Greek, Sanskrit is the only language which has retained its pristine purity. It has maintained its structure and vocabulary even today as it was in the past.

    The oldest literature of the world, the Vedas, the Puranas and the Ithihasas which relate to the Indian subcontinent, are still available in the same form as they were known from the very beginning. There are many many scholars in India who can interpret them today, much the same way great scholars of India did years ago. Such interpretation comes not by merely studying earlier known interpretations but through a steady process of assimilation of knowledge linking a variety of disciplines via Sanskrit.

    Sanskrit is as modern as any language can be
    Sanskrit is very much a spoken language today. Even now, as we enter the twenty first century, Sanskrit is spoken by an increasing number of people, thankfully many of them young. Among the learned in India, it continues to be a bridge across different states where people, in spite of their own mother tongue, use it to exchange scholarly and even general information relating to the traditions of the country. The News service offered by the Government of India through television and radio continues to feature daily Sanskrit program catering to local as well as international news.
    The grammar of Sanskrit has attracted scholars world over. It is very precise and upto date and remains well defined even today. Of late, several persons have expressed the opinion that Sanskrit is the best language for use with computers. The Samskritapriyah group does not subscribe to this view however.

    Sanskrit is a Scientist's paradise
    Sanskrit, the vocabulary of which is derived from root syllables, is ideal for coining new scientific and technological terms. The need to borrow words or special scientific terms does not arise.
    From the very beginning, scientific principles have been hidden in the verses found in the Vedas, Upanishads and the great epics of India. Concepts and principles seen in present day mathematics and astronomy, are all hidden in the compositions and treatises of many early scholars of the country. Some of these principles and concepts will be shown in the information section that will accompany the lessons.

    The precise and extremely well defined structure of Sanskrit, coupled with its antiquity offers a number of areas in linguistics research including Computational Linguistics. Also, Sanskrit distinguishes itself in that it is the only known language which has a built-in scheme for pronunciation, word formation and grammar.
    Sanskrit, a language for Humanity
    Sanskrit is a language for humanity and not merely a means for communication within a society. The oldest surviving literature of the world, viz. the Vedas, encompass knowledge in virtually every sphere of human activity. The fact that many profound principles relating to human existence were given expression through Sanskrit, continue to amaze those who study Sanskrit. A Sanskrit Scholar understands the world better than most others.
    Sanskrit perfectly depicted (and continues to depict) the social order of the day and offers clues to historical developments within the Society. The language has been used effectively describe the virtuous and the not so virtuous qualities of great men, women, kings and queens, the philosophers and Saints of the country.

    Philosophy, Theology and Sanskrit
    Sanskrit abounds in Philosophy and Theology related issues. There are so many words one encounters within Sanskrit that convey subtly differing meanings of a concept that admits of only one interpretation when studied with other languages. The language thus has the ability to offer links between concepts using just the words.
    Sanskrit for your emotions
    The connoisseurs of the Sanskrit language know that it is the language of the heart. Whatever be the emotion one wishes to display, be it devotion, love, affection, fear, threat, anger, compassion, benevolence, admiration, surprise and the like, the most appropriate words of Sanskrit can flow like a gushing stream.
    Some Unique Characteristics of the language
    Sanskrit is co-original with the Vedas.. The vedas cannot be studied without the Vedangas, which are six in number. The first three deal with the spoken aspects of the language. The first of these three, namely Siksha, tells us how to pronounce the letters of the aksharas. Siksha divides the letters into three classes- Swaras, Vyanjanas and Oushmanas. Depending on the effort (Prayatna), place of origin in the body (Sthana), the force used (bala) and the duration of time (Kala), the letters differ from each other in their auditory quality and meaning.
    Vyakarna, known as the grammar of Sanskrit, is the second Vedanga which describes meaningful word formations. This is usually referred to as Sphota or meaningful sound.

    The third Vedanga, Niruktam, describes certain fundamental root words used in the Vedas. Classification of words into groups of synonyms is an example. For instance, approximately a hundred and twenty synonyms for water are given in Nirukta.

    The fourth Vedanga, Chandas, describes the formation of sentences in metrical form. Unlike English which used a very limited number of metres (basically four), Sanskrit offers about two dozen Vedic metres and innumerable conventional metres.

    The remaining two Vedangas, Kalpa and Jyothisha deal with space and time.

    The letters of Sanskrit

    Sanskrit comprises fifty one letters or aksharas. In other languages, we refer to the letters of the alphabet of the language. We know that the word alphabet is derived from the names of the first two letters of Greek. The term alphabet has no other meaning except to denote the set of letters in the language.

    In contrast, the word "akshara" in Sanskrit denotes something fundamental and significant. One of the direct meanings of the word is that it denotes the set of letters of Sanskrit from the first to the last. The word also means that the sound of the letter does not ever get destroyed and thus signifies the eternal quality of the sound of the letters. The consequence of this meaning is that the sound of a word is essentially the sounds of the aksharas in the word, a concept which will help simplify text to speech applications with computers.

    There are two aspects of non destruction in the above explanation. The first one refers to the phonetic characteristics of the language, i.e., in any word, the aksharas retain their sound. The second aspect of non destruction, amazingly, is that the aksharas retain their individual meanings as well! To give an example, the word "guru" consisting of the aksharas "gu" and "ru" stands for a teacher- one who dispels darkness (ignorance) of the the mind (person). "gu" means darkness and "ru" means the act of removal.

    Now, aren't we beginning to see something very interesting?

    The popular Sanskrit language is based on root syllables and words. Unlike the other languages of the world, every word in Sanskrit is derived from a root. It is a well accepted fact that all Indo-European languages have a common origin. On the basis of the above mentioned fact that all the words of Sanskrit are traceable to specific roots, a feature not seen in other languages, one can presume that Sanskrit is most certainly the origin.

    Massive, yet precise

    One can learn Sanskrit purely for the sake of the great epics of India. The Ramayana has 24,000 verses fully in metre and the Mahabharata qualifies as the world's largest epic with 100,000 verses. The Mahabharata says, "what is here may be elsewhere, what is not here is nowhere." The precision with which the verses convey information on so many different aspects of life in a society, is a factor one must reckon as the ultimate in composition.
  14. Jan 14, 2004 #13
    World's Oldest Scriptures -- The Vedas

    All this we know about the Aryans from their literature. But as writing was not known in India until about 600 B.C., how could they have had a literature? It was not in books at all; these ancient Indians stored in their memory everything they discovered and passed it on from teacher to pupil. This was called Veda, "knowledge", and the language was an early form of Sanskrit. Scholars say that such was the Aryan power of memory, in all those centuries the Vedas were not changed in any important way. Imagine what your schooling would be like if nothing could be written down! This knowledge was collected into four Vedas by a sage named Vyasa, which is just about the first name we have in Indian history.
    To understand what these writings are all about we must first look at Aryan society. At the head of it stood the priests, who knew the rituals and mantras (formulas) for the sacrifice. After them came the warriors, then the artisans, farmers and merchants, and finally the common labourers. It was the priests who preserved all the higher learning; that is why they were respected throughout the centuries as the superiors of the "caste system". In the first half of the Vedas are collected their prayers, hymns and formulas used at the sacrificial fires. The Vedas are primary scriptures; all later ones, such as the Puranas, are secondary, and may be added to in the future. "God's book is never closed".
  15. Jan 18, 2004 #14
    Is this the translation by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi?
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