Ancient Words

This may be a stupid question… what is the oldest known word in the English language (i.e. a word still in common usage but one which could have come from an earlier language other than English)

WAG time.
Could look at words with ultimately an Indo-European root, such as Sanskrit.
Example: modern “cow” was “ko”.
These are recalling from watching a documentary on the first languages.
Looking through a dictionary for them is one way to spend a rainy Sunday afternoon …

A likely candidate is “Mom.” Most languages have a variant of it, and it’s believed to come from the vocalization of an infant’s nursing instinct.

http://www.linguistlist.org/~ask-ling/archive-1997.5/msg00147.html

Verdict: No clear answer possible.

Re: Mom

So does every language have a word linguistically similar to ‘mom’?

What counts as similar: Arabic has Umm. Or Walida.

If you mean as in English or say, Spanish, no. In Tagalog, mom can be: iná, ináng, ináy, nanay. Tagalog did borrow mamá and máma from Spanish and English.

Coincidentally, we recently discussed this in my psychology of language lectures. The statistic that my lecturer provided was that 80% of languages include a nasal consonant (/m/, /n/, or “ng” (don’t know if there’s an ASCII code for this IPA symbol)) in their words for “mother.” The lecturer gave the same reason that you did for the possible connection, i.e. that these names for “mother” arise from the murmur that babies produce while feeding, which is echoed by the mother.

Most of the names that Doobieous and Collounsbury listed do contain a nasal consonant (all but “Walida”, actually).

Returning to the OP…

There’s a very handy list of Indo-European roots in the back of the American Heritage Dictionary. Makes for fun perusing. Several words have descended from Proto-Indo-European to modern English virtually unchanged:

mus- (‘mouse’)
reudh- (‘red’)
leubh- (‘love’)
sed- (‘sit’)

According to this page,
http://members.aol.com/_ht_a/yahyam/page24/protoworld.htm
“the words ayah, man, and aqua have remained virtually the same since the beginning of time.”

I remember reading somewhere that the Proto-Indo-European word for nephew was *nepot-, and the modern Romanian word for nephew is also nepot, so the word is still the same after 5,000 years.

Protoworld to my understanding has near zero support among linguists. The assertion re ayah and aqua strikes me as ludicrous.

Let people examine the evidence and draw their own conclusions.

“Examining” the evidence without a primer in the science is not helpful esp. in fighting ignorance. I’ll go with the considered judgements of the specialists.

I read somewhere that “Eeny meeny miney mo” was about the oldest thing we say. Seriously!

Not sure. I believe that to be an old counting rhyme used by shepherds in England (I think somewhere like Devon) but right now I don’t have a source for that, so make of it what you will.