Which Language Has Changed The Least Over The Years

For instance Old English is pretty much nothing like Modern English. Middle English you can kind of decipher. So what language has remained the consistant the for the longest period. For instance could present day Greeks read Ancient Greek. I understand people who speak Icelandic, can read the old Norse Icelandic from times of the Vikings.

I know you can’t search but we have had this question a few times. The issue is complex. I will try to find some threads and maybe others could help if I fail.

Here is one such thread with good info:


Lots of possibilities. First, Icelandic and Faeroese are very conservative North German languages. They have changed some since Old Norse, but in ways that make most Old Norse texts still fairly clear without special scholarship. (E.g., a typical reader can pick up the Canterbury Tales or Le Morte D’Arthur and understand much of it, with most of the rest making sense when read in context. Likewise the Sagas and Eddas are extremely archaic but comprehendable to the typical Icelander.)

Greek is a strong candidate. I have an Internet friend who is a cook, a native of Athens fluent in English, with no special training, who can read the Septuagint, Aristophanes, and Plato with the same sort of “Omigod this is old sounding but it makes sense” reaction. However – and this is a big “but” – this refers to written Greek. The spoken language has changed immensely since that day – including sound shifts that are very close parallels to what English has gone through. But it still uses the same written language, by and large, with some vocabulary changes. (For example, his boss’s teenage son is an agora – which formerly meant “open marketplace” – not a kouros as Plato would have had it.)

Modern Hebrew, of course, is a determined effort to revive classical Hebrew with modern terms and usage added. To a substantial extent this is also true of Irish, but Old Irish is a quite different language from modern Irish Gaelic – in much the same way as the Anglo-Saxon of Beowulf differs from modern English, and for many of the same reasons. Perhaps the champion in this regard, though, is Sanskrit, which is claimed as their mother tongue by a few hundred citizens of India – though this claim is about akin to Latin being the official language of Vatican City. But that does represent a nearly unchanged language of over 2600 years lineage, albeit a highly artificial claim.

Lithuanian is an extremely conservative language, believed to be the language closest to what Proto-Indo-European was 4000 years ago. It has evolved in its own specialized ways but at a very slow pace compared to other languages. (Intriguingly, this is not true for the other extant Baltic language, Lett (Latvian), but it both provides a cross-check on Lithuanian and has its own conservative vocabulary usages.)

As with Greek, note that Chinese ideography, though several times reformed, preserves continuity with writings of several hundred years BC – approaching 3000 years. We do not, of course, have a clear understanding of how the spoken languages (“Chinese” is not a single language but a group of languages, many not mutually intelligible, written in the same ideographic script) have changed over that period.

So there are a large group of candidates for “least changed” – depending more on what criteria you use for “least change” and “same language” than on any objective standard.

Over six thousand, according to the Ethnologue. The people who live in Mattur Village speak it as a first language.

Those were interesting but the threads aren’t quite was asking.

I speak Serbo-Croation and I always get into it with people. I’ve been to Serbia, Croatia and Bosnia, it’s the same language no matter what they call it, just written differently. Macedonian I can get by with and I’m lost by the time I get to Bulgaria.

I guess you could rephrase my question as “If you went back 1000 years and brought a book,” could people read it in the same language form. Of course I realize few peope were literate but you get my idea. Or if 1000 years is too long then say like 500 years.


Muslims usually study the Koran in Classical Arabic (remember that not all Muslims are Arab and vice versa, though most Muslims learn some Arabic for worship even if it’s not their native language). Classical Arabic is a snapshot of the language taken from Mohammed’s time and continues to be used largely so the Koran can be studied in its pure, original form (although the Koran is translated, the original is strongly preferred to translations). Also, even though each Arab country has its own colloquial dialect, most formal writing (nearly all published works) and speaking (news broadcasts, speeches) is done in Classical Arabic.

So Classical Arabic today, spoken natively by millions, is nearly identical to the language of about 1300 years ago.

I know little about Hebrew but I believe there may be a similar story there, since great pains are taken when copying the Torah, IIRC, and the language is taught as part of religious training.

My guess would be that Italian is probably pretty close to its older form as well, at least compared to English.

Icelandic would be an excellent candidate, since Iceland was settled about 1000 years ago, and modern Icelanders can read the old sagas from that time just fine. Finnish would be another good one.

Euskara, the language of the Basque people?


That’s not what the OP is asking, and it’s what usually causes a lot of confusion in these types of discussions. The OP is asking which language has remained more or less the same for the longest time. Although Basque traces its roots far back in time, so does every other natural language on earth. But we don’t really know how Basque has evloved over time, as we do with other languages, especially those of Indo-European origin. As your cite indicates:

Besides the use of comparative linguistics, Indo-European languages have the benefit of a long written history for many of the branches (Italic, Greek, Indic) which allows us to have a pretty detailed understanding of how the various languages in that family changed over time. For Basque, we have a few inscriptions dating from the 3rd century AD, but the oldest texts available don’t start showing up until about 1,000 years ago.

I’d submit Hebrew for consideration. While it’s true that modern Hebrew has some newly-coined words for newly-created things, the grammatical structure and the words for objects and actions that have existed since antiquity are pretty much the same as Biblical.

I don’t think Hebrew counts. For centuries it was a dead language, preserved only in Jewish religious texts, then it was deliberately revived. Naturally it survived centuries of non-use unchanged, just as Latin would be if some group of people were to try to revive it as a living language.

It may not have been used in casual conversation, but it was certainly used in many Jewish religious texts that were authored over the centuries, from Torah and Talmud commentaries to codifications of Jewish Law (halacha) to philosphical/ethical works to newly-devised liturgical poems. That’s far from “dead.”

John Mace–Euskara is a language isolate–i.e. separate from the languages surrounding it.

As such, it has borrowed less from those languages, and logically has less potential for change.

I think you misunderstand the meaning of language isolate. It doesn’t mean that the speakers have been isolated from other languages, or that they didn’t borrow words from other languages. It just means there are no other living languages that can be seen to be affilitate with it. In fact, Basque speakers have been borrowing words from their Indo-European neighbors ever since the latter entered Europe thousands of years ago. From your own cite:

And it looks like I don’t know what the term means either… :slight_smile: That was sloppy. The link I gave has the correct definition:

The key is that it doesn’t mean an isolated language. Basque has borrowed words from other languages, just as many other language isloates have. Korean, for example, is considered to be a language isolate, but has borrowed heavily from Chinese.