Currently, the most widely used ancient language seems to be ‘Chinese.’
But there’s a catch. Chinese is not actually one language. It’s actually a name given to a range of languages in China, such as Mandarin, Putonghua, Minnan, Cantonese, etc. Though all these languages are called the Chinese collectively, they are so different that two people from different provinces in China cannot communicate.
Of all the types, Mandarin Chinese is the most widely spoken type in China. Its mostly spoken in North and Central China, by almost 80 Crore people. Also, it is widely spoken in Malaysia, Singapore, and Taiwan. According to estimates, over 1 billion people in the world speak Mandarin. That’s one in every six people. That’s more than Spanish, English, French, and German, all combined!
Most Spoken Language In The World
Although not one of the oldest languages globally, English is the most widely spoken language globally, with 1,132 million speakers.
2. Mandarin Chinese
The Chinese language takes the second spot in this list with around 1,117 million speakers
Hindi, one of the several languages in India, ranks third with 615 million speakers. It is said that Hindi has taken its form from one of the world’s oldest language, Sanskrit.
Spaniards across the world make the Spanish language the fourth most widely spoken language with 534 million speakers.
274 million people in the world speak the Arabic language making this language in the top five.
India’s regional language is now also the language of people from Bangladesh, estimate to 265 million speakers globally.
Russian takes the event spot in the list of the world’s most spoken languages, with 258 million people speaking the language.
One of the European languages, Portuguese, has 234 million speakers globally.
However, among all these most widely spoken languages globally, Chinese Mandarin is the oldest language that is so widely spoken.
How Old is The Chinese Language?
In around 1962, archaeologists found earthen vessels made by artisans called Yangshaws in Chinese tradition. On carrying out the vessels’ radiometric dating, they were found to be around 6000 years old.
Of course, there have been many changes in the language across this huge span of 6000 years. But even today, it is still very complicated.
It’s a language, which is written as pictographs. In other words, it is actually like drawing each syllable to convey the meaning. And, it can be drawn in any direction. That makes it very peculiar.
But, the major complication is due to the number of alphabets. The pictographs, the symbols are not 26 in number here, that one can have a nice A, B, C, D rhyme to mug it up in Kindergarten. The number of alphabets is much bigger.
How many characters does the Chinese language contain?
In the present day, the Chinese language has 50,000 characters.
YES ! 50,000 characters. And newer words are added every day. As if 50,000 aren’t enough.
One major distinguishing feature in Chinese is that each character is a word in itself.
The point is that in English, one creates multiple words using various combinations of alphabets. While in Chinese, there is a separate pictorial alphabet for each word. One cannot read or write the Chinese language without remembering this huge number of pictorial alphabets. For basic day to day use also, one has to remember at least 4000 different such symbols. In other words, if one has to read a Chinese newspaper, one has to remember at least 4000 words to be able to read it successfully.
But, wait a second.
The interesting part of this is that 98% of Chinese spoken or written on day to day basis uses these 4000 characters only. So, even if one learns 1/5th of the alphabet, one can claim to know 98% of the Chinese language.
But, still 4000 characters.
This is also why the most complex typewriter in the world is of the Chinese language, whose first successful model could be made as late as in 1970. The Chinese language’s innumerable keys couldn’t be accommodated in the box of the typewriter, and hence, there is a separate tray to accommodate them. Not only this, but the typing is also so complex that even an expert typist wouldn’t be able to type more than 20 words per minute.
One more peculiar feature of Mandarin Chinese is the tone. Yes, each word in Mandarin can be spoken in four different tones.
So? Well, all four tones mean completely different things.
Yes. For example, wǒ xiǎng wèn nǐ — in which “wen” is spoken with a falling pitch — means “I want to ask you.” But wǒ xiǎng wěn nǐ — in which “wen” rises and falls in pitch — means “I want to kiss you.”
Now, that’s some serious change of meaning.
Studies have also revealed that people speaking Chinese learn to use both temporal lobes of the brain, while English speakers use only the left side. This is due to the importance of tones in the language.
And yes, Mandarin Chinese is the official language of China. And it is compulsory for all.
Even though it’s very complicated, the Chinese language (We shall call it Chinese only, for now, not Mandarin) is the most widely spoken ancient language today and the fastest-growing language.
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