Languages evolve and diversify over time, and the history of the evolution of language is tightly linked to human evolution. An expression or word will travel and prevail per its usefulness; from being attached to a desirable invention or from being an amusing or useful concept.
Due to archeological finds, we know that even back in ancient Egypt, educated people could read and write. Ancient Egyptian documentation and even peace treaties were carved into stone. Most of the historic documentation of language is comprised of symbols instead of actual ‘modern’ letters.
The Smithsonian Institute in Washington believes that cavemen used some of the same words as we do now, just 15000 years earlier. Some of the conserved words include ‘not’, ‘mother’ and ‘ashes’. Recent discoveries in caves in southern France and Spain show that there might have even been written communication dating back more than 30000 years. These symbols and signs are still to be unraveled and decoded for us to understand them but this could give us a completely new outlook on the ancient expression of communication.
Some of the oldest still spoken languages today with the amount of worldwide speakers: (BCE = Before Common Era, CE= Common Era):
Nowadays, most humans can express and comprehend written language. The number of languages are now estimated to vary between 5000-7000 worldwide. About 30% of these languages are spoken in Africa.
Languages are linked to each other by shared words or sounds or grammatical constructions. The theory is that the members of each linguistic group have descended from one language, a common ancestor.
The most spread group of languages today is the Indo-European, spoken by half the world’s population. Ranging from Hindi and Persian to Norwegian and English is believed to descend from the language of a tribe of nomads roaming the plains of eastern Europe and western Asia as recently as about 3000 BCE. Another important linguistic group is the Semitic family of languages, which are also believed to derive from a tribal group in southern Arabia.
Academic consensus holds that between 50-90% of languages spoken at the beginning of the 21st century will probably have become extinct by the year 2100.