The very first LH post was about the “My language is the original language” phenomenon, and here we have a sterling example of it. For non-Russian-speaking readers: Valerii A. Chudinov, professor of, um, culturology and management at ГУУ (the State University of Management, founded in 1919 as Московский промышленно-экономический практический институт [Moscow Engineering-Economic Institute], in case you were thinking it was some ’90s fly-by-night creation), although his graduate studies were in physics, has an abiding interest in Slavic mythology and paleography, and when he talks about Slavic paleography he doesn’t mean medieval runes—he means “что славянская письменность и прежде всего русская письменность существуют, по крайней мере, несколько десятков тысяч лет” [‘that Slavic writing, and above all Russian writing, has existed for at least several tens of thousands of years’]. He has found Slavic runes not only on Byzantine icons of the fifth to tenth centuries, but on Greek vases from the second to sixth centuries BC—not to mention the prehistoric cave paintings of France:

And when you begin to work on them [obrabatyvat’ ‘treat, process; refine, polish’] skillfully, because otherwise the inscriptions are not visible, it turns out that on the mammoth is written mamont [‘mammoth’], and on the horse is written dil! This is where the Russian word korkodil [apparently 16th-century Russian chronicles refer to water-dwelling beasts called “korkodily”] comes from. Because the plan of word formation is identical – korkovyi dil – horse from korka [‘crust/rind’], and korka is ‘scale.’ So we don’t have a distortion of an English or Latin word, but rather the reverse: the Latin word is a distortion of the Russian: it was korkodil, and it became krokodil [‘crocodile’].

Mind you, he’s not a dogmatist—he admits that Chinese may possibly be as ancient as Russian (“I haven’t touched on southern Asia”)—but he’s quite sure that all of northern Asia, from Britain to Alaska, “in the Stone Age was entirely Russian.”

I’m quoting from the amused summary at i_crust’s Live Journal page; those wanting to read the full interview (or just see a couple of photographs of the impressively bearded professor) should go here. And if you’re truly interested in his theories, he’s got a new book out.

(Many thanks to frequent commenter Tatyana for the link, which made my day!)


  1. Man, he looks… um… in full harmony with his theories. 🙂

  2. Сенсация indeed! Thanks for the link, I collect this sort of thing for cautionary tales in my prehistory class.

  3. I remember the first time I encountered the “Antwerp dialect is the language of Eden” thing. The person describing thought it was just a laugh.
    Far more damaging are these claims of “oldest language” or “older language.” I’ve heard them seriously professed for this or that tongue, usually some locally hegemonic tongue whose speakers are trying to justify some policy of linguistic assimilation. For example, I’ve heard it from Greeks, Romanians and Lithuanians. Ironically, I’ve never heard this argument used in support of Hebrew – a language that actually has a strongish case for claiming to be profoundly old.
    Frankly, I think if there’s a case to be made on the basis of a language’s age, it ought to favour young languages – especially languages with promiscuous word borrowing practices. I’ve heard that argument used for English, but it works even better for low status trade languages and creoles. There were people at least semi-seriously proposing Chinook Wawa as the international language in the 1890’s and I think they had a better case.

  4. So it’s only a myth that lithuanian is “the oldest language in Europe”? Wow. I never thought much about it, every lithuanian I know has made that claim (OK, I don’t know very many), and it just didn’t occur to me that it might be a claim based on national chauvinism! But now that you mention it it sounds reasonable – certainly Lithuania is pursuing a very unsympathetic campaign against their russians.

  5. Cryptic Ned says

    Lithuanian can credibly be called the “oldest language in Europe” based on being the most similar to Proto-Indo-European (and Sanskrit, e.g. the word “sapne” for dream). However, this website, which does not look like it was written by a lunatic, makes a logical claim for Latvian instead.

  6. It depends on how you define “the oldest language in Europe”. Certainly the Baltic languages, and of those two still living Lithuanian in particular, have preserved quite a few archaic traits and been subject to relatively little innovation in respect to common Indo-European, so you may say old in that respect. The Slavonic languages, for example, have been subject to more innovation. Of course, Lithuanian and the other Baltic languages have been subject to some language change, as have all languages.
    Additionally, there are some myths about Lithuanian, such as the one about a Lithuanian and an Indian pundit meeting and conversating with perfect understanding in Lithuanian and Sanskrit respectively…
    – Per
    (took the basic Lithuanian language course at the University of Vilnius summer school in 1993)

  7. What about Europe’s non-Indo-European language: Finnish, Hungarian, and Basque? I’ve heard it claimed that they are the oldest. In fact it’s pretty regularly stated that Basque dates back to prehistory based on the root for rock showing up in the words for axe etc… not that such claims are necesarily credible of course.

  8. Cryptic Ned says

    Oh, I meant the oldest Indo-European language, not the oldest European language.

  9. When I was in the third grade or so, and getting interested in my family’s heritage, I used to pester my dad with questions about where our Magyar ancestors ultimately came from. My dad, who was not normally given to telling outrageous tall tales, told me they were outer space aliens. Which, if true, could potentially make Hungarian the oldest language by as much as several million years (depending on what the home star was and how you calculate relativistic travel time).

  10. Assuming all languages derive from the same ancestor (something that can neither be proved nor disproved), they are all equally old. If there was more than one creation of human language, then it’s possible some languages are older than the rest, but we have no way of knowing which. In any case, the preservation of a few striking archaisms (as in Lithuanian) is completely irrelevant; Lithuanian and Latvian are both descendents of Proto-Baltic, which was presumably spoken a couple of millennia ago and which itself descended from Proto-Indo-European a couple of millennia before that — so what sense would it make to say Lithuanian (or, for that matter, Latvian) is somehow “older” than other European languages? Basque is in the same situation except that its relatives have all gone missing, so we can’t do comparative work on it and have no idea of its prehistoric development. If you looked at a linguistic map of Europe before the Celts moved in, presumably you’d see a lot of Bascoid languages that could be arranged in families and subfamilies and shown to have entered southwestern Europe from a particular direction and to have been related to some other linguistic group somewhere else that has vanished without trace; the fact that all such evidence has disappeared does not mean that Basque is some mysterious Ancient Tongue that was spoken by cavemen.
    On the other hand, I like speedwell’s father’s theory. Clearly, when we send expeditions to the stars we should make sure there are Hungarian speakers aboard in case of alien contact!

  11. Speedwell, your father was a genius. Mine, a true engineer, had same answer to all “Why…?” questons: “Because of perpendicular”. It worked until I was able to pronounce the word more or less legibly, than he was stuck…

  12. Far more damaging are these claims of “oldest language” or “older language.” […] Ironically, I’ve never heard this argument used in support of Hebrew – a language that actually has a strongish case for claiming to be profoundly old.

    Dante made the case for Hebrew way back when. He even went so far as to identify the first word. I think he surmised “God” (“el[ohim]”) was the first thing Adam spoke.
    Umberto Eco has some remarks about this subject in The Dream of a Perfect Language (PDF file).

  13. Mark,
    What did Adam say right after he said “God”?
    “God it’s nice here”
    “God I’m lonely”

  14. Douglas Davidson says

    Everyone knows that Hungarians are outer space aliens. How else do you explain von Neumann?

  15. Sarah Braun says

    I read a wonderful short story once in an anthology of science fiction translated from Spanish about the origins of Basque people and their language. The Basques of the future used a time machine to go further and further back in history, looking for the origins of their people, until finally their machine broke down at the very dawn of humanity. If anyone can help me place this story, I would be much obliged.

  16. What about Europe’s non-Indo-European language: Finnish, Hungarian, and Basque?
    Ah, but let’s not forget Estonian. Nor, for that matter, Lappish, Karelian, Ingrian, Livonian, Votic, Mordvin, Udmurt, and a sneezerful of others.
    As for Hungarian, a patriotic mystic by the name of András Kovács (Andrew Smith, anglice) frequents these Austral shores, making just such a comic claim on the most spurious of grounds.
    It should be remembered that a great many Hungarian words are from Slavic (“medve” for “bear”, Cf. Russian “medved”), Romance in general (“palacsinta” for “pancake” from Proto-Romance “placinta” from Latin “placenta”[!]; “golomb” for “dove”), Germanic (“friss” for “fresh”; “föld” for “field”[?]), and, I surmise, generally from Indo-European, by a route I can’t identify (“kert” for “garden” is likely to go with “hortus”, “yard”, “garth”, and “garden”, all from a proto-IE source [Pokorny gher 442, gherd 444]). The proto-Romulan roots of “levélszekrényes”, for “like a letterbox”, are more doubtful.
    Even grammatical features have been borrowed, like marking of aspect in verbs by prefixes (“inni” = “drink”, “meginni” = “drink up”, cf. Serbian “piti” and “popiti”).
    There are also copious semantic borrowings (“világ” for “world”, connected with “világitás” for “light”, cf. e.g. Serbian “svet” for “world” and “svetlost” for “light”).
    And of course we do have borrowings from Hungarians in English (“coach” ultimately from the town of Kocs; “sabre” ultimately from “szablya”).
    Errors excepted. I may be wrong at a couple of points.

  17. “proto-Romulan”?
    I would have thought any borrowing from Romulan into Hungarian would be well documented, since no human saw a Romulan until Stardate 1709.1. :^)

  18. The very concept of “the oldest language” surely indicates a certain naivety in the advocate. The most they could plausibly mean is the language that has changed least since some arbitrary date in the past. Of course some languages really do appear to be roughly datable (English is an obvious example) but even that is an illusion – no parents suddenly found their children speaking a language they would describe as a different language from their own. For most languages, it’s just been a continuum of gradual evolution, possibly with some periods of accelerated change. So beware of any such claims — they are indeed a sign of chauvinism and ignorance.

  19. In my experience people who say “language X” is the oldest in the world often mean that it’s the most archaic, but not always. It’s also tied to folk notions of linguistic purity, etc.
    This site remains my all-time favourite for explanations of language change

  20. no parents suddenly found their children speaking a language they would describe as a different language from their own
    So, er… I gather you have no kids yet, Jonathan?

  21. If only it was as benign as naivety; it mostly seems to be a short walk from notions of linguistic age and purity to cultural and racial supremecy.

  22. I’ve been planning for several years now to work on a grammar of Proto-Central-European–working back from Hungarian, Romanian, Albanian, and Czech, to the original Mother Language.
    Funding sources, anyone?

  23. Tatyana Milovanova says

    Dobrii den, Dr.Chudinov! Mne be hotelos kupit vashi knigi. Kak eto sdelat? Tatyana.

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