The Oldest Language Still Being Spoken in Europe

Article in partnership with Day Translations.

Our cities and surrounding countryside often retain vestiges of the past such as ruins, buildings, sculptures and so on. Our cultures are made of elements from traditions including oral traditions, for examples stories passed from generation to generation.

Language is a common thread that brings all these elements together as a tool to communicate a vision, goal, task or even simply a greeting.

Around the world it has been calculated that there are more than 7,000 languages being spoken. Out of these thousands of languages, what is the oldest language that is still being spoken, at least in some parts of the world?

An Ancient Language that People still Speak Today in Europe

While languages such as those used in religious texts (Latin, Sanskrit, Tamil, Hebrew) are still being preserved by communities, sometimes even thousands of years, there is one language that many people may not have heard of before: Euskera.

We also need to note that these ancient languages that are still being preserved in some form or other have evolved over time, so they may resemble their precursors but they have changed and adapted to suit the needs of their people. Therefore, even languages like Euskera are to be considered almost at the same level as modern languages because they will not have the original grammar, spelling or syntax.

Euskera: The Basque Language of Spain that Wants EU Recognition

Basque or Euskera (source) is a language being spoken primarily in Spain by about 850,000 people.

Let’s put this into context.

The population of Spain is about 47 million and the population of the Basque Country is just over 2 million, so not even the whole population in the Basque region speak their traditional language. Bilbao is the main city in the Basque Country and is most famous for one of its biggest attractions, the Guggenheim Museum.

The whole population of the European Union totals almost 450 million. This means that only 1.8% of the people living in the European Union speak the Basque language.

Alongside Catalan and Galician, Basque is being proposed to be added as one of the official languages in the European Union (source). The EU as of 2023 has a list of 24 official languages, each requiring a large amount of work with regards to translating all the official documents not only of previous years but also legislative proposals that still need to be discussed and implemented in member countries. Each EU language therefore requires a legion of qualified professional translators.

Finding qualified translators for languages that are only spoken by a small section of the EU population can be a huge challenge. For example, when Irish or Gaelic became an official EU language in 2007 as requested by the Republic of Ireland, member since 1973, it took 15 years of negotiations and implementation to ensure all EU documents were translated into Irish (source). Between 2015 and 2021 the Translation Directorate General put measures in place to ensure all the translations were completed and recruited qualified staff to perform the work.

Translators Using the Basque Language

Being fluent in the Basque language is a niche skill that not many people have. To be able to offer translations from and to the Basque language requires a high level of professional qualifications, so finding qualified professional translators who are fluent in the Basque language will be difficult. It is good to have a skill that is in high demand, but to achieve the level of proficiency required by EU institutions, candidates have to go through difficult selection processes that are very competitive.

The Basque language can be learned at Spanish universities and other international universities including those offering degrees in Spanish Studies.