Language Timeline

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3000BC    In 2013 Chinese archaeologists said they have discovered some of the world's oldest known primitive writing, dating back to about this time, in eastern China. Some of the markings etched on broken axes resembled a modern Chinese character.
    (AP, 7/10/13)

2500BC    A study in 2015 said a wave of migrants from the eastern fringes of Europe about this time left their trace in the DNA — and possibly the languages — of modern Europeans. They found that DNA associated with the Yamnaya people appeared strongly in what is now northern Germany. The Yamnaya were herders who lived in the steppe north of the Black and Aral Seas.
    (AP, 3/3/15)

1400BC    In 2010 Israeli archaeologists said a newly discovered clay fragment from the 14th century BC is the oldest example of writing ever found in antiquity-rich Jerusalem. Dig director Eilat Mazar of Hebrew University said the 2-centimeter-long fragment bears an ancient form of writing known as Akkadian wedge script.
    (AP, 7/12/10)

1000BC    A clay tablet, described as an Akkadian-language letter, dating to about this time was placed on display in 2011 in Jerusalem. The letter was from the Canaanite King Abdi-Heba to the king of Egypt. It was found in excavations of a site from the First Temple period.
    (SFC, 6/21/11, p.A6)

800BC-500BC    Texts called Southwest Script dating to this period were later discovered in Portugal. Most experts have concluded they were authored by a people called Tartessians, a tribe of Mediterranean traders who mined for metal but disappeared after a few centuries. Some scientists have proposed that the composers were other pre-Roman tribes, such as the Conii or Cynetes, or maybe even Celts who roamed this far south.
    (AP, 2/28/09)

600BC-500BC    Greece in the 6th century BC used a writing system, Boustrephedon, that featured alternate lines read in opposite directions. The word is from the Greek boustrophēdon, meaning literally “to turn like oxen" (in plowing).

171BC    There was a major wave of migration to Japan from the Korean Peninsula. The migration of other peoples from mainland Asia around this time brought metal tools, rice and new farming techniques. Computer modeling in 2011 showed a that the migration also had significant impact on linguistic development.
    (AP, 5/5/11)

200        The first Runic inscriptions that have survived to the modern day dated from around this time. The Runic alphabet, also known as Futhark, consists of 24 letters, 18 consonants and 6 vowels.

500        In England, the Anglo-Saxons brought Futhark from continental Europe in the 5th century and modified it into the 33-letter "Futhorc" to accommodate sound changes that were occurring in Old English, the language spoken by the Anglo-Saxons. An early offshoot of Futhark was employed by Goths, and so it is known as Gothic Runes. It was used until 500 CE when it was replaced by the Greek-based Gothic alphabet.

800-900    In Scandinavia Futhark evolved around the 9th century. Instead of 24 letters, the Scandinavian "Younger" Futhark had 16 letters. In England, Anglo-Saxon Futhorc started to be replaced by the Latin alphabet by the 9th century, and did not survive much more past the Norman Conquest. Futhark continued to be used in Scandinavia for centuries longer, but by 1600 CE, it had become nothing more than curiosities among scholars and antiquarians.

1522        Jul 5, Antonio de Nebrija (b.1441), Spanish scholar, died. His work included a Spanish grammar  written in Latin. It was the first systematic treatment of a vernacular European language.
    (Econ, 6/1/13, p.80)(

1783        Noah Webster (1758-1843), a Connecticut schoolmaster, published the first edition of his American spelling book. As a Grammatical Institute of the English Language, the Spelling Book was influential in standardizing and differentiating, from the British forms, English spelling and pronunciation in America.
    (ON, 12/09, p.9)(Econ, 6/18/11, p.34)

1809        Jan 4, Louis Braille (d.1852), inventor of a universal reading system for the blind, was born in Coupvray, France. He was blinded at age four as the result of an accident in his father's shop. He became an accomplished organist and cellist and won a scholarship in 1819 to attend the National Institute for Blind Youth in Paris. In 1821 Louis learned of a communication system devised by Captain Charles Barbier of the French Army. While Barbier's system was too complex to be practical, Braille simplified and adapted it to a six-dot code representing letters that enabled people with impaired vision to not only read but also write for themselves. In 1829 his first Braille book was published, but Braille himself died of tuberculosis at age 43--before his system gained widespread acceptance.
    (AP, 1/4/98)(

1864        May 16, Platt Rogers Spencer (b.1800), the originator of Spencerian penmanship, a popular system of cursive handwriting, died in Geneva, Ohio.
    (WSJ, 1/24/09, p.W8)(

1878        Linguist Maximilian (Maximilien) Delphinius Berlitz (1852-1921) opened his first Berlitz language school in Providence, Rhode Island.  In 2001 Berlitz became a wholly owned subsidiary of Japan’s Benesse Corporation.
    (Econ, 1/5/13, p.52)(

1895        Mar 5, Henry Creswicke Rawlinson (85), soldier and scholar, died in England. In 1835 he had begun examining the ancient inscriptions on the rock of Behistun in the Kurdish foothills of the Zagros mountain range and found that they had been made to honor Darius the Great, Persian ruler in the 5th century BCE. He deciphered text from Old Akkadian cuneiform. In 2004 Lesley Adkins authored “Empires of the Plain: Henry Rawlinson and the Lost Languages of Babylon."
    (, 4/04, p.9)(WSJ, 12/21/04, p.D8)

1908        Neutral Moresnet, a territory between Belgium and Germany, nearly adopted Esperanto as its official tongue. The tiny Belgian-Prussian condominium existed from 1816 to 1920. The former territory later became know as the Belgian city of Kelmis.
    (Econ, 8/6/11, p.50)(

1921        Zhao Yuanren (1892-1982), aka Yuen Ren Chao, Chinese-American linguist, recorded the Standard Chinese pronunciation gramophone records distributed nationally, as proposed by Commission on the Unification of Pronunciation.
    (, 7/5/14, p.15)

1927        Nov 16, Austin Norman Palmer (b.1860), American developer of the Palmer method of script, died.
    (, 1/24/09, p.W8)

1928        Nov 1, Under Pres. Mustafa Kemal Ataturk the Turkish Republic's law number 1353, the Law on the Adoption and Implementation of the Turkish Alphabet, was passed. It replaced Arabic script with Latin script and went into effect on Jan 1, 1929.

1939        The last person fluent in the Chochenyo, one of eight languages used by the Ohlone people of the San Francisco Bay Area, died.
    (SFC, 11/24/12, p.C4)

1941        Jul 26, Benjamin Lee Whorf (1897), American linguist, died. He had argued that different languages condition or restrain the mind’s habits of thought.
    (Econ, 12/19/09, p.137)(

1944        Mar 30, Gobbledygook was coined by US Rep. Maury Maverick, a Texas Democrat, in a memo banning "gobbledygook language" at the Smaller War Plants Corporation. It was a reaction to his frustration with the "convoluted language of bureaucrats." However, the first time the new word was seen by the average person was on May 21, 1944. That day, he wrote a long article for the New York Times magazine, explaining how he invented the word, and giving readers many examples of how the new word could be used.
    (, 5/21/1944, p.SM11)

1948        Puerto Rico gained the right to choose its own governor and elected Munoz Marin. He held office until 1965. Luis Munoz Marin, ended the practice of teaching all high school subjects in English. From 1900 to 1948 all high school subjects had been taught in English.
    (SFC, 3/26/97, p.C3)(AFP, 5/9/12)

1953        The Associated Press Stylebook in English first came out. It became the gold standard of style reference books in the journalism industry.
    {Language, Journalism, USA}
    (AP, 11/20/12)

1956        Sinhalese, which few Tamils spoke, was made the sole official language of Sri Lanka.
    (SFC, 6/1/00, p.C2)(Econ, 1/30/10, p.28)

1968        In Belgium Flemish students called for French speaking Walloons to leave the Univ. at Leuven. This led to a division of the library’s 1.6 million books with half going to the new campus of Louvain-la-Neuve in French speaking Wallonia. The partition divided the Catholic church and brought down the government.
    (Econ, 1/29/11, p.51)

1976        Joseph Weizenbaum (1923-2008) wrote "Computer Power and Human Reason." He described here his program called ELIZA that demonstrated a conversation between a patient and a computer posing as a psychiatrist.
    (I&I, Penzias, p.144)(

1979        Harmony Books published “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy" by Douglas Adams. In the book the British writer described the Babel fish, a live fish placed in the ear that translates any form of language.  “Deep Thought" was the name of a computer in the book.
    (, 4/29/98, p.E1)(Econ, 4/28/12, p.60)

1983        Zoo officials in Kazakhstan reportedly claimed that a teenage elephant named Batyr could reproduce Russian to utter 20 phrases, including "Batyr is good." But there was no scientific study on the claim.
    (AP, 11/2/12)

1990        The KE family were brought to the attention of the scientific community about this time. Over three generations of this family, about half the family members suffer from a number of problems, the most obvious of which is severe difficulty in speaking. A mutation of the FOXP2 brain gene was later related to language loss.  
    (, 12/31/11, p.67)

1991        Puerto Rico Gov. Rafael Hernandez Colon declared Spanish the island's sole official language. The law was repealed a couple of years later by Gov. Pedro Rosello, whose first official act was to make both English and Spanish the official languages.
    (AP, 5/9/12)

1992        Oct 7, The Ubykh language of the north-eastern Caucasus died out when Tevfik Esenc (b.1904), a Circassian exile in Turkey, died.
    (Econ, 12/19/09, p.137)(

1993        The Welsh Language Act established a Board having the function of promoting and facilitating the use of the Welsh language.

2004        Jun, A pilot Confucius Institute program, designed to promote the study of Chinese abroad, was established in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. The first Confucius Institute was then established in Seoul on Nov 21, 2004. The 75th was established in Cracow, Poland, in 2006. By the end of 2013 there were 440 institutes in over 100 countries.
    (, 9/13/14, p.51)

2008        Jul 28, In Nepal protesters blocked traffic and held demonstrations to protest the decision by Paramananda Jha, the newly elected vice president, to take his oath of office in Hindi, which is not recognized as an official language.
    (AP, 7/28/08)

2008        Sep 16, A Japanese researcher said he has taught a beluga whale to "talk" by using sounds to identify three different objects, offering hope that humans may one day be able to hold conversations with sea mammals.
    (Reuters, 9/16/08)

2008        Nov 20, The European Union formally recognized Welsh, which dates back to the 6th century, as a minority tongue. It became an official tongue in Wales in 1993, 450 years after British rulers gave it the boot in favor of English.
    (AP, 11/20/08)

2008         Research in India began to document two little known languages, Aka and Miji. A third language, Koro, was discovered in the process. In 2010 researchers said Koro, spoken by only about 1,000 people, was a distinct language with an entirely different vocabulary and linguistic structure from Aka.
    (AP, 10/6/10)

2009        Jan 31, On the streets of Birmingham, the queen's English is now the queens English. This week the city council made it official. England's second-largest city decided to drop apostrophes from all its street signs, saying they're confusing and old-fashioned.
    (AP, 1/31/09)

2009        Apr 16, Rosetta Stone, an American language instruction company, went public. It sold 6,250,000 shares at IPO price of $18. The stock traded as high as $26.27 before closing at $25.12.
    (Econ, 1/5/13, p.52)

2009        Apr 28, The US Supreme Court upheld an FCC rule penalizing broadcasters for isolated utterances of expletives before 10 pm.
    (WSJ, 4/28/09, p.A1)

2009        Sep 1, In Slovakia a new language law was scheduled to come into force to promote the use of Slovak in public. Hungarian speakers, who numbered about a fifth of the population, viewed this as a direct attack on their right to speak their mother-tongue.
    (Econ, 8/1/09, p.47)

2010        Jan 6, In Morocco the first Berber TV channel in the ancient but marginalized tongue of Amazigh was launched after a decades-long struggle.
    (AFP, 1/18/10)(

2010        Jul 6, In South Africa Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga announced that pupils will have the option of learning in their mother language in their first three years of schooling. Children were currently taught either in English or Afrikaans, both languages inherited from the eras of colonialism and apartheid.
    (AP, 7/6/10)

2010        Jul 23, Thailand’s Culture Ministry said Facebook and Twitter are causing deteriorating language skills among Thai students and authorities want them to return to the bygone tradition of letter-writing.
    (AP, 7/23/10)

2010        Robert McCrum authored “Globish: How the English Language Became the World’s Language."
    (Econ, 5/29/10, p.83)
2010        Nicholas Ostler authored “The Last Lingua Franca: English Until the Return of Babel."
    (Econ, 12/18/10, p.163)
2010        Ruth H. Sanders authored “German: A Biography of a Language."
    (Econ, 8/7/10, p.86)

2011        Jan 26, BBC world Service said that it would close 5 of its 32 language services, including its Russian language radio broadcasts, and reduce its work force by about a quarter, or up to 650 jobs.
    (SFC, 1/27/11, p.A2)(Econ, 1/29/11, p.55)

2011        May 4, New computer modeling showed that Japan's many language variants descended from a common ancestor some 2,182 years ago -- coinciding with the major wave of migration from the Korean Peninsula.
    (AP, 5/5/11)

2011        May 30, Australian robots have begun talking to each other in a language of their own devising. Two "Lingodroids," developed by the University of Queensland, have picked up their shared language by playing location games that led them to construct a shared vocabulary for places, distances and directions.
    (Reuters, 5/30/11)

2011        Jul 1, Moroccan constitutional reforms made Tamazight, a form of Berber, an official language. Its written tradition extended to at least 200BC. The Tuareg traditionally use their own alphabet, called Tifinagh, to write it.
    (SSFC, 7/17/11, p.N3)

2011        Nov 14, Pakistan's telecommunications authority sent a letter ordering cell phone companies to block text messages containing what it perceives to be obscenities. It also sent a list of more than 1,500 English and Urdu words that were to be blocked. The order was part of the regulator's attempt to block spam messages.
    (AP, 11/18/11)

2011        Nov 22, Pakistan rowed back from demands that text messages containing nearly 1,700 "obscene" words should be blocked, following outrage from users and campaigners. A Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) spokesman said the authority would consult civil society representatives and mobile phone operators on refining a much shorter list of words, giving no timeframe for any eventual ban.
    (AFP, 11/22/11)

2011        Henry Hitchings authored “The Language Wars: A History of Proper English."
    (Econ, 3/12/11, p.100)

2012        Feb 18, Latvia voted in a referendum on whether Russian should become the Baltic country's second national language. The Russians and other minorities who organized the referendum admit they have virtually no chance at winning the plebiscite. According to the current law, anyone who moved to Latvia during the Soviet occupation, or was born to parents who moved there, is considered a noncitizen and must pass the Latvian language exam in order to become a citizen. Latvian voters resoundingly rejected the proposal.
    (AP, 2/18/12)

2012        May 18, It was reported that Saudi Arabia has banned all government and private agencies from using the Gregorian calendar in official dealings. The use the English language to answer calls or communicate, mainly in companies and hotels, has also been banned in an effort to preserve the Arabic language.
    (SSFC, 5/20/12, p.A4)

2012        May 24, In Ukraine a melee in the parliament was sparked by a proposed bill to make Russian an official language in eastern regions of the country with large native Russian-speaking populations. Lawmakers grappled and threw punches. One was hospitalized with a head injury.
    (AP, 5/25/12)

2012        Jun 12, Turkey announced plans to introduce elective Kurdish language instruction in schools, a step aimed at easing tension that Kurdish minority activists argued didn't go far enough. Activists and Kurdish politicians insisted on full Kurdish education in schools.
    (AP, 6/12/12)

2012        Jul 4, Ukraine opposition activists clashed with riot police in the center of Kiev and Parliament Speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn resigned after the legislature passed a bill that would upgrade the status of the Russian language. The president has said he has not decided whether to approve or veto the bill, but Lytvyn's resignation was likely to delay that process because it cannot be submitted to the president without the speaker's signature.
    (AP, 7/4/12)

2012        Jul 5, In Ukraine some 1,000 opposition activists rallied in Kiev to protest legislation upgrading the status of the Russian language.
    (AP, 7/5/12)

2012        Nov 2, In South Korea an international team of scientists confirmed that a 5.5-ton elephant named Koshik at the Everland Zoo can reproduce five Korean words by tucking his trunk inside his mouth to modulate sound. Koshik emerged as a star among animal enthusiasts and children in South Korea after Everland Zoo claimed in 2006 that he could imitate words, two years after his trainers noticed the phenomenon.
    (AP, 11/2/12)

2012        David Crystal authored “The Story of English in 100 Words."
    (SSFC, 4/8/12, p.F5)
2012        Daniel Everett authored “Language: The Cultural Tool."
    (Econ, 3/17/12, p.93)
2012        In Paraguay 80% of the population continued to speak the Guarani, an indigenous language of South America that belongs to the Tupí–Guaraní subfamily of the Tupian languages.
    (Econ, 12/22/12, p.48)
2012        Puerto Rico’s Gov. Luis Fortuno proposed an ambitious, and what critics call far-fetched, plan to require all public schools to teach all courses in English instead of Spanish. Fortuno said he wants all public school students to be bilingual within 10 years.
    (AP, 5/9/12)

2013        Apr 9, Spelling whizzes across the US learned that they will have to know the definitions of some of the those tough words they've been memorizing in the dictionary. For the first time, multiple-choice vocabulary tests will be added to the annual Scripps National Spelling Bee.
    (AP, 4/9/13)

2013        Jul 10, Chinese archaeologists said they have discovered some of the world's oldest known primitive writing, dating back 5,000 years, in eastern China, and some of the markings etched on broken axes resemble a modern Chinese character.
    (AP, 7/10/13)

2013        Nov 19, Britain’s Oxford Univ. Press declared “selfie," a smart phone self-pportrait, the 2013 word of the year. Use of the word dated back to at least 2002.
    (SFC, 11/20/13, p.A3)

2013        Dec 5, Moldova’s Constitutional Court ruled that Romanian is now the official language. The language, basically the same as Romanian, had been renamed Moldovan under Soviet rule.
    (SFC, 12/6/13, p.A2)

2013        Jean-Benoit Nadeau and Julie Barlow authored “The Story of Spanish.
    (Econ, 6/1/13, p.80)

2014        Jul 10, A European Union court ruled that Germany can't require the spouses of Turkish immigrants to show basic knowledge of the German language as a condition for being granted a visa.
    (AP, 7/10/14)

2014        Nov 23, Israel's Cabinet approved a contentious bill that officially defines Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people. The bill would delist Arabic as an official language. On Nov 24 presentation of the bill before the Knesset was delayed.
    (AP, 11/23/14)(SFC, 11/25/14, p.A4)

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