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Classical language

A classical language is a language with a literature that is classical. According to UC Berkeley linguist George L. Hart, "it should be ancient, it should be an independent tradition that arose mostly on its own, not as an offshoot of another tradition, and it must have a large and extremely rich body of ancient literature."

Classical languages are typically dead languages, or show a high degree of diglossia, as the spoken varieties of the language diverge further away from the classical written language over time.

In the context of traditional European classical studies, the "classical languages" refer to Greek and Latin, which were the literary languages of the Mediterranean world in classical antiquity.

In terms of worldwide cultural importance, Edward Sapir in his book Language, would extend the list to include Chinese, Arabic, and Sanskrit:

When we realize that an educated Japanese can hardly frame a single literary sentence without the use of Chinese resources, that to this day Siamese and Burmese and Cambodgian bear the unmistakable imprint of the Sanskrit and Pali that came in with Hindu Buddhism centuries ago, or that whether we argue for or against the teaching of Latin and Greek [in schools,] our argument is sure to be studded with words that have come to us from Rome and Athens, we get some indication of what early Chinese culture, Buddhism, and classical Mediterranean civilization have meant in the world's history. There are just five languages that have had an overwhelming significance as carriers of culture. They are classical Chinese, Sanskrit, Arabic, Greek, and Latin. In comparison with these, even such culturally important languages as Hebrew and French sink into a secondary position.


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