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.
Thus classical languages tend to be either dead languages, or show a high degree of diglossia, as the spoken varieties of the language diverge further and further away from the classical written language over centuries.
In the context of traditional European Classical studies, the "Classical Languages" refer to Ancient Greek and Latin, which were the literary languages of the Mediterranean world in Classical Antiquity.
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 arguments are 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 overwhelming significance as carriers of culture. These 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.
In this sense, a classical language is a language that has a broad influence over an extended period of time, even after it is no longer a colloquial mother tongue in its original form. If one language uses roots from another language to coin words (in the way that many European languages use Greek and Latin roots to devise new words such as "telephone" etc.), this is an indication that the second language is a classical language.
Living languages with a large sphere of influence are known as world languages.
The following languages are generally taken to have a "classical" stage. Such a stage is limited in time, and is considered "classical" if it comes to be regarded as a literary "golden age" retrospectively. Thus, Classical Greek is the language of 5th to 4th century BC Athens, and as such only a small subset of the varieties of the Greek language as a whole. A "classical" period usually corresponds to a flowering of literature following an "archaic" period, such as Classical Latin succeeding Old Latin, Classical Sumerian succeeding Archaic Sumerian, Classical Sanskrit succeeding Vedic Sanskrit, Classical Persian succeeding Old Persian. This is a partly a matter of terminology, and for example Old Chinese is taken to include rather than precede Classical Chinese. In some cases, such as those of Arabic and Tamil, the "classical" stage corresponds to the earliest attested literary variant. 
- Classical Sumerian (literary language of Sumer, ca. 26th to 23rd c. BC)
- Middle Egyptian (literary language of Ancient Egypt from ca. the 20th century BC to the 4th century AD)
- Old Babylonian (The Akkadian language from ca 20th to 16th c. BC, the imitated standard for later literary works)
- Classical Hebrew (the language of the Tanakh, in particular of the prophetic books of ca. the 7th and 6th c. BC)
- Classical Chinese (based on the literary language of the Zhou Dynasty from ca. the 5th c. BC)
- Classical Greek (Attic dialect of the 5th c. BC)
- Classical Sanskrit (defined by Pāṇini's grammar, ca. 4th c. BC) 
- Classical Tamil (Sangam literature ca. 3rd c. BC to 4th c. AD, defined by Tolkāppiyam)
- Classical Kannada (language of the Kadamba / Chalukya / Rashtrakuta literature, 4th c.)
- Classical Latin (literary language of the 1st c. BC)
- Classical Mandaic (literary Aramaic of Mandaeism, 1st c. AD)
- Classical Syriac (literary Aramaic of the Syriac church, 3rd to 5th c.)
- Classical Armenian (oldest attested form of Armenian from the 5th c. and literary language until the 18th c.)
- Middle Persian (court language of the Sassanid Empire, 3rd to 7th c.)
- Middle Ages
- Classical Telugu (Dravidian language, Kakatiya literature,9th c.)
- Classical Arabic (based on the language of the Qur'an, 7th c.)
- New Persian (language of classical Persian literature, 9th to 17th c.)
- Classical Japanese (language of Heian period literature, 10th to 12th c.)
- Classical Icelandic (the language of the Icelandic sagas, 13th c.)
- Classical Gaelic (language of the 13th to 18th c. Scottish and Irish Gaelic literature)
- Pre-Colonial Americas
- Classical Maya (the language of the mature Maya civilization, 3rd to 9th c.)
- Classical Quechua (lingua franca of the 16th c. Inca Empire)
- Classical Nahuatl (lingua franca of 16th c. central Mexico)
- Classical K'iche' (language of 16th c. Guatemala)
- Classical Tupi (language of 16th -18th c. Brazil)
- Early Modern period
- Early Modern English (language of KJV Bible and Shakespeare, 16th to 17th c.)
- Classical Ottoman Turkish (language of poetry and administration of the Ottoman empire, 16th to 19th c.)
- Aureation, an aspect of the influence of a classical language on a later language
- Classical languages of India
- Literary language
- Sacred language
- Official language
- Standard language
- World language
- List of languages by first written accounts
- The Primary Classical Language of the World
- ^ of California-Berkeley
- ^ Ramanujan, A. K. (1985), Poems of Love and War: From the Eight Anthologies and the Ten Long Poems of Classical Tamil, New York: Columbia University Press. Pp. 329, ISBN 0231051077, http://books.google.com/?id=nIybE0HRvdQC&dq Quote (p.ix–x) "Tamil, one of the four classical languages of India, is a Dravidian language ... These poems (Sangam literature, 1st century BC to 3rd century AD) are 'classical,' i.e. early, ancient; they are also 'classics,' i.e. works that have stood the test of time, the founding works of a whole tradition. Not to know them is not to know a unique and major poetic achievement of Indian civilization."
- ^ Article "Panini" from The Columbia Encyclopedia (Sixth Edition. 2001-07) at Bartleby.com
- ^ Zvelebil, Kamil (1997), The Smile of Murugan: On Tamil Literature of South India: On Tamil Literature of South India, BRILL Academic Publishers. p. 378, ISBN 9004035915, http://books.google.com/?id=VF2VMUoY_okC&printsec=frontcover&dq=smile+of+murugan#PPA7,M1 Quote: "Chart 1 literature: 1. the "Urtext" of the Tolkappiyam, i.e. the first two sections, Eluttatikaram and Collatikaram minus later interpolations, ca. 100 BC 2. the earliest strata of bardic poetry in the so-called Cankam anthologies, ca. 1 Cent. BC–2 Cent. AD."
- ^ Encyclopædia Britannica, 2008. "Kannada literature" Quote: "The earliest literary work is the Kavirājamārga (c. AD 850), a treatise on poetics based on a Sanskrit model."
"Telugu literature", Quote: "The literature, beginning in the 10th or 11th century, is mainly poetry and secular and religious epics ..."
"Sanskrit literature", Quote: "Two main periods in the development of the literature are discernible: the Vedic period, approximately 1500–200 BC; and, somewhat overlapping it, the classical period, approximately 500 BC–AD 1000."
"Tamil literature", Quote: "Some inscriptions on stone have been dated to the 3rd century bc, but Tamil literature proper begins around the 1st century AD."
- ^ Kannada gets classical tag
- Flood, Gavin (1996), An Introduction to Hinduism, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0-521-43878-0
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