FREE Quote   Call Toll FREE: 1-800-322-0284
Accredited Language Services
Free Translation Tool Website Translation Language Identifier LanguagesCountries Useful Links

Lithuanian

Lithuanian has a history of Polish and Russian influences, which delayed the development of a standardized Lithuanian language for many centuries. As a result, a standardized language did not emerge until the early 20th century.

Classification and Early History of the Lithuanian Language

The Lithuanian language is classified as a Baltic Language, part of the Indo-European language family. It is generally believed that ancestors of modern-day Lithuanians first arrived in the Baltic area around 2500 BC.

Like the closely-related Latvian language, Lithuanian is marked by its retention of archaic characteristics and its similarity to Slavic languages, two facts that have caused various disputes among modern linguists. A central issue has been the question of whether there once existed a Balto-Slavic language group, which then split into two separate subfamilies (Baltic and Slavic) around the 10th century BC.

Relationship Between Modern Latvian and Lithuanian

The Baltic language of Latvian and Lithuanian are closely related, although they are not mutually intelligible. Most linguists consider Lithuanian to be the more conservative of the two languages, as Latvian has undergone more developments throughout history.

There is no doubt that the Latvian and Lithuanian languages shared an early path of development, and it is believed that the two languages did not develop as distinct languages until circa 800 AD. Before this, it is likely that they were simply seen as two dialects of one single language.

Impact of the Polish-Lithuanian Union on the Lithuanian Language

Map of Lithuania

In the 13th century, a loose confederation of Lithuanian tribes was formed to orchestrate a unified resistance in the face of invasion by Teutonic knights. This organization took place under the pagan chieftain Mindaugas who, after converting to Christianity, was crowned king of Lithuania by the authority of the Pope.

After Mindaugas’s assassination in 1263, future rulers took greater efforts to expand Lithuanian territory. Notably, Grand Duke Jogaila orchestrated a union with Poland by marrying the Polish queen Jadwiga in 1386. By 1447, due to the lack of a Lithuanian heir, the King of Poland came to rule Lithuania. Stronger ties between Poland and Lithuania were developed in response to threats of Russian invasion, resulting in the creation of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (Rzeczpospolita).

As a result of this union, Lithuania’s upper class came to adopt Polish customs and the language. This appropriation of the Polish language among the educated classes led to a significant delay in the development of a standardized Lithuanian literary language.

Early Written Lithuanian Language

Although it took centuries for a standardized version to develop, the first signs of written Lithuanian literary language can be found in the 16th century. Lithuanian translations of religious texts the Lord’s Prayer and Hail Mary, written in the southern Aukstaitijan dialect, are believed to date from circa 1503 to 1525.

Although printed Lithuanian language books existed after 1547, their numbers were small. Literacy rates were low among Lithuanians and, as already noted, the upper classes of Lithuanian society often adopted Polish as a literary language.

Russian Subjugation of the Lithuanian Language: 17th to Early 19th Century

In the early 1600s, Russia conquered Lithuania, resulting in major setbacks in the development of a standard Lithuanian language, written and spoken. From 1866 to 1904, the Lithuanian language was required to be written in the Russian Cyrillic alphabet.

Latin-script Lithuanian language books, however, were still smuggled into Lithuania from Germany. Due to increased nationalist sentiment and unrest among Lithuanians, the ban was lifted in 1904.

Lithuanian nationalists declared Lithuanian independence in 1918. After expelling Russian Bolshevik forces, a Lithuanian assembly was elected in April 1920 and Lithuania’s first constitution was approved by 1922, officially establishing Lithuania as an independent democratic republic.

World War II and After: Soviet Influence on the Lithuanian Language

In 1940, the Soviet Red Army invaded Lithuania, creating the Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic. The occupation in the years that followed again resulted in an increasing Russian influence on the Lithuanian language, especially noticeable in the great number of Russian language loan-words incorporated into Lithuanian during this time.

As was the case in Latvia, the deportation and persecution of many native Lithuanians resulted in a decreased Lithuanian population. In 1990, Lithuania became the first Soviet republic to declare independence, and by 1991 the USSR had officially dissolved.

Modern Development of a Standard Lithuanian Language

Flag of Lithuania

Due to Lithuania’s historical ties with Poland and, later, Russia, the Lithuanian written language took a long time to develop a standardized form. Three primary dialects were in use throughout the 19th century, with no single one being widely accepted as a standard.

It was not until the first period of Lithuanian independence, from 1918 to 1940, that a standard Lithuanian language developed. Based on the West High dialect, this became the official language of independent Lithuania in 1918. It was standardized by the linguist Jonas Jablonskis, who published an influential Lithuanian grammar text based on this dialect in 1919.

Jablonskis’ text had an enormous impact, as it became the basis for Lithuanian language literary works and was also used in schools. Thanks to his work, Jablonskis is today considered the father of standard Lithuanian.

Modern Lithuanian Language and Dialects

The country of Lithuania has gained prominence in the past decade, joining international organizations such as the International Monetary Fund, International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, and the World Trade Organization. In 2004, Lithuania and fellow Baltic States Estonia and Latvia joined the European Union.

Modern Lithuanian is divided into two primary dialects within Lithuania: Shamaitish, also known as Low Lithuanian, and Aukshtaitish, also known as High Lithuanian. Low Lithuanian is spoken predominantly along the Baltic coast, while High Lithuanian is spoken in the northern, southern, and eastern areas of Lithuania.

Today, the Lithuanian language is spoken by approximately 3 million people in the Republic of Lithuania, were it serves as the official language.


Get Your FREE Quote



 

Lithuanian Quick Facts

Alternate Names & Spellings: Lietuviskai, Lietuvi, Litovskiy, Litewski, Litauische

Language Family: Indo-European, Baltic, Eastern.

Official Language of: Lithuania

Spoken by Approximately 4,000,000 people

Also Spoken In: United States

Related Services


Learn About Other Languages


A

Afar

Afrikaans

Akan

Albanian

Amharic

Arabic

Aramaic

Armenian

Ashanti

Aymará

Azerbaijani

B

Bafut

Bahasa

Bambara

Basque

Bassa

Belarussian

Bemba

Bengali

Bislama

Blackfoot

Bosnian

Breton

Bulgarian

Burmese

C

Cajun

Cambodian

Cantonese

Catalan

Cebuano

Chamoro

Chichewa

Chinese

Chinook

Creole

Croatian

Crow

Czech

D

Danish

Dari

Dhivehi

Dutch

Dzongkha

E

Edo

English

English (American)

English (Australian)

English (British)

Estonian

Ewe

F

Faroese

Farsi

Fijian

Fijian Hindi

Filipino

Finnish

Flemish

French

French (Canada)

French (France)

Frisian

Fulani

Fuuta Jalon

G

Ga

Gaelic

Galician

Georgian

German

Gikuyu

Greek

Greenlandic

Guaraní

Gujarati

H

Hausa

Hawaiian

Hebrew

Hindi

Hmong

Hungarian

I

Ibo

Icelandic

Ilocano

Ilonggo

Indonesian

Italian

J

Japanese

Jola

K

Kannada

Karen

Kazakh

Khalkha Mongol

Khmer

Kinyarwanda

Kirghiz

Kirundi

Kissi

Kiswahili

Koniagui

Kono

Korean

Kurdish

Kwanyama

Kyrgyz

L

Laotian

Latin

Latvian

Liberian

Lingala

Lithuanian

Luxemburgian

M

Macedonian

Malagasy

Malay

Malayalam

Malinke

Maltese

Mandarin

Mandingo

Mandinka

Maori

Marathi

Marshallese

Mirandese

Moldovan

Mongolian

N

Nauruan

Navajo

Ndebele

Nepali

Niuean

Norwegian

Nzema

O

Oriya

Oromo

Ossetian

Otetela

P

Palauan

Papiamento

Pashtu

Polish

Polynesian

Portuguese

Portuguese (Brazil)

Portuguese (Portugal)

Provencal

Punjabi

Pushtu

Q

Quechua

R

Romanian

Russian

S

Samoan

Sanskrit

Scots

Serbian

Sesotho

Sign Language

Sign Language - American

Sindhi

Sinhala

Sinhalese

Sioux

Slovak

Slovenian

Somali

Soninke

Spanish

Spanish (Latin America)

Spanish (Spain)

Sranan

Swahili

Swati

Swedish

T

Tagalog

Taiwanese

Tajik

Tamil

Telugu

Tetum

Thai

Tibetan

Tigrigna

Tokelauan

Tongan

Turkish

Turkman

Tuvaluan

Twi

Tzotzil

U

Ukrainian

Urdu

Uzbek

V

Valencian

Vietnamese

Vlaams

W

Wallisian

Welsh

Wolof

X

Xhosa

Y

Yanomami

Yiddish

Yoruba

Z

Zarma

Zulu