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Lithuanian

Lietuvių kalba

Number of native speakers

3.5 – 4 million

Official language in

Lithuanian Republic, European Union

Minority language in

Poland, USA

Language of diaspora

Belarus, Kaliningrad region, USA, UK, Brazil, Argentina, Canada, Germany, Uruguay, Sweden, Norway, Australia, Latvia and other countries

Alphabet
32 letters
Grammatical cases
7
Language code
lt, lit
Linguistic typology
inflectional , pro-drop , SVO
Language family
Indo-European, Balto-Slavic branch, Baltic group, Eastern Baltic subdivision
Number of dialects
two dialects: Samogitian and Aukstaitian

Longest word

we haven’t been gathering enough wood sorrels

Curious word or sentence

6 gooses with 6 goslings

Interesting facts

It is possible to tell if a woman is married or not by the form of her family name, whereas this rule cannot be adapted for men. That is, unmarried women have family names with the endings "aitė", "iūtė" and "ytė" and married women's names always end with "ienė". A new ending "ė" has gained in popularity in recent years, which can be used either by married or by unmarried women. But it will take some time before it is widespread. At present it is used only by married women, mainly celebrities.

Interestingly, Lithuanian doesn’t have strong swear words. An example is rupūžė (toad). When Lithuanians feel the need to curse, they use either Russian or English swear-words.

Lithuanian is so suitable for dancing...

Three women went to Vilnius, Lithuania for the first time. After returning home they shared their experiences with a friend:
– Lithuanian is so musical, just like a dance...
– Why?
– Because every time a bus stops passengers say “Lipsi, lipsi, čia-čia-čia”…

“Lipsi, lipsi, čia-čia-čia” These are not dance names, but a shortened form of “ar Jūs lipsite čia?” (Are you getting off here?)

History

  • 10th century BC

    Baltic languages formed a separate branch from other Indo-European languages.

  • 400 - 600

    Eastern Baltic languages split from the Western Baltic ones (or simply from Baltic language).

  • > 800

    Difference between Lithuanian and Latvian languages started to appear.

  • from 13 - 14th century

    Lithuanian and Latvian languages continued to develop separately.

The oldest remaining text in Lithuanian was a prayer written by hand in a copy of the book “Tractatus sacerdotalis” in 1503.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Lithuanian is one of two surviving Baltic languages, along with Latvian. Today the Lithuanian language is the most archaic of all living Indo-European languages. It is believed that among the modern languages Lithuanian is the closest to the Proto-Indo-European language.

"Anyone wishing to hear how Indo-Europeans spoke should come and listen to a Lithuanian peasant," said the famous French linguist Antoine Meillet.

When specialists in Indo-European linguistics try to reconstruct the Proto-Indo-European language they find that contemporary Lithuanian is as important as ancient tongues such as Latin, Greek and Sanskrit.

Paul Thieme in 1958 compared the Lithuanian proverb: Dievas davė dantis; Dievas duos ir duonos and its Latin translation Deus dedit dentes; Deus dabit et panem (‘God gave teeth, God will also give bread’) with what he (Thieme) calls an old form of Sanskrit: Devas adadā t datas; Devas dā t (or dadā t) api dhā nā s.

Sanskrit and the Lithuanian language

Since both Sanskrit and Lithuanian are very archaic, there is a number of related and similar words, with identical or very close meanings. For example:

  • agnis (अग्निः) ‒ ugnis (fire)
  • vajus (वायु :) ‒ vėjas (wind)
  • aśru (अश्रु :) ‒ ašara (tear)
  • aśvā (अश्वा) ‒ ašvam (mare)
  • kūrmas (कूर्म :) ‒ kurmis (mole)
  • ratha (रथ :) ‒ ratas (circle)
  • devas (देव :) ‒ Dievas (God)
  • navyas (नव्य :) ‒ naujas (new)
  • madhu (मधु) ‒ medus (honey)
  • vīra (वीर :) ‒ didvyris (hero)
  • svapnas (स्वप्न :) ‒ sapnas (dream)
  • sanas (सन :) ‒ senas (old)
  • sravati (स्रवति ) ‒ srovena (flows, e.g. river)
  • śvaśuras (श्वशुर :) ‒ šešuras (father-in-law)
  • sūnus (सूनु :) ‒ sūnus (son)

and many others.

In addition, similar language and its morphology: skr. asmi - asi - asti = lit. I am - you are - they are.

The language similarity is not due to their close relatives (Lithuanian language belongs to the Balto-Slavic languages and Sanskrit to Indo-Aryan), but due to the fact that both of these languages has retained much of Proto-Indo-European elements. Sanskrit as a liturgical language, hasn't changed since its creation, and the Lithuanian language on the historical and cultural contexts also changed relatively little.

Word formation and lexicon

Lithuanian has retained a very old vocabulary. This makes it a priceless treasure. The State Commission of the Lithuanian Language, among other things, guards the language so that it won’t get overloaded with too many foreign words. If possible, attempts are made to create new words instead of borrowed ones. Nevertheless, the growing influence of English is obvious.

Lithuanian has lots of diminutive-endearing suffixes, therefore there are plenty of expressive, endearing word forms:

  • namas
    house
  • namelis, namukas, nameliukas, namelėlis, namužėlis, namučiukas
    little house
  • vaikas
    child
  • vaikelis, vaikiukas, vaikeliukas, vaikelėlis, vaikužėlis, vaikučiukas
    sweet baby

Grammar

Lithuanian has only two numbers (singular and plural) and two genders (masculine and feminine).

Lithuanian has four tenses (Past, Past iterative, Present, Future) and three conjugations.

The past iterative tense refers to a recurring action in the past: imdavau ir skaitydavau (I used to decide and read (not once)).

Infinitive
imti (to take), mylėti (to love), skaityti (to read)
Past
Singular
1st person aš ėmiau, mylėjau, skaičiau
2nd person tu ėmei, mylėjai, skaitei
3rd person jis/ji ėmė, mylėjo, skaitė
Plural
1st person mes ėmėme, mylėjome, skaitėme
2nd person jūs ėmėte, mylėjote, skaitėte
3rd person jie/jos ėmė, mylėjo, skaitė
Past iterative
Singular
1st person aš imdavau, mylėdavau, skaitydavau
2nd person tu imdavai, mylėdavai, skaitydavai
3rd person jis/ji imdavo, mylėdavo, skaitydavo
Plural
1st person mes imdavome, mylėdavome, skaitydavome
2nd person jūs imdavote, mylėdavote, skaitydavote
3rd person jie/jos imdavo, mylėdavo, skaitydavo
Present
Singular
1st person aš imu, myliu, skaitau
2nd person tu imi, myli, skaitai
3rd person jis/ji ima, myli, skaito
Plural
1st person mes imame, mylime, skaitome
2nd person jūs imate, mylite, skaitote
3rd person jie/jos ima, myli, skaito
Future
Singular
1st person aš imsiu, mylėsiu, skaitysiu
2nd person tu imsi, mylėsi, skaitysi
3rd person jis/ji ims, mylės, skaitys
Plural
1st person mes imsime, mylėsime, skaitysime
2nd person jūs imsite, mylėsite, skaitysite
3rd person jie/jos ims, mylės, skaitys

There are 7 cases (Nom, Gen, Dat, Acc, Instr, Loc, Voc), five declensions for nouns and three declensions for adjectives in Lithuanian.

An adjective in Lithuanian language can have up to 147 forms: 2 genders x 6 cases x 2 numbers x 2 forms x 3 degrees of comparison + 3 forms with no gender.

Pronominal forms of adjectives are a special feature of Lithuanian. The pronominal form of an adjective denotes that the feature is particular and at the same time it emphasizes this feature: gražusgražusis (beautiful – this beautiful). Pronominal forms of adjectives are unknown for English, German, French and many other language speakers.

Writing system and pronunciation

There are 32 letters in the modern Lithuanian alphabet:

  • a
  • ą
  • b
  • c
  • č
  • d
  • e
  • ę
  • ė
  • f
  • g
  • h
  • i
  • į
  • y
  • j
  • k
  • l
  • m
  • n
  • o
  • p
  • r
  • s
  • š
  • t
  • u
  • ų
  • ū
  • v
  • z
  • ž

The letters ą, į, ų once were used to denote nasal vowels. There are no nasal vowels in modern literary Lithuanian, but the letters remained to denote the long sounds /aː/, /iː/, /uː/.

Consonants in Lithuanian (except “j”) create hard and soft pairs. They also can be voiced or voiceless.

The phoneme /x/ is denoted by two letters – ch.

Lithuanian has (long and short) vowels and (hard and soft) consonants but also diphthongs (uo, ai, ei, ie) and diphthongal combinations (vowel and sonorous: al, am, an, ar, el, em, en, er, il, im, in, ir, ul, um, un, ur, ol, om, on, or).

  • [eu] Europa
    Europe
  • [oi] boikotas
    boycott
  • [ou] klounas
    clown
  • [ol] kolba
    laboratory flask
  • [om] pompa
    pump
  • [on] monteris
    mechanic
  • [or] korta
    playing card

Dialects

Samogitian dialect

  • Western Samogitian
    • Vakarų žemaičių patarmė
  • Northern Samogitian
    • Kretingiškių šnekta
    • Telšiškių šnekta
  • Southern Samogitian
    • Varniškių šnekta
    • Raseiniškių šnekta

Aukštaitian dialect

  • Western Aukštaitian
    • Šiauliškių šnekta
    • Kauniškių šnekta
    • Klaipėdos krašto šnekta
  • Eastern Aukštaitian
    • Panevėžiškių šnekta
    • Širvintiškių šnekta
    • Anykštėnų šnekta
    • Kupiškėnų šnekta
    • Uteniškių šnekta
    • Vilniškių šnekta
  • Southern Aukštaitian
    • Pietų aukštaičių arba dzūkų patarmė

Thematic words

Funny or odd traditional proverbs and idioms

Tongue twisters

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