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The language

The Baltic languages belong to the Indo-European group of languages. It has been established that the Lithuanian and Latvian languages separated in the 5-th or 7-th century A.D. The Lithuanian language has retained more of its ancient features than the Latvian language. Beside this, the Lithuanian language comprises several distinct dialects which exhibit considerable phonetic, morphological, syntactic and lexical differences, which has been caused by their speakers' sedentary and isolated way of life and the late emergence of the common literary norms of the language (at the end of the 19-th century).

Of all the living Indo-European languages the Lithuanian language has retained the ancient phonetic and morphological characteristics best of all. It has a complicated system of flexions and word derivation. Therefore, as part of general linguistics, it is taught at a number of foreign universities in the USA, Italy, France, Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Japan and other countries).

It is not very easy to classify all the Lithuanian dialects. Nevertheless it is generally recognized that the Aukstaitian and Zemaitian dialects are the main dialects of the Lithuanian language. The earlier classification of Lithuanian dialects, worked out by Jaunius and Salys, reflected the division of the country into ethnic regions rather closely. At present, however, the classification, proposed by Zinkevicius and Girdenis on the basis of the classification worked out by Baranauskas, is enjoying greater popularity among the linguists.

The common literary Lithuanian language formed on the basis of the western Aukstaitian dialect, known as the Suvalkian dialect. It was mainly because in the second half of the 19-th century the center of the Lithuanian cultural life moved from Zemaitija to the south-western bank of the Nemunas river. This was also the birth place of the father of common literary Lithuanian, Jonas Jablonskis (1860-1930), who was born in Griskabudis district.

The Lithuanian noun has two genders and seven declensional cases. the verb has four tenses. Lithuanian names of rivers and lakes occur from the Vistula to the Kama and Moscow rivers. The earliest relations of the Lithuanian language can by traced to the Finno-Ugric language in which words of Lithuanian origin make up 1.1 per cent of the total vocabulary. A very great number of Lithuanian words are used by Byelorussians and Poles in the areas formerly inhabited by Lithuanians. The Dictionary of the Lithuanian language, the publication of which is nearing its completion, will consist of 20 volumes and will contain about 400.000 entries.



next previous contents
Next: Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania Previous: The name of the country

J. Kudirka "THE LITHUANIANS"

Copyright ©, 1996 Lithuanian Folk Culture Centre.