Lithuania and Language

Lithuanian language belongs to Baltic group of the Indo-European languages. The only other Baltic language is Latvian. Since the 19th century numerous linguists regard Lithuanian language as the purest surviving Indo-european language which is least changed by outside influences.

History of the Lithuanian language

A couple thousand years ago Baltic languages were spoken in a much larger area, covering also large areas of today's Poland, Russia and Belarus. This area shrunk due to Slavic expansion and also due to the Germanic crusades that have destroyed the Old Prussian language. The Baltic area continued to shrink in 15th-19th centuries as the Baltic languages, including Lithuanian, were spoken by peasants whereas the nobility switched to German or Polish (depending on location), regarded to be more prestigious.
The 19th century National Revival restored the prestige of speaking the Baltic languages. Peaceful resistance defended the language under Russian Imperial occupation, when it was forbidden to print Lithuanian or to speak Lithuanian in public. A secret book smuggler network was established (recognised as unique by UNESCO) which illegally imported Lithuanian books and press from Germany. Under the influence of linguist Jonas Jablonskis the language was purified by replacing Slavic loanwords with neologisms and establishing the modern orthography. Due to this reason 19th century Lithuanian differs more from modern Lithuanian than English of the era does differ from the modern English. However, several centuries old Lihuanian is still inteligible for a modern person.
The culmination of national revival was the 1918 declaration of Lithuanian independence, although the language had to survive another onslaught of russification under the Soviet occupation of 1940-1941 and 1944-1990.
Since the 19th century Lithuanian language is regarded by many to be the primary definition of who is Lithuanian and who isn't. The importance of language in defining ethnicity is therefore much greater than in Britain or the USA where a person can easily be regarded to be Irish (for example) even if his native language is not Irish.

The Lithuanian language situation today

Today Lithuanian is the sole official language in Lithuania and while there are official areas where ethnic minorities may use their own languages (for instance as the medium of instruction in their public schools), the position of Lithuanian as a language for interethnic communication strenghtened over the time since 1990. It remains to be seen whether this will be true in the future as English have displaced Lithuanian from many trademarks in the main cities and English slang entered the conversations.
The Lithuanian language commision which regulates the language takes a moderate stance on language purism. Unlike Icelandic, it allows new loanwords (and Lithuanian has many older loanwords). But it frequently attempts to coin neologisms for new terms, with mixed success. E.g. "Spausdintuvas" (from "spausdinti" - "to print") displaced "Printeris" as the Lithuanian name for printer, but "Skaitlys" failed to displace "Skaneris" (scanner) in popular speech.
Despite millions of Lithuanians emmigrating since the 19th century the emigrant communities typically loose the language over some three generations as nowhere do the Lithuanians make a majority and therefore they form mixed families with other linguistic groups. Currently there are the largest overseas Lihuanian-speaking communities in the United States, United Kingdom, Ireland, Norway and Spain. Some historical Lithuanian communities "on the wrong side of the state boundary" have been more succesful at preserving the language, namely the Punsk/Punskas community in Poland where Lihuanian language schools exist and Lithuanians make the majority of population.

Lithuanian orthography

Lithuanian is written in the Latin script, but compared to English Lithuanian has 9 additional letters (Ą, Č, Ę, Ė, Į, Š, Ų, Ū, Ž) and lacks 3 (W, Q, X). Unlike English the Lithuanian spelling is very regular, meaning the words are almost always spelled as they are written, and most letters have only one possible way to spell them. "A" is always like in the English word "Barn", "I" is always like in "Ship", "E" is always like in "Get", "O" is like in "Glory" and "U"is like in "Pull".
The additional Lithuanian vowels sound similarly to their ordinary counterparts, but must be said longer (e.g. "Ū" and "Ų" are both relatively similar to a long "U"). The only exception is "Ė". The additional consonants sound the following: "Č" is like "Ch" in "Charm", "Š" is like "Sh" in "Ship" and "Ž" is like "S" in "Measure". Unlike English Lithuanian has only one digraph and that is "Ch", spelled as "Kh" in "Khan".
The exact spelling of several Lithuanian letters differs from their English counterparts. Lithuanian "J" is like "Y" in English while Lithuanian "Y" is like "ee" in "sheep".

Lithuanian grammar

Lithuanian is an agglutinative language, meaning that the same word takes different forms when it is used in different contexts. This erradicates the need for grammatical particles. What is said in English in 2, 3 or even 4 words frequently may be said in Lithuanian with just a single word. For instance "I will come" is "Ateisiu" in Lithuanian, "You will come" is "Ateisi", "I did come" is "Atėjau", "He/she used to come" - "Ateidavo" and so on.
The changes the word takes in different situations can be predicted, as there are only several different versions of these changes. For instance every noun that ends with "as" would end with "o" in circumstances when in English particle "of" would be used. E.g. the name "Jonas" (John) would change to "Jono" (of John) in this case and to "Jonui" if you would want to say "for John". Similarly "Kaunas" (name of the second largest city of Lithuania) would change to "Kauno" and "Kaunui" in these cases ("of Kaunas", "for Kaunas" respectively). Therefore you don't need to learn every form of every word to learn Lithuanian - you only need to learn the main forms and the basic rules for creating the other forms.
Due to this nature of Lithuanian language it is common to add Lithuanian endings to foreign names and placenames. Without doing this the language would become ambigous. Therefore "London" in Lithuanian is "Londonas", and it can be refered to as Londono, Londonui, Londoną, Londonu, Londone, Londonan or Londonai, depending on what exactly has to be said about the city. Traditionally the orthography of foreign names is also lituanized, but this is now getting rarer, with many (though not all) daily newspapers dropping this practice. Therefore now you are more likely to encounter George'as Bushas than Džordžas Bušas as the name of the former US president. One exception are works of fiction where the character names are almost always transliterated into Lithuanian orthography (e.g. "Don Kichotas" instead of "Don Quixote").
Due to differences in masculine and feminine endings the male and female Lithuanian names are also different. Furthermore, every female surname has 3 variants: one for unmarried girl (ending by -aitė, -ytė, -ūtė or -utė), one for married woman (-ienė) and one optional marriage-neutral, introduced in 2000s per European Union request (-ė).
There are 7 cases (and 2 additional rarely used ones) of the nouns in the Lithuanian language. The verbs have only 4 tenses however. There is singular and plural and unlike in English (but like in most other languages) there are genders, with each word being either masculine or feminine.


Vilnius is the Lithuanian capital and the largest city (population 550 000). Officially established in the 14th century but likely dating to an earlier era this city is well known for its UNESCO-inscribed medieval old town, the largest in the Eastern Europe. After all, Vilnius has been a capital since at least 14th century and Grand Duchy of Lithuania used to be the largest state in Europe back then.
Vilnius was always a multi-ethnic and multi-religious city as evident from religious buildings of 9 different faiths, all pre-dating World War 1. Today that atmosphere still remains, with ethnicLithuanians making less than 60% of population (Poles – 19,4%, Russians – 14,43%,Belarussians – 4,19%).
Despite harboring many faiths and remarkable religious tolerance Vilnius always has been a religious city. It is said that in the narrow streets of its old town you can always see a church spire. While not entirely true, the density of lavish baroque Catholic churches funded by wealthy families there is indeed one of the largest in Europe. Saint Peter and Paul church is famous for its interior with over 2000 statues while Saint Anne gothic church is known for its fine exterior, supposedly loved by Napoleon Bonaparte. Four other Christian denominations, as well as Judaism and Karaism also have their centuries-old houses of worship in Vilnius.
With its location in the heart of Europe (according to the French geographic institute, the center of Europe is in a certain well-marked spot north of Vilnius) Vilnius was at the crossroads of many different armies and empires, Napoleon’s being just one of them.
The scars of more recent occupations are felt better. You can visit Parliament and Vilnius TV Tower where Russian soldiers killed 14 armless pro-independence civilians in January of 1991. Museum of Genocide Victims and Tuskulėnai memorial are located where Soviets used to torture, murder and secretly bury Lithuanians in 1940s-1980s (hundreds of thousands perished during that brutal occupation). Paneriai memorial marks the place where Nazi Germany killed a large share of Vilnius Jewish community during World War 2 (in 1931 Jews made up 27,8% of Vilnius inhabittants and the city was nicknamed Jerusalem of the North).
Being a modern capital Vilnius also has a new skyscreaper district, centered around Europos square. The city is also the best place for shopping, offering diverse opportunities such as Akropolis and Ozas shopping malls and the bazaar-like Gariūnai market. Together with Kaunasit offers the widest array of museums: mutiple art museums (both old art and modern art), the National museum. It is in Vilnius where there are the most cultural activities. It is here where the nightlife is the best in Lithuania.