Lithuanian, spoken by approximately 4 million people in Lithuania and the surrounding areas, is one of two living Baltic languages. There are very few native Lithuanian speakers in the world; however, it is thought to be the living language most similar to Sanskrit and Latin and therefore holds significant historical importance. It is also believed that Lithuanian is the oldest surviving Indo-European language in the world.
Christianity was introduced to Lithuania in the 14th and 15th Century. During this period few priests spoke Lithuanian and the Catholic Church actively encouraged the use of Polish. Only the poorer classes; the peasantry and the underprivileged spoke Lithuanian. As the upper classes were not exposed to Lithuanian very few books were printed in the language; literature cannot evolve without literacy. It wasn’t until the 16th Century that the first Lithuanian book was printed and a genuine concern for the native language arose. In spite of this concern there was no literary revolution. Polish continued to infiltrate the language for some considerable time and the 18th Century has been referred to as the age of impoverishment for the Lithuanian language.
It was only in the 19th Century that Lithuanian really began to flourish as a language in its own right. During this period there was a significant increase in nationalist thought – and an influx of academics with peasant ancestors brought the rise of what some refer to as the Lithuanian intelligentsia. This group of people helped restore many traditions, in particularly linguistically, and helped revive Lithuanian.
Interestingly, due to tsarist restrictions, the printing and teaching of the Lithuanian language was banned between 1864 and 1904. This ban did not cloud the nationalism of the time and the 19th Century saw the rise of Lithuanian. Books and newspapers in this newly revived language were printed abroad and secretly imported. Lower class children were taught to read and write in Lithuanian in order to keep the language alive.
In recent years there has been a surge in the production of Lithuanian literature, a standard literary Lithuanian has finally evolved. Dialects are still affluent in modern Lithuania, but the influence of these dialects has been greatly reduced by standardisation. It will be interesting to see, how standardisation affects the future of Lithuanian.
Roevin provides high quality translations into and from Lithuanian. For a free quotation please contact us.