Lietuviu Kalba Introduction and History

Lietuviu Kalba (also known as Lithuanian) is the official language of Lithuania and is also recognized as one of the official languages of the European Union. There are almost 3 million native Lithuanian speakers in Lithuania and a further estimated 170,000 abroad. Lithuanian belongs to the Baltic languages, and is closely related to Latvian, even though they are not mutually understandable. It uses a modified adaptation of the Roman script.

One of the interesting facts about Lithuanian is that it still contains many features of Proto Indo-European, which was spoken by the early Europeans a few thousand years BC. It is therefore believed to be the most conservative living Indo-European language.

A famous saying from French linguist Antoine Meillet is often quoted when taking about the history of Lietuviu Kalba / Lithuanian:

Anyone wishing to hear how Indo-Europeans spoke should come and listen to a Lithuanian peasant.

Antoine Meillet, (1866-1936), is one of the most influential comparative linguists of his time. Using a comparative method of utmost precision, he clearly explained the early Indo-European linguistic system and traced its history. This famous saying vividly depicts the characteristics of Lietuviu Kalba.

Features of Lithuanian grammar

The Lithuanian language is a very inflected language and uses a great number of inflections to express the relationships between certain parts of speech and their roles in a sentence.
Lithuanian has only two grammatical genders, namely feminine and masculine and no neutral gender as such. However, certain forms are derived from the historical neuter gender, especially attributive adjectives. It also consists of five nouns and three adjective declensions.

The declination of nouns and other nominal morphology is done in seven cases:

Nominative, genitive, dative, accusative, instrumental, locative and vocative.

Older texts even show three rarer and additional variations of the locative case:

the illative, which is still used in spoken language, the adessive and the allative.

The morphology of Lithuanian has a number of novelties: the synthetic passive (which is hypothesized based on the more archaic though long-extinct Indo-European languages) has been lost, the synthetic perfect (build by means of reduplication) and aorist; forming subjunctive and imperative by using suffixes plus flexions compared to only flections, like for example in Ancient Greek.

Also, the loss of the optative mood; merging and disappearing of the -t- and -nt- markers for third person singular and plural, respectively (although this seems to be a common feature in all Baltic languages and happened in Latvian and Old Prussian too).

There is however a number of ancient features kept, which have been lost in most modern Indo-European languages. For example, the future tense is formed synthetically with the help of the -s- suffix; also, three principal verbal forms with the present tense stem employing the -n- and -st- infixes.
Compared to an isolating language like English, the word order is rendered less significantly with the rich overall inflectional system. For example, the English phrase”a car is coming” would be worded by a Lithuanian speaker either as “atvažiuoja automobilis” or “automobilis atvažiuoja”.

Additionally, Lithuanian also has a very rich word origin system and an array of diminutive suffixes.

The first authoritarian Lithuanian grammar book of Lithuanian was commissioned for the use in the Lithuanian-speaking parishes of East-Prussia by the Duke of Prussia, Frederick William. Nowadays, there are two definitive books on Lithuanian grammar: one in English, called “Introduction to Modern Lithuanian” (also called “Beginner’s Lithuanian” in newer editions) by Leonardas Dambriūnas, Antanas Klimas and William R. Schmalstieg.

The other one, “Грамматика литовского языка” (“The Grammar of the Lithuanian Language”) by Vytautas Ambrazas, is written in Russian. The Lithuanian Research and Studies Center in Chicago also published a book in 2003; it is the second edition of “Review of Modern Lithuanian Grammar” by Edmund Remys.

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