Monday, July 21, 2014

Language Profile: Lithuanian

This week we're taking a look at Lithuanian, a member of the Baltic language family. It is the official language of Lithuania. Lithuanian is closely related to Latvian, the official language of neighboring Latvia, which is the only other living Baltic language. It is also spoken in Belarus, Latvia, Poland, and parts of Russia.

Curonian Spit sand dunes in Lithuania
Lithuanian is a particularly interesting language to linguists because it is thought to be the most conservative Indo-European language that is still spoken. It has kept many archaic features over the years that have fallen out of use in other languages, which makes it very important in terms of helping to reconstruct the Proto-Indo-European language. Due to these old features, the language contains many cognates to words in classical languages like Sanskrit and Latin that evolved from Proto-Indo-European.

One interesting feature of Lithuanian is its use of grammatical genders. Its nouns have two genders: masculine and feminine, while its adjectives, pronouns, participles, and numbers use three genders: masculine, feminine, and neuter.

In terms of its vocabulary, Lithuanian contains a number of loanwords from various languages. In the mid-1900s, most of its loanwords came from Polish, Belarusian, and German. In more recent years, they've primarily entered Lithuanian from Russian and English, especially technological terms such as kompiuteris for "computer" and faksas for "fax".

The Lithuanian alphabet has 32 letters, including letters such as č, ę, š, ū, and ž. It is written using a Latin-based alphabet with diacritics.