Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Country Profile: The Languages of Lithuania

In our last two country profiles, we learned a bit about the languages spoken in Armenia and Panama. Today we're going to check out the linguistic landscape of Lithuania, a small European country bordering the Baltic Sea.

The Official Language

The Curonian Spit, which features sand dunes that separate
the Baltic Sea from the Curonian Lagoon.
It should come as no surprise that Lithuania's one and only official language is Lithuanian. However, you might not know that Lithuanian is a member of the Baltic language family, and is thought to be the most conservative living Indo-European language since it has retained many linguistics features that other languages have dropped throughout history.

Lithuania is home to approximately 2.8 million native speakers of Lithuanian, which equals the vast majority of the country's population. That said, several other languages are also spoken in Lithuania.

Other Languages

The country's second most spoken language is Samogitian, which is spoken by about 500,000 Lithuanians. However, it's one of those tricky linguistic varieties that some linguists call a dialect and others call a language. Either way, Samogitian is closely related to Lithuanian, though there are considerable differences in terms of characteristics such as verb conjugations.

Several Slavic languages are also spoken by large groups of Lithuanians. First, there's Russian, which is the native language of over 200,000 Lithuanians, in addition to being used as a second language by over 2.4 million others. Polish is also popular, with over 160,000 native speakers and more than 450,000 non-native speakers. In addition, there are over 7,000 native speakers of Belarusian and over 5,000 native Ukrainian speakers in Lithuania.

Finally, Lithuania is home to small numbers of speakers of three more languages: Baltic Romani, Karaim, and Yiddish. There are about 1,300 native speakers of Baltic Romani, a group of Romani dialects spoken in the Baltic states, while the number of Yiddish speakers is unknown. Last but not least, there are thought to be about 75 native speakers of Karaim, an endangered Turkic language that was heavily influenced by the Hebrew language.