Flag of Lithuania

The Baltic languages offer a view of ancient Proto-Indo-European – the root of almost all the modern languages spoken throughout Europe and much of India. The Lithuanian language is the most widely spoken Baltic tongue, and as such, it’s especially fascinating to Linguists.


It’s an extremely conservative language, having changed little since ancient times. It shares many features with ancient Greek and even Sanskrit!


Maybe this is why JRR Tolkien (a linguist as well as an author) used Lithuanian as a template when he invented the elvish language in his books (The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit).


It’s very much a living language. Just under 3 million speakers live in Lithuania, with 200,000 abroad.


There are strong communities in:

  1. The United States
  2. Canada
  3. Mexico
  4. South Africa
  5. The UK
  6. Ireland (Lithuanians make up 1% of Ireland’s current population)


Lithuanians have traveled around the world throughout history, although the greatest outpouring occurred in the nineties, following the country’s independence.


Written Lithuanian

The earliest surviving Lithuanian text dates back to the sixteenth century – it’s the Lord’s Prayer. As with most European countries, Lithuania originally had no written language. Thanks to the work of early catholic missionaries, the Latin alphabet was quickly adopted and used.


Today, Lithuanians use the latin alphabet to write.


Due to a revived interest in the language, linguists are currently compiling the first official dictionary. As a truly ancient language (older than Latin), it’s quite hard to trace the etymology of many of the words – and this is one reason why an official dictionary has never been attempted in the past.


The language is inflected – this means that the way you pronounce the words changes their grammatical role in the sentence. This feature makes it a little difficult for English speakers to pick up. In English, we tend to use inflection for adding emphasis or subtle meaning. In Lithuania, doing the same thing can dramatically change the meaning of the sentence!


Despite these challenges, learning the Lithuanian language is not that hard. What’s more, it presents a fascinating insight into the language spoken by our ancient ancestors.

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