Chapter 5 - Considerations of Lithuania through the language
2005年 03月 18日
To talk about the Lithuanian language, first I would like to compare it with the Latvian language. My curiosity about the Lithuanian language leads to the Latvian language, too. During this term I’m also taking a Latvian course in a Medborgarskola. Through the history Latvian was influenced by German and quite a lot of German words are taken into Latvian. Lithuanians and Latvians can communicate with each other to some extent in each language, but the languages are not so close for them to understand everything. The Latvian teacher said that the distance between the two languages is like Swedish and Danish.
This is a story of my linguistic experiment. When I was staying in Lithuania I traveled to Latvia a few times. I encountered several occasions when I had no common languages to communicate with the local people. Once I visited a town whose name was Kuldiga, 3 hours by bus to the west from Riga, where there was the widest waterfall in Europe. I had no idea how to get there from the bus terminal then I hired a taxi. The driver was a middle-aged man. The problem was that we had no common language. He spoke only Latvian and Russian and I could understand none of them. So I tried to communicate with him in Lithuanian. He asked me where I was from in Latvian then I answered in Lithuanian like “I’m from Japan but now I live in Lithuania”. He was interested in me as a Japanese who spoke Lithuanian. We could make easy conversation like this in Latvian and Lithuanian. He was a kind man and for half a day he guided me in the town not only to the waterfall. The waterfall, the key of this travel, was very wide according to a guidebook. Actually it was very wide but its height was only 30cm. I was expecting it like Niagara Falls so it was a kind of disappointing. The guidebook with a picture focused only on the falling water and didn’t show the fall itself was good enough to fool readers that it was like Niagara. Anyway the guidebook said “the widest” so it didn’t tell a lie.
Lithuanian has 7 cases, numerous tenses and 2 genders. But there are no articles. The spelling and the pronunciation are straightforward. Ordinary Lithuanians don’t like to hear that people misunderstand Lithuanian is from the same branch as Russian. Lithuanians always shoot Russian down that they can master the Russian language in 3 days, and vice versa. On the other hand some Lithuanians say that Russian is too difficult by implying Lithuanian is completely dissimilar to Russian. No matter what they say I think that the languages are similar more or less. Because the Russian students in the same Lithuanian class learned the language much faster than anybody else.
Lithuanian is the principal language of Lithuania. Other languages used in Lithuanian include Russian, Belarusian, and Polish. Until the Second World War Yiddish was also a culturally and socially important language.
Before the collapse of the Soviet Union Russian was the most important language and people who were students during the era can speak Russian as a matter of course. Other languages as English, French and German were treated as the same. English was not prioritized at that time. My Lithuanian friends around 30 year-old or older learned Russian at school. My best Lithuanian friend Edita can use Russian as a native speaker but didn’t learn English at all. Instead she learned French. I found that some Lithuanians are fluent in German. Children who were born after the regaining of the independence started to learn English instead of Russian. Nowadays Russian is not compulsory at school and even if they can choose Russian many of them don’t show an interest in the language any more. Some of my young Lithuanian friends around 10 to 20 years old can speak Russian since they learned verbally while playing with Russian neighbor kids but they can’t write or read. They are exceptions and most of the current Lithuanian children don’t understand Russian at all. This shows the reality that Lithuania is no longer a part of the Soviet Union and is trying to go outward to the West.