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About the Lithuanian language itself[edit]

The Lithuanian language belongs to the Baltic group of Indo-European languages. The other living language in this group is Latvian, so if you know Latvian you may find it easy to learn Lithuanian. The languages are more different from each other than, for example, different Romance languages. They are also called Balto-Slavic because they share striking similarities with the Slavic languages, especially Russian and Polish. Like the Slavic languages, they have genders, noun cases, tenses, plurals and so on. There are no articles. Prepositions are avoided in favour of case endings. E.g. "namas" means "house", while "name" means "in a/the house"). Therefore the Lithuanian language might seem hard at first to learn for people who are used to languages with a different structure.

About usage of Lithuanian language[edit]

Lithuanian is the official language of the Republic of Lithuania, which has about 3.5 million people, of which 83% are ethnic Lithuanians. There are Lithuanian communities in the neighboring countries of Poland and Latvia, where some villages have Lithuanian majorities. Larger communities of Lithuanians existed in Belarus and what is now Kaliningrad Oblast of Russia. There also exist traditional emigrant communities, mostly in America and Australia, of people who are descendants of interwar emigrants. There are also new emigrant communities, made up of people emigrating now, largely in Spain, the UK and Ireland. Some of the old emigration trends, e.g. USA, remained too, while others disappeared (e.g. South America).

About dialects[edit]

Dialects of Lithuanian. Samogitian subdialects are yellow, red, and brown; Aukštaitian subdialects are green, blue, and purple.

The Lithuanian language has two dialects (tarmės): Aukštaičių (Aukštaitian, Highland Lithuanian), Žemaičių/Žemaitiu (Samogitian, Lowland Lithuanian). There are significant differences between standard Lithuanian and Samogitian. The modern Samogitian dialect formed in the 13th-16th centuries under the influence of the Curonian language. Lithuanian dialects are closely connected with ethnographical regions of Lithuania.

Dialects are divided into subdialects (patarmės). Both dialects have 3 subdialects. Samogitian is divided into West, North and South; Aukštaitian into West (Soduviečiai), Dainavian and East (the South and East dialects are also known as Dzūkian dialects due to their frequent use of dz for standard ). Each subdialect is divided into smaller units – speeches (šnektos).

Standard Lithuanian is derived mostly from Western Aukštaitian dialects, including the Eastern dialect of Lithuania Minor. Influence of other dialects is more significant in the vocabulary of standard Lithuanian. For the purpose of this book, we will focus on Standard Lithuanian.

Lithuanian writing and pronunciation[edit]

The Lithuanian alphabet[edit]

Lithuanian alphabet is a modified Latin alphabet. It consists of the following 32 letters (in order):

  • A – the long or the short A (see the pronouncing rules above), [a / ā].
  • Ą (A nosinė) – long A, [ā].
  • B – like B in bag, [b / b'].
  • C – like English Ts (e.g. in Tsar), [ts / t's'].
  • Č – like English Tsh (T and then sh), [tʃ / tʃ' / t'ʃ'].
  • D – like D in dog, [d / d'].
  • E – long or short E, (see the pronouncing rules below), [e / æ].
  • Ę (E nosinė) – long E, [æ].
  • Ė – is like German e and long (see the pronouncing rules below), [ē].
  • F – like English F or PH (e.g. in fog), [f / f'].
  • G – like G in golf, [g / g'].
  • H – like H in Hungary, [h / h']
  • I – short i, like i in English big; i in a diphthong, like y in say, the palatalization mark [i / ǐ / i].
  • Į (I nosinė) – long i (see the pronouncing rules below), [ī].
  • Y (I ilgoji) – second long i (see the pronouncing rules below), [ī].
  • J – like Y in the English word young [j].
  • K – like K in Kilometer, [k / k'].
  • L – like L in long, [l / l'].
  • M – like M in Mike, [m / m'].
  • N – like N in november or N in link [n / n' / ɳ /ɳ'].
  • O – long or (rare) short O, [ō / o].
  • P – like P in Pong, [p / p'].
  • R – like Spanish R, [r / r'].
  • S – like S in song, [s / s'].
  • Š – slightly less tight than English Sh (e.g. in Shell) [ʃ / ʃ'].
  • T – like T in Tango, [t / t'].
  • U – short u, like oo in English food, u in a diphthong, like w in cow [u / ǔ]
  • Ų (U nosinė) – long U, [ū].
  • Ū (U ilgoji) – long U, [ū].
  • V – medial sound between English [v] and [w]; [v / v']].
  • Z – like Z in Zone, [z /z'].
  • Ž – voiced variant of Š, [ʒ / ʒ'], the sound in the middle of English "Treasure".
  • Ch – these letters together are pronounced as an unvoiced variant of Lithuanian h, like ch in scottish loch, [χ / χ' ].

The letters W, X and Q are not used in Lithuanian except in proper names (e. g. Washington'o miestas). The letters F, H and the digraph Ch are only used in loaned words, known in many European languages (e. g. Chemija)

The pronouncing of consonants[edit]

The rules[edit]

  1. Any Lithuanian consonant may be palatalized. Palatalized consonants are pronounced softly, as before [i], but not palatalized are pronounced hardly, stiffly.
    • Consonants are palatalized when they go directly before e (ę or ė) or i (į or y). Consonants, that go directly before other vowel letters should be pronounced not palatalized.
    • The letter i in digraphs ia (ią), io, iu (ių, iū) plays a role of the palatalization mark (see The pronouncing of vowels).
    • Consonants, that go directly before any palatalized consonant are palatalized too. It mean, that palatalization takes effect in a group of consonants, when the last consonant of the group is directly before e (ę or ė) or i (į or y).
    • Consonants, that go directly before any not palatalized consonant are not palatalized, except the consonant [l] in few cases.
    • Consonant [j] doesn't have a not palatalized pronouncing.
  2. Voiced consonants directly before unvoiced ones become similar to unvoiced. And, in the same way, unvoiced consonants directly before voiced ones assimilate to voiced ones.
    • Unvoiced – voiced consonant pairs are: [b] – [p], [d] – [t], [g] – [k], [h] – [χ], [z] – [s] and [ʒ] - [ʃ]
    • Voiced consonants [l], [m], [n], [r], [v] don't have a pair unvoiced sounds, they pronounced less voiced than in general, and unvoiced consonants don't became voiced before them.
    • Unvoiced consonant [j] doesn't have a pair voiced sound, and assimilation of the prior sound is almost insensible before [j].
  3. Consonants [b] – [p], [d] – [t], [g] – [k], [h] – [χ] are pronounced much less aspired than their English counterparts.
  4. The consonant letter n is pronounced [ɳ] before k or g and [n] in other cases.

The list of consonants[edit]

consonant letter pronouncing
[b] b like English [b]
[d] d like English [d]
[dʒ'] dž (before ia, io, etc) it's a variant of [dʒ] with a more stressed t than ʒ (palatalized only!)
[f] f like English [f]
[g] g like English [g]
[h] h between English [h] and [g] (it's voiced!)
[j] j like English [j]
[k] k like English [k]
[l] l like English [l]
[l'] l like Italian l (it's palatalized!)
[m] m like English [m]
[n] n like English [n]
[ɳ] n (before k or g) like English [ɳ]
[p] p like English [p]
[r] r like South European or Russian r
[s] s like English [s]
[ʃ] š less tight than English [ʃ]
[t] t like English [t]
[tʃ'] č (before ia, io, etc) it's a variant of [tʃ] with a more stressed t than ʃ (palatalized only!)
[v] v between English [w] and [v]
[z] z like English [z]
[ʒ] ž less tight than English [ʒ]
[χ] ch like Lithuanian [h], but unvoiced

Explanations of other transcription marks are in the table below:

mark explanation examples
[ ' ] (after a consonant) marks a palatalized consonant [k'], [g'], [s'm'] ([sm'] does not exist, see rule 1)
[ i ] (after a consonant) marks a palatalized consonant group [ki](=[k']), [gi], [smi] (=[s'm'])
[ kg ] (before a voiced consonant) could mark an assimilated consonant. [szd], [ pbd]
[ gk ] (before an unvoiced consonant) could mark an assimilated consonant. [zst], [bpk]

Note: This simplified transcription is only used in Wikipedia. In many study sources of the Lithuanian language no transcription is used or the more sophisticated, scientific transcription is used.

The pronunciation of vowels[edit]

The rules[edit]

  1. Any vowel sound has two variants, the long and the short in Lithuanian language.
    • Letters a, e can be read long ([ā] , [æ]) or short ([a], [e]), depending on the word and its form (case, tense, etc.). The long a or e of this kind may appear once in a word.
    • Letters ą, ę, ė, į, y, ų, ū are always pronounced long ([ā], [æ], [ē], [ī], [ū]).
    • Letters u, i are always pronounced short ([u], [i]) (except cases, when they are a part of diphthongs).
    • Letter o is pronounced long ([ō]) at most, but in the case of many loaned words it's pronounced short [o] in word root.
    • Possible short variant of [ē] and more often short variant of [æ] are marked with the same [e] here. They aren't distinguished in spelling too.
  2. There are few cases, when a vowel letter is pronounced not like a vowel sound:
    • The letter i directly before a (ą), o, u (ų, ū) (but not e!) (in ia, ią, io, iu, ių, iū and not ie) isn't pronounced and marks the palatalization (see above). This usual rule has few exceptions in stems of some loaned words, most of them are known in many other European languages (e. g. pianinas [pijaninas] 'a piano', pionierius [pijonierius] 'a pioneer').
    • The letters i and u in ai, ei, ie, ui, uo are parts of respective diphthongs. This rule has few formal exceptions of the same kind as the previous, but in fluent Lithuanian these exceptions usually aren't seen.

The list of vowels[edit]

vowel letter pronouncing
[a] a similar to English u [ʌ] (also in open syllables!)
[ā] a, ą long, double a
[e] e half-way between English [ə] and [ɛ]
[æ] e, ę long, double e, similar to English a [æ] (a consonant before Lithuanian [æ] is palatalized)
[ē] ė long, double e, similar to e in many languages (e. g. to French é)
[i] i like English i [i] (also in open syllables!)
[ī] y, į long, double i
[ō] o half-way between English [ɔ] and [u:], it's long, double
[o] o similar to English [ɔ]
[u] u similar to English oo [u]
[ū] ū, ų long, double u

The accent[edit]

  1. The accent in Lithuanian is free (not connected with any particular syllable or sound). Accents of the different forms of the same word also may differ.
  2. The accent in Lithuanian has three forms, all of which have different pronunciation in different cases. These three forms are: the initial long syllable accent, the final long syllable accent and the short syllable accent. When we have a single vowel (not a diphthong) in an accented syllable, the form of stress also indicates, if the vowel is long or short.

In this wikibook the Lithuanian accent is marked by printing the respective vowel bold. This allows the initial and the final accents in syllables containing a diphthong to be distinguished, as far as is sufficient for intermediate knowledge of Lithuanian.

Note: In the vocabularies the three forms of accent are often marked with three marks - the final long syllable accent with a circumflex mark (^), the initial long syllable accent with an acute mark (´) and the short syllable stress with the grave mark (`), but the meaning of these marks differs from their usage in most other European languages (e. g. in the Greek language).