Baltic languages

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Baltic languages,

a subfamily of the Indo-European family of languages. The Indo-European subfamily to which the Baltic languages appear to be closest is the Slavic. Because of this, some linguists regard Baltic and Slavic as branches of a single Balto-Slavic division of the Indo-European family. The Baltic tongues are thus named because they are spoken in an area bordering on the Baltic Sea. The principal ones are Latvian (or Lettish) and Lithuanian (together native to about 6.5 million people in Eastern Europe) and Old Prussian (which ceased to be a living language during the 17th cent.). The early common ancestor of the various Baltic languages, both living and dead, is traditionally referred to as Proto-Baltic. It is thought that Proto-Baltic broke off from the other Indo-European languages before 1000 B.C. A further division into East Baltic (to which Latvian and Lithuanian belong) and West Baltic (which claims Old Prussian) is believed to have taken place before 300 B.C. The Baltic languages are said to be the closest of the living Indo-European languages to Proto-Indo-European—the original parent of all the Indo-European tongues—both phonologically and grammatically. They show a high degree of inflection in both the noun and verb systems. The earliest surviving text in a Baltic language may be dated c.1400, but by the 16th cent. documents had become fairly numerous. See also LatvianLatvian
or Lettish
, a language belonging to the Baltic subfamily of the Indo-European family of languages (see Baltic languages). The mother tongue of close to 3 million persons living chiefly in Latvia, Latvian first became that country's official language in 1918,
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, LithuanianLithuanian
, a language belonging to the Baltic subfamily of the Indo-European family of languages (see Baltic languages). The official language of Lithuania since 1918, Lithuanian is spoken by approximately 3 million people there and by an additional half-million elsewhere in
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, Indo-EuropeanIndo-European,
family of languages having more speakers than any other language family. It is estimated that approximately half the world's population speaks an Indo-European tongue as a first language.
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See T. F. Magner and W. R. Schmalstieg, ed., Baltic Linguistics (1970).

Baltic Languages


an independent branch of the Indo-European language family. Modern Latvian (spoken by most of the population of the Latvian SSR) and Lithuanian (spoken by most of the population of the Lithuanian SSR), as well as the extinct Old Prussian language (spoken by the indigenous population of Eastern Prussia, already obliterated or artificially Germanized by the end of the 17th century), belong to the Baltic group of languages. Unwritten Baltic languages, mentioned in Russian chronicles, also existed: the languages of the Iatviagi, Goliad’, and Kurŝiai (Kurs or Kurony—Curonian). The origin of the Baltic languages and their relationship to the Slavic languages, with which they share many common lexical and grammatical features, represents a complex problem.

The Baltic languages were first studied by the German scholars A. Schleicher, A. Leskien, and J. Nesselmann. Later, much work was done by the Russian scholars F. F. Fortunatov, G. K. Ul’ianov, and V. K. Porzhezinskii; the Lithuanian scholars F. Kurŝat and K. Büga; the Latvian scholar J. Endzelīns; and the German scholars F. Specht, E. Fraenkel, and others. The work of those who gathered folklore (the Latvian K. Barons and others) and literary figures (the Lithuanian J. Jablonskis and others) was of great importance for the study of the Baltic languages. Dialect materials were collected in the late 19th century by A. Baranovskii, A. Bilenstein, K. Javnis, and others.


Toporov, V. N. “Baltiiskie iazyki.” In lazyki narodov SSSR: Indoevropeiskie iazyki. Moscow, 1966.
Endzelīns, J. Baltu valodu skanas unformas. Riga, 1948.
Fraenkel, E. Die baltischen Sprachen. Heidelberg, 1950.
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