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(lĭth'o͞oā`nēən), a language belonging to the Baltic subfamily of the Indo-European family of languages (see Baltic languagesBaltic 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
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). The official language of Lithuania since 1918, Lithuanian is spoken by approximately 3 million people there and by an additional half-million elsewhere in the world, chiefly in the Western Hemisphere. The importance of Lithuanian in linguistic studies stems from its designation as the most ancient of the living Indo-European languages. It is also the language closest to Proto–Indo-European, the ancestral tongue from which all the Indo-European languages evolved. Currently, Lithuanian uses a modified Roman alphabet for writing.


See L. Dambriunas et al., Introduction to Modern Lithuanian (1980).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



the language of the Lithuanians; spoken mainly in the Lithuanian SSR. Lithuanian belongs to the Baltic group of Indo-European languages. It is spoken by about 2.6 million people in the USSR (1970, census) and by more than 500,000 people abroad. Lithuanian is divided into two main dialects, žemaitija (Lower Lithuanian) and Aukŝtaitija (Upper Lithuanian); the latter was the basis of the literary language.

Lithuanian is similar to the Slavic languages and has preserved many archaic features of the Indo-European languages. Phonologically, it is characterized by phonemically distinctive long and short vowels, stress, and intonation (falling, rising, and short). The morphology is distinguished by a well-developed system of noun cases and verb forms: there are seven cases, including vocative; four tenses (present, past, past durative, and future); and four moods (indicative, subjunctive, imperative, and optative). The basic word stock of Lithuanian is composed of vocabulary from ancient Indo-European, as well as from Baltic itself. The greatest number of borrowed words are Slavisms, followed by Germanisms. The Latin-based alphabet was devised in the 16th century.


Iazyki narodov SSSR, vol. 1. Moscow, 1966.
Lietuvių kalbos žodynas, vols. 1–8. Vilnius, 1941–70.
Lietuvių kalbos gramatika, vols. 1–2. Vilnius, 1965–71.
Zinkevičius, Z. Lietuvių dialektologija. Vilnius, 1966.
Kazlauskas, J. Lietuvių kalbos istorine gramatika. Vilnius, 1968.
Dabartinès lietuvių kalbos žodynas. Vilnius, 1972.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


the official language of Lithuania: belonging to the Baltic branch of the Indo-European family
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005