Overview of the Lithuanian Language
The Lithuanian language is spoken primarily in the Republic of Lithuania, where it is the official language. It is also a minority language in Byelorus, Poland, Latvia, and Russia. In addition, Lithuanian has been designated as one of official languages of the European Union.
Lithuanian is one of the two Baltic languages which make up a branch of the Indo-European family. (The other language in the Baltic branch is Latvian.) Within Lithuania, many regional dialects exist, which may present a linguistic challenge to travelers to remote areas of the country. Standard Lithuanian is spoken in Vilnius, Kaunas, and other areas.
The Lithuanian Alphabet and Lithuanian Pronunciation
Lithuanian is written in a version of the Latin alphabet, the same alphabet used by English. The Lithuanian alphabet has 32 letters, including some identical letters (especially vowels) with diacritic marks to differentiate between their sounds. The letters Q, W, and X do not exist in the Lithuanian alphabet. The alphabetical order for Lithuanian also differs from English in that the letter Y occurs in the middle of the alphabet.
Lithuanian pronunciation is straightforward. Each Lithuanian letter corresponds to a specific sound. There are also numerous diphthongs, or vowel combinations. Some of the most commonly used diphthongs include ai, ei, ui, au, uo, and ie. All of the vowels and diphthongs have both short and long sounds. (For example, a can be pronounced as in about or as in father.)
Because the Lithuanian language has remained closer to its Indo-European roots than most other Indo-European languages, many Lithuanian words have cognates in ancient languages such as Sanskrit, Latin, or Ancient Greek. Lithuanian has traditionally been conservative in terms of vocabulary, preferring to coin its own terms rather than borrow from other languages. However, Lithuanian did take in words from Russian during the period that Lithuania was part of the Soviet Union, and it has more recently begun to borrow words from English and occasionally other European languages.
Lithuanian nouns are either masculine or feminine. There are five declension types, and thus there are many possible endings for nouns. Lithuanian adjectives, which generally come before nouns, must agree in gender, case, and number with the nouns or pronouns they modify. Lithuanian verbs are conjugated to show tense and person. There are no definite or indefinite articles in Lithuanian.
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