The New and Updated Guide to the Lithuanian Language for English Speakers
by ASBusinessMagnet, translator of Homestuck to Lithuanian
Read the old guide instead? (I advise you do not.)
So, yes. There is a translation of Homestuck to Lithuanian, which I happen to run. There is, in a possibly surprising twist for some, a language called Lithuanian, which I happen to know natively. And a country called Lithuania, in which I happen to live. As these three statements have no doubt shocked you, why don't we try and consume some facts to cool you down for the beginning?
The first question you want to be asking with any language is the one about its usage. Unfortunately, since you can't type in this text box, I will just have to ask questions for you. Here goes nothing.
Where and how widely is Lithuanian spoken? Well, it is spoken mainly in this corner of Europe which is convinced that it is the center, called Lithuania. Of course, Lithuanian isn't the only language spoken there; people typing up Reddit discourse use English and all our cursewords are Russian, but other than that, Lithuanian is mostly used. The number of Lithuanian speakers keeps decreasing over time, but as of the latest European Commission survey in 2012, there should be 2.8 million speakers in Lithuania itself (mostly native speakers), around 200 thousand Lithuanian expats around the world, mostly in the United States (which, more likely than not, is the country you are from) and probably also several individuals who are Axis Powers Hetalia fans and think Toris Lorinaitis is a legitimate Lithuanian name, which it isn't. (Also not a Lithuanian name: Vairuotojo Pažymėjimas)
How closely is Lithuanian related to other languages? Well, it is a part of the Indo-European language family, which also hosts a lot of languages you probably know, like English, Spanish, French and basically almost every - weirdly enough - Indian and European language. And yet, somehow it is more related to certain languages than the others: it belongs to the Baltic branch of the family, which only hosts itself, Latvian and the dead Prussian language, and it is closely related to the Slavic branch, which has Russian, Polish and the likes.
How well is Lithuanian maintained? Pretty well. To put a long story short, there is this cool governing body that tries to enforce rules of grammar to everyone, and which basically monitors the language as it is used in published literature since 1990, as well as the teaching of the language in schools. (Yes, that is how we over here understand maintenance.) This is going to be important for the later parts of this guide, so yeah, let's get its name out of the way: it is called "Valstybinė lietuvių kalbos komisija", or VLKK for short, and it translates its name to English as "the State Commission of the Lithuanian Language".
How well does the general populace respond to this maintenance? Not well at all. As I said previously, our Reddit discourse is in English, our cursewords are Russian and our messages on Facebook tend to lack diacritics and, in general, are distorted in a way that even has its own name. Of course, this mangling of the language predates Facebook, but luckily for us, before Facebook we had a cool site called "one.lt", and therefore, these distortions are called "one.lt language".
What are diacritics? Shoot. Look, the alphabet is still two sections down, so if you want to skip the boring history lesson, you are welcome to do so, but if you are entertained by this boring wall of text, then we can move on to:
Excluding the complicated family tree of Indo-European languages and how it branched and how the languages in it kept influencing one another, the formal history of the Lithuanian language begins in 1547, when the first Lithuanian book was published, as part of the Reformation movement in which people were influenced to actually respect their native language, even if it is composed entirely of fart sounds. Since 1547 is actually pretty late for a language to be developed, this Old Lithuanian is totally readable to speakers of modern Lithuanian, with perhaps a bit more success if you grew up in a village near Memel (a German city which we claimed for our own, naming it Klaipėda).
After this point, this is roughly what is taught in high school, in fancy timeline form:
1400s - first Lithuanian text ever found, which was some translation of a prayer in a written form that was very obviously influenced by Polish.
1547 - first Lithuanian printed book, "Catechismvsa prasty Szadei..." (modern Lithuanian: Katekizmo (pa)prasti žodžiai..., English: The Simple Words of Catechism...) by Martinus Mosvidius (modern Lithuanian: Martynas Mažvydas). Though, "prasti" in modern Lithuanian means "bad", so... yeah.
1579-1590 - our first Bible translation by Jonas Bretkūnas; unfortunately, it was never published, so according to Ethnologue, it doesn't count.
1599 - this book, which happened to be published exactly 413 years before I began my Homestuck translation, "Postilla" by Mikalojus Daukša, which even happens to talk about the importance of language, giving the wonderful example "what if a lion decided to bleat like a goat
and piss on his turntables".
1600s and 1700s - only one book is ever touched during this period, and it is totally forgettable and now that I have graduated high school, not even I can remember it clearly. Sorry.
1800s - honorable mention to Adam Mickiewicz, a Polish guy who we try our best to pretend was Lithuanian and loved our country, which is easy because in the previous segment, Poland and Lithuania were one country.
1864 - after a failed uprising of Lithuanian peasants, the Russian government bans the usage of the Latin script to write Lithuanian, "мининг фят евривон ис форст ту райт лайк фис" (meaning that everyone is forced to write like this). Of course, information wants to be free, so immediately, book smuggler groups develop which print the books in Tilsit (currently Sovetsk, Kaliningradskaya Oblast', Russia; basically, think that Russia and not Russia had swapped places in the 1800s) and bring them over the river.
1904 - the ban above is lifted, seeing as the ban itself somehow made our culture rise, writers grow on trees, stuff like that. Also, we got to translate Shakespeare during that time period.
1940 - after enjoying 22 years of independence, we are conquered by Russia again, except this time it is called the Soviet Union and acts nothing like Russia, meaning that it doesn't enforce the use of weird non-Latin letters, but still gets to dictate its own rules.
1990 - we free ourselves from the Soviet rule, but our weirdly regimented language remains and has to be managed by someone, hence, we invent the VLKK.
2000-2008 - during this period, we are already well into Western culture and speaking English, and as such, the translation of Harry Potter is produced concurrently with the books' actual publishing.
2012 April 13 - I first publish my translation of Homestuck to Lithuanian, meaning that this no longer counts as history, and we can finally move on closer to your question about the diacritics.
If you remember anything from the previous two sections, you now know that there are two main, actually used variants of Lithuanian: the regimented, VLKK Lithuanian, and the haphazard, diacritic-less one.lt language. This is pretty much true for any language that you pick, though; my English teacher used to tell us that we should be learning the Queen's English, rather than the London slang, and I, as a metaphorical teacher in this essay, am going to tell you to learn VLKK Lithuanian, rather than the one.lt language. (If your goal is to communicate with your Lithuanian girlfriend, though, I have a converter handy for you.)
However, the reality is a bit more complicated than that, if perhaps hinted by the fact that I have one more thing there that isn't the one.lt language or Old Lithuanian ("senoji lietuvių kalba"). That is the Samogitian dialect, coming to you from this weird part of Lithuania that sometimes likes to think it is its own nation. There are other dialects too, but they gather to two major groups, one being Samogitian and the other being the basis for modern Lithuanian.
(also the division between VLKK Lithuanian and one.lt language isn't clear-cut and instead is a gradient)
Anyway. Your patience has been rewarded, and we can finally talk about diacritics in the next section:
This is the Lithuanian alphabet:
A Ą B C Č D E Ę Ė F G H I Į Y J K L M N O P R S Š T U Ų Ū V Z Ž
Which ones are the diacritics? Look at the alphabet more closely, and you will see letters much like the ones you use, except with little dots or tails or ticks. Those are the diacritics. See if you can find them all: Ą Č Ę Ė Į Š Ų Ū Ž
Also, there are some letters that you use, but which you won't find in the list above. Don't even bother looking for them: Q W X
What, you say? You still can't find one letter, even though I said you can find it? Oh, that's right, Y has moved. Y, though, is problematic as a letter in general, so let me dedicate the next few sentences about it.
The thing with the letter Y in English is that it's the equivalent of a transgender person in human society, namely, the "Consonant-to-Vowel" (CTW) type, but you already know that.
The thing with the letter Y in Lithuanian is that it murdered W and X, went on to live between the letters Į and J and finally got through with becoming a true vowel, but that wasn't enough for it and it decided to come to The Diacritic Party and it turned out there were 13 letters in it and the party was damned for life. (Hint: some Latvian letters, Ā, Ē and Ī, also decided to come along)
The morale is the letter Y is the single worst letter of the Latin script by a nautical mile. Next section.
Unlike English, which GradeAUnderA talks about in detail and I'm not going to cover here because it is not a guide on English, most letters in Lithuanian correspond to a single sound.
Well, sort of. While at school, we were taught that there are 12 vowels and 23 consonants, the Wikipedia article on Lithuanian phonology somehow counts 11 vowels (except for one that we only use for loanwords; well, guess what, loanwords are a legitimate part of the Lithuanian language that not even the VLKK can completely exclude) and 45 consonants. How does it make up 22 more consonants? Apparently, some words are distinguished by something called palatalization. Look, there's the example they give:
"šuo" - dog
"šiuo" - some complicated case (more on that later) of "this one"
See the difference? Yes, that's the letter I, but it doesn't act like the sound I; instead, it softens the consonant before it (though, at school, we always pronounce it with the vowel instead, because those are simpler to memorize, as there are only three possible combinations for them: "ia", "io" and "iu"). So, yeah. That's complication No. 1.
Complication No. 2! Some of those letters represent exactly the same sound. There are two examples: Į and Y are always [iː] (I will give a guide on what the IPA means later on), while Ų and Ū are always [uː].
Complication No. 3: Some of those letters represent exactly the same sound, but only sometimes. While Ą is always [aː], A can also be [ɐ], and while Ę is always [æː], E can also be [ɛ]. How to figure out which is where? Take this converter and input your text into it. If there is nothing or the sort of thing on the letter "à", then it is that other variant (this will be called "short"), and in all other cases A and Ą are pronounced exactly the same ("long").
Complication No. 4: some combinations of letters, if one letter exactly represented one sound at all times, are difficult to pronounce. Don't worry about it too much, and just guess.
Alright, now you are ready for the big list.
||u in but
|A long, Ą
||a(r) in far
||b in but
||ts in bits
||ch in loch (some dialects)
||ch in chew
||d in do
||e in bet
|E long, Ę
||a in bat
||same as French É *
||f in far
||g in good
||like CH, except voiced
||i in bit
||ea in beat
||y in your
||k in key
||l in look
||m in my
||n in no
||o in pot (British)
||o in more
||p in put
||s in say
||sh in shoot
||t in to
||oo in book
||oo in food
||v in vain
||z in zebra
||same as French J
* No, that is not an "ay" sound. Try again.
(This table took me forever to format, so you'd better learn something from it.)
Alright. Now, you can actually try and read what I have written in my translation, in a fashion about as correct as you'll be able to get from a wall of text, and this is as far as I am willing to go before I'm convinced that Lithuanian is a tonal language, like Chinese. But that doesn't help you at all in understanding how words go together in Lithuanian, which is a topic otherwise known as:
Apparently, the Lithuanian grammar is the most archaic in the living Indo-European languages, which is basically our own specific way of saying "X is the hardest language in the world" in a scientific manner, and will still get you a "citation needed" if you write this sentence in Wikipedia. Don't worry; there is still rhyme and reason to it. Since you're reading my translation as of now, you probably want to understand this sentence:
"Vertėjo pastaba: Tekstas, pateiktas paveikslėlyje, o ne prie jo, jeigu jis nėra integruotas į paveikslėlio vertimą, rašomas pasviru šriftu."
Okay, that is a bit long, but it works. Before we begin analyzing the grammar, though, here is a quick dictionary:
į - into
integruotas - integrated
jeigu - if
jis - he, it
ne - no, not
nėra - is not, isn't
o - variant way of saying "and"
pastaba - note (noun)
pasviras - slanted, italic
pateikti - present (verb)
paveikslėlis - picture, image (noun)
prie - next to
rašyti - to write
šriftas - font
tekstas - text
vertėjas - translator
vertimas - translation
(That's way too many words that begin with a P. I should try writing a Lithuanian alliterative text sometime.)
Alright, awesome. Using this weirdly specific dictionary, you may now understand the text as:
"Translator's note: Text presented in the image and not next to it, if it isn't integrated into the translation of the picture, is written in an italic font."
Unfortunately, there are some random English words with no Lithuanian translation in this passage, which means that when you (or Google Translate) tries to translate this back, the sentence is ruined, because you don't understand the grammar.
"Vertėjo pastaba: Tekstas, [...] paveikslėlyje, [...] paveikslėlio vertimą, [...] šriftu."
Lithuanian nouns have six and a half cases. Yes, six and a half. There is one case that you use to call someone by name, but if that name is in plural, that case is identical to the nominative and shouldn't be counted as a separate case. So, ignoring that, there are six cases, which fall into one of these four groups:
a. Nominative (vardininkas): used for the subject of a sentence
b. Genitive (kilmininkas): used for the possessive
c. Genitive (kilmininkas), accusative (naudininkas), dative (galininkas) and instrumental (įnagininkas): used for the object of a sentence; sometimes, a verb can take more than one object, which is why we need several of these
d. Locative (vietininkas): used, weirdly enough, for location
Yes, the genitive repeats. Deal with it. I'm not typing up a comprehensive guide to Lithuanian right now; I may set up a blog for it in the future, though.
Here's how these nouns fall into these categories:
a. "pastaba", "tekstas"
b. "vertėjo", "paveikslėlio"
c. "vertimą", "šriftu"
Take a moment to
think of just flexibility, love and trust write the Lithuanian sentence out on a whiteboard and analyze these nouns, and when you're done, come back to:
There is exactly one adjective in the above sentence, "pasviru", and it is changed from "pasviras" in the exact way "šriftu" is changed from "šriftas". TL;DR: adjectives have to agree with nouns on case, gender and number. (By the way: all the words in this sentence are of masculine gender, but that does not give you the right to assume that every word in Lithuanian is of the masculine gender.)
Actually, nevermind; there are no verbs in the above sentence, because we don't need to use the word "to be" (but, unlike Russian, we do actually have a word for it: "būti").
One thing I should mention here, though, is the Lithuanian verb tenses, which are going to become relevant in the next sub-section. There are four of them, which you can think of as the present tense, the past tense, the "used to" tense and the future tense.
"[...] pateiktas [...] integruotas [...] rašomas [...]"
This is the most fun part of learning Lithuanian, as we count fourteen forms of the participle. Other than that, they act just like adjectives. These are the rough types:
Four types (one for each tense described above) of participles used for the active voice ("veikiamieji dalyviai")
Three types (present, past and future) of participles used for the passive voice ("rašomas" belongs to the present type of this... type, while "pateiktas" and "integruotas" are in the past tense) ("neveikiamieji dalyviai")
One type that is used in lieu of "should" ("reikiamybės dalyvis")
One type that is used in lieu of "while" if there is a noun using it ("pusdalyvis")
Four types (one for each tense described above) that is used in lieu of "while" if there is no noun using it ("padalyviai")
One type that is used with the verb to emphasize it ("būdinys")
That's my best English understanding of the bunch.
5. Everything else
You do not need to worry about gramatically posing everything else; we have a flexible word order, and you only need to care about the prepositions ("prie" and "į" in this case) being immediately before the noun phrase which they belong to.
Confused? Me too, actually. Not many people get around Lithuanian grammar, and there is probably a way to learn it that doesn't go into scientific terms as chapter titles, but it's not like I have discovered it. To date, I only know of one website that even teaches Lithuanian in the first place, so, yeah.
Alright, after much nonsense we finally get into the most important part of this essay. You can't know the language without the words, you know.
Lithuanian (language) - lietuvių kalba
(in L.) - lietuviškai, lietuvių kalba
(person) - lietuvis (male), lietuvė (female), lietuviai (plural)
(of L.) - lietuvių
English (language) - anglų kalba
(in E.) - angliškai, anglų kalba
(person) - anglas (male), anglė (female), anglai (plural)
(of E.) - anglų
hello - labas
hi - sveikas
goodbye - viso gero, iki pasimatymo
please - prašau
sorry - atsiprašau
yes - taip (also "jo")
no - ne
to translate - versti
a translation - vertimas
(more simple phrases are available here)
Homestuck - "Įstrigę namuose" (complete with the quotes)
(more terms of Homestuck are available here)
http://anglu-lietuviu.xb.lt/ - the Lithuanian-English dictionary I personally use for my translation
http://www.debeselis.net/ - the only community of learning Lithuanian I could find that is still (if barely) active
There also used to be an online Lithuanian text-to-speech program, but unfortunately it is down now.