Standard Lithuanian

Standard Lithuanian. By Ian Press. (Languages of the world/materials 439.) Munich: LINCOM Europa, 2004. Pp. v, 55. ISBN 3895868329. $55.44.

Reviewed by Richard W. Hallett, Northeastern Illinois University

This brief book presents an overview of Standard Lithuanian. According to Ian Press, the standard variety of Lithuanian is based on West Aukštaitic, the dialect of Jonas Jablonskis, a linguist revered as the ‘father of Lithuanian’ (2). The main contents of the book are an introduction (v); background information on the Lithuanian language (1–2); a section on the alphabet, pronunciation, and phonology (3–6); and a section on grammar (7–53). This last section constitutes the bulk of the text.

In his concise background of the Lithuanian language, P discusses the argument as to whether the Baltic languages, of which Lithuanian is one, form a linguistic branch of Proto-Indo-European that broke off separately from the Slavic branch. P downplays this argument, stating that there is a ‘world of differences’ (1) between the modern-day Slavic languages and Baltic Lithuanian. The author then addresses the commonly held belief that Lithuanian is an ‘archaic’ Indo-European language. P prefers the term ‘conservative’ to ‘archaic’ (1) to describe the highly inflected nominal system of the language.

In the following section, P gives the thirty-two letters of the Lithuanian alphabet and mentions a few digraphs. He then presents examples of short vowels, long vowels, and diphthongs and provides a basic consonant inventory. He ends this section with examples of Lithuanian adaptations of foreign place names to illustrate Lithuanian spellings and grammatical endings.

The first feature of grammar that P discusses in the next section is the accent types of Lithuanian vowels and diphthongs, which may be long or short and, accordingly, have rising or falling intonation. The author then turns to a discussion of gender (masculine and feminine), number (singular and plural, with some dual forms remaining), case (nominative, genitive, dative, ablative, instrumental, locative, and vocative), person (first, second, and third; singular and plural), and tense (the present and the simple past being the most common). In the subsequent section on nouns, P presents five declension types. Then he presents three declension types of adjectives, and lists the personal, demonstrative, and indefinite pronouns, and for numerals: cardinals, ordinals, and fractions.

The lengthiest presentation in the grammar section is P’s explanation of Lithuanian verbs. He explains how Lithuanian verbs are inflected to mark the indicative, imperative, conditional, and oblique moods. He also examines verbal aspect, Aktionsart, conjugations, participles (including the half-participle), and gerunds. Following this long section, P presents a shorter discussion of adverbs, prepositions, conjunctions, interjections, and onomatopoeic words. P concludes this book with a final note on Lithuanian word order and particles.

This short book contains a wealth of information. P’s overview of Standard Lithuanian belongs on the bookshelves not only of linguists who study Lithuanian in particular and Baltic languages in general, but also of those who research historical linguistics, the comparative method, and (Proto-)Indo-European.