Lithaunia Art Project

The first seed of an idea for a project reacting to being in Lithuania. I’ve been searching on the internet for inspiration, and although I have no idea what to do with it yet, I found this on the ministery of foreign affairs web site ( and it interested me…


The Lithuanian language and the kindred Latvian belong to the Baltic group of Indo-European languages. Out of all the living Indo-European languages, Lithuanian has best retained its ancient system of phonetics and most of its morphological features. Since the 19th century, when the similarity between Lithuanian and Sanskrit was discovered, Lithuanians take a particular pride in their mother tongue as the oldest living Indo-European language. To this day, to some people their understanding of their ethnicity is based on their linguistic identity. Lithuanians proudly quote the French linguist Antoine Meillet, who said that anyone who wanted to hear old Indo-European should go and listen to a Lithuanian farmer. One can safely say that Lithuanian is a language that cannot be understood by a speaker of any other language who has not learnt it. More than that, even users of the main dialects: aukštaičių (highland) and žemaičių (lowland or Samogitian) can hardly understand each other unless they communicate in Standard Lithuanian. Linguists divide the main dialects into numerous sub-dialects, forms of speech, etc, which have endured up till now. This is a unique phenomenon in all Europe.

The written Lithuanian language evolved relatively late in comparison with some of its neighbours. The first piece of the written Lithuanian is Catechismus (1547) by Martynas Mažvydas. Postilė (1599) by Mikalojus Daukša, the trilingual Polish-Latin-Lithuanian dictionary (around 1620) by Konstantinas Sirvydas, and the grammar of the Lithuanian language by Danielius Kleinas (1653) had a great impact on the standardisation of the language. A masterpiece of Lithuanian literature, a poem in hexameter ‘Metai’ (The Year), written by Kristijonas Donelaitis between 1758 and 1765, was an encyclopaedia of the peasant’s life. For his merits to the written Lithuanian language, Donelaitis is compared to Dante or Shakespeare and their influence on the written Italian and English.

Lithuania is the only country that has built monuments to book distributors. After the uprising of 1863, the Russian tsarist authorities prohibited using Latin characters in publishing Lithuanian texts. The prohibition lasted for several decades. Lithuanians categorically rejected the idea of writing in Cyrillic, as proposed by the authorities. The resistance to the ban on Lithuanian schools and publishing was highly organised and effective. Manuscripts were taken secretly to East Prussia, from where the printed books were smuggled back over the border to Lithuania. The Russian authorities tried to suppress the distribution of books that they considered illegal, book distributors were shot, and several thousand, mostly peasants, were exiled to Siberia. The linguistic and cultural resistance was so strong that during the ban on the printed Lithuanian language the foundations for standard Lithuanian were laid. In 2004 Lithuania marked the 100th anniversary of re-introduction of Lithuanian language into public and cultural life.

At the beginning of the 20th century the present alphabet was introduced. The standardisation of the language was influenced by the studies of the famous Lithuanian linguists Jonas Jablonskis and Kazimieras Būga. The Lithuanian Language Institute, having accumulated a 4.5-million-word file, published a definitive 20-volume ‘Dictionary of the Lithuanian Language’.

The Lithuanian Constitution stipulates that ‘the Lithuanian language is the official language of the Republic of Lithuania’.

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