Volume 15, No.3 - Fall 1969
Editors of this issue: Antanas Klimas, Ignas K. Skrupskelis
Copyright © 1969 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.


The University of Rochester

In his book, Historical Linguistics,1 Professor Winfred Lehmann states:

Modern Lithuanian is remarkable for its conservatism of pitch accent, inflection and retention of formal distinctions, especially in the substantive. The word for 'son' sūnus is like that in Sanskrit, sūnūs; eiti 'he goes' has undergone fewer changes than has Latin it. Lithuanian is accordingly one of the most important Indo-European languages for comparative study, (p. 26). 2

Recently, the writer of the present article emphasized the same point by stating:

Lithuanian... is the most archaic among all the Indo-European languages spoken today, and as a result it is very useful, indeed, indispensable in the study of Indo-European linguistics.'3

What, then, are the linguistic (and other) factors which make Lithuanian so important for Indo-European studies ? We will try to list here the most important features of Lithuanian, without necessarily exhausting their listing, and without trying to assign them their relative degree of importance.

1. The most important fact is that Lithuanian is not only very archaic, but still very much alive, i. e., it is spoken by about three and a half million people. It has a rich tradition in folklore, in literature, and it is used very successfully in all walks of modern life, including the most advanced scientific research. The fact that, at the present time, Lithuania is occupied by the U.S.S.R. and that the Russian language is very cunningly foisted4 upon the Lithuanians has not diminished the lively development of archaic (or conservative) Lithuanian into a completely modern language in every field of human endeavor.

Thus, any linguist can hear, tape-record, use, check and re-check any type of language information that he may need in his research of Lithuanian. All of the other ancient Indo-European languages are dead: Tocharian, Indo-Iranian (Sanskrit and Old Persian), Hittite, Old Armenian. Classical Greek, Thracian, Phrygian, Latin, Old Gaelic (Celtic), the various ancient Anatolian languages, etc.. Some of these ancient languages came down into our times as they became modern languages: e.g., French, Spanish, Portuguese, Catalan. Provencal, Rumanian, Rheto-Romansch, and Italian are all descendants of Latin, but they changed their phonological (i. e., sound) and morphological (i. e., inflectional: declensions, conjugations, etc.) systems so much that there are only "traces" of Latin left in all of them. Only the basic vocabulary remained the same in all of these modern Romance languages.5

Many Northern Indian languages (i. e., the direct descendants of Sanskrit, or Old Indic) have given up most of the inflectional patterns (i. e., endings) of the parent language. So have some of the Germanic languages, most notably Modern English. Therefore, the linguist has only some written documents for all of those ancient languages, and the writing itself is only a very poor rendering of the real language (or speech) itself.

2. In the phonological (sound) system, Lithuanian has remained quite close to what we imagine might have been the sound system of Proto-Indo-European. The vocalic system of Proto-Indo-European is especially well retained in Lithuanian, to wit:6

Proto-Indo-European Proto-Baltic Old Lithuanian  Modern Lithuanian 
e e e e
ē ē ē ē(ė)
o a a a
ō ō ō/uo ō/uo/u
a a a a
ā ā ā ā/ō
i i i i
ī ī ī ī(y)
u u u u
ū ū ū ū

3. In the consonant system, Lithuanian did not undergo any shifts comparable in scope to the Germanic consonant shift. Only the palatals k and g were partially shifted to the sibilants č and and ž respectively. Thus, even now in Modern Lithuanian we have such doublets as gardas and žardas 'pen, enclosure', from Proto-Indo-European "ghordh-o-s,, kumpis and šumpis 'ham', from Proto-Indo-European *kmp-/ *kemp- / *komp-. Changes such as the Proto-Baltic *dja- and *tja- shifting to High Lithuanian -džio- and -čio- (-tšio-) are of much later origin. However, the Baltic languages do not show any reflection of the aspirated and labiovelar consonants which are posited for Proto-Indo-European. This is a generalized chart of the consonants:

Proto-Indo-European Proto-Baltic Old Lithuanian  Modern Lithuanian 
p p p p
t t t t
k k k k
d d d d
b b b b
g g g g
bh b b b7
dh d d d
gh g g g
k k/š k/š k/š
g g/ž g/ž g/ž
gh g/ž g/ž g/ž
kw k k k
gw g g g
gwh g g g
s s s s
(z) z z z
m m m m
n n n n
r r r r
l l l l
w v v v8
j j j j

4. Diphthongs. Not a single branch of Indo-European languages preserved the pattern of the ancient diphthongs intact. Slavic languages, for example, monophthongized these Proto-Indo-European diphthongs at a very early stage.9 Other languages again display a remarkably retentive rate:

Proto-Indo-European Proto-Baltic Old Lithuanian  Modern Lithuanian 
ei ei ei/ie ei/ie
ēi ēi ei/ie ei/ie
au au au
ai ai ai ai10
ōi āi/ō ai//uo ai/uo
āu āu au au
ōu ō uo uo

For many examples of these developments, see Alfred Senn, Handbuch der litauischen Sprache. Band I: Grammatik (Heidelberg, 1966), esp. pp. 87-90; also, Christian S. Stang, Vergleichende Grammatik der baltischen Sprachen, (Oslo, 1966).

5. One of the most striking and important features of the phonological patterns preserved so well in Lithuanian11 up to this very day is the so-called ablaut (also known as vowel alternation, vowel gradation, apophony, etc., i.e.. Mod. English: sing, sang, sung: -i-, -a-, -u-; Mod. German: singen, sang gesungen, and many similar cases). Although its origin is not well known, this patterned vowel alternation was most probably used for indicating and separating various (all?) morphological categories, i. e., singular and plural, various tenses, persons, etc. This patterned vowel variation occurred in Proto-Indo-European in roots, stems, endings, etc., in all parts of speech. In the course of their development, most of the Indo-European languages changed the original Indo-European pattern so much that it is hard to recognize it as such without referring to its earlier stages, or without comparing it with the pattern in several other related Indo-European languages.

Although Lithuanian too had many various changes, analogical leveling, etc., it has preserved some very old patterns. On the other hand, ablaut is still "working"' in Lithuanian to a certain degree, while in all other languages this has not been observed for several centuries.

One of the posited patterns of the ablaut in Proto-Indo-European might have looked as follows:

  e  :  o  —   ē ō  —   e  :  o  (zero grade)12

This pattern can still be illustrated with examples from present day Modern Lithuanian:


  e  :  o  —    ē ō  —  e : o     (zero grade)


  e  :  a  —   ė :   ō/uo   —   i : y13

želti :                 žalias — žėlė :     žolė/žuolis — žilti: žyla '
to begin to grow' :green' — 'grew':    grass'/'growth' —'to gray' :'grays'

The simple fact is that no other Indo-European language known to us even from circa 1000 B.C. can show so many varieties in one root (not even Sanskrit, Greek, or Latin) as can Modern Lithuanian; all the words and forms given above are used by every (native) speaker of Lithuanian today!

6. Another very important feature of Lithuanian is its very conservative accentuation pattern. Most of the other Indo-European languages have either completely changed (even several times) their accentuation system, or have only a very insignificant reflection of the inherited parent-system. Of all the Indo-European languages still spoken, only two South Slavic languages, Serbo-Croatian and Slovenian,14 have some remnants of the Indo-European pitch (or intonation) stress. Just glancing at one word in Lithuanian (in its declensional pattern) will suffice to see the intricacy of the Lithuanian accentuation system. We will take the word sūnus 'son':

Singular  Plural  Singular  Plural 
N. sūnùs sūnūs -- --
G. sūnaũs sūnų -- --
D. sūnui sūnùms -- --
A. sūnų sūnus --- ---
I. sūnumì sūnumìs --- ---
L. sūnujè sūnuosè --- ---
V. sūnaũ! sūnūs! -- --

7. Of all living Indo-European languages, only Lithuanian has up to this very day preserved the so-called athematic verbs.

Athematic verbs are those verbs in which the inflection morph (i.e., the ending) is added directly to the basic verbal root, without any additional vowel in between. This could be portrayed as follows:

Indo-European basic verbal root *es 'to be', plus I.-E. *mi 'I' becomes esmi 'I am'. What is amazing is that this very form is still used in some Lithuanian dialects.15 The whole present tense conjugation would have looked approximately like this:

Indo-European Old Lithuanian Mod. Lithuanian

*ēd-mi 'I eat'

ėdmi ėdu
*ēd-si 'thou eatest' *ėdsi ėdi
*ēd-ti 'he eats' *ėdti ėda
*ēd-me 'we eat' *ėdme ėdame
*ēd-te 'you eat' *ėdte ėdate
*ēd-(en)te 'they eat' *ėdti ėda

It is most probable that in early Proto-Indo-European this was the only type of "conjugational" system. Although most of the other Indo-European branches (or languages) had given this up in prehistoric times. Lithuanian has preserved at least 93 of the verbs which clearly show traces of the athematic conjugation.16

8. a. In later Proto-Indo-European, the so called thematic conjugation system developed and, indeed, replaced the much more ancient athematic system. Lithuanian has preserved a rather good reflection of this later system up to the present day:

Proto-Indo-European Lithuanian
 -ō -uo (si)
 -ei -ie (si)17
 -i -i
 -imē -imės
 -itē -itės
 -(i) nt (e) -i18

 b. Another ancient feature found in Lithuanian at present is the dual. Very few of the Indo-European languages have preserved traces of the dual, especially in their verbal conjugational systems. In Lithuanian, primarily in living dialects, dual forms are still used. We shall cite here a present tense of the verb eiti 'to go":


aš einu 'I go, I am going' 
tu eini ('thou goest') 
jis eina 'he goes'


mes einame 'we go' 
jūs einate 'you go' 
ie eina 'they go'


mudu (mudvi) einava 
'we two ('we two", fern.) go' 
judu (judvi) einata 'you two ('you two', fern.) go' 
jiedu (jiedvi) eina 'they two ('they two', fern.) go'19

9. Most of the modern Indo-European languages today have a periphrastic (or compound) future tense. For example, in English we say "I shall go," or "I will go"; in other words, we want to express something like "I am obliged to go; thus, I will (am) be going," or "It is my wish to go, I intend to go; thus, I will go." In Modern German future can be expressed either by the simple present tense (plus, usually, an adverb indicating future), or by periphrastic forms, thus

a) Morgen fahre ich nach Berlin. "I will go to Berlin tomorrow."

or b) Ich werde nach Berlin fahren. "I will go to Berlin." Modern Russian has really only one tense inherited from Proto-Indo-European: the present tense. What is usually considered the past tense, with the endings -1, -la, -lo, -li,, is in reality made up of older participles (that is why it shows genders and plural: -1, -la, -lo, -li...). The present tense of the Russian perfective verbs serve now as future: on paidyet 'he will go'. French does have a seemingly future tense in je parlerai 'I will speak', but actually it is a compound form too, as in English, German,, etc. It consists of the form parler 'to speak' and ai 'I have', thus originally meaning approximately 'to speak I have: I have to speak!'; thus, eventually 'I will (shall) speak".

Lithuanian, on the other hand, has preserved a future tense from prehistoric times: it has one single form, e.g.

kalbė-siu 'I will speak', etc.

This form kalbėsiu is made from the stem kalbė-(ti) 'to speak', plus the ancient stem-ending (or formant, suffix) •sjō (> Old Lituanian sjūo > sjū, Mod. Lith. -siu). This is called the sigmatic future (cf. Greek sigma=s). It has been recorded only in ancient Old Indic (Sanskrit) and Greek, but it is still used by every speaker of Lithuanian today.

10. Participles and Gerunds ... 

There are 13 participial and gerundive forms for each verb in Lithuanian. Most are inherited from Proto-Indo-European. To illustrate this, lets take the verb gerti 'to drink' and list all its participial forms:

Active participles

Present t.: (masc.) (fern.)  ('the one who...')
Past t. :  geriąs gerianti is drinking
Frequentative  gėręs gėrusi has drunk
Past:: gerdavęs gerdavusi has been drunk
Future t.: gersiąs gersianti will drink

Passive participles

(masc.) (fern.)  (something that...')
Present t.: geriamas geriama is being drunk
Past t. :  gertas gerta has been drunk
Future t.: gersimas gersima will be drunk

Gerunds and special adverbial participles

geriant 'while drinking'
gerdavus 'after having had drunk repeatedly'
gerus 'after having drunk'
gersiant 'to have to drink in the future'
gerdamas, gerdama 'while drinking"
gerlinas, gertina 's. that has to be drunk'

Of these participles, the best preserved one in Lithuanian is the present active participle, with the formant -ant- (from Proto-Indo-European -ont-). Other participles, however show very old features, with the old Indo-European formant -ent-/-ont- appearing in their oblique cases: (future active participle) gersiąs, gen. sg. gersiančio, from an older *gersiantjō, etc.

11. In Lithuanian, one will also find some of the old types of various pronouns still used today. Thus, the Proto-Indo-European interrogative pronoun *kwos 'who' appears in Lithuanian as kas 'who', as do many similar old forms.

12. Each language family usually has one basic numerical system, accordingly expressed in the language or languages of this linguistic family. The numerals from 1 to 10 tend be especially well preserved. In this case, as in many others discussed previously, (Modern) Lithuanian has preserved some forms better than other recorded languages of ancient times. Compare:

Proto-I.-E. Sanskrit Latin Gothic Mod.Lithuanian
(ca 500 B.C.) (ca 100 A.D.) (300 A.D.) (1969 A.D.)
1. *oinos (ėkas unus ains vienas
2. *dwo vāù/dvā duo twai du/dvi
3. *trejes traja- tres thrija treėi/trys
4. *kwetwores catvaras quattuod fidwor ketveri
5. *penkwe pánca quinque fimf penki

13. In the nominal declension too, no living language can compare in the inherited variety and richness of the inflectional pattern and categories still preserved in Lithuanian. One example Will suffice. Remember, this is the same word which, in all its forms, goes back to Proto-Indo-European.


Proto-Indo-Eur Lithuanian English German
N. *wilkw-os vilk-as wolv-es Wölf-e
G *wilkw-oso vilk-o wolv-es Wölf-e
D. *wilkw-o(e)i vilk-ui wolv-es Wölf-en
A. *wilkw-om vilk-ą wolv-es Wölf-e
Instr. *wilkw-ō vilk-u- - -
Loc. *wilkw-oi vilk-è - -
Voc. *wilkw-e vilk-e -- -


N. *wilkw-oes vilk-ai wolf Wolf
G *wilkw-o(o)m vilk-ų wolf's Wolfes
D. *wilkw-o(i)mis vilk-ams wolf Wolf(e)
A. *wilkw-ons vilk-us wolf Wolf
Instr. *wilkw-ōis vilk-ais - -
Loc. *wilkw-osu vilk-uose - -
Voc. *wilkw-oes vilk-ai -- -

14. In word formation, some very old features could be found in Lithuanian. There are several old suffixes — stems with their almost original meaning (e.g., the suffix -sk- and others).

We shall mention here one example in some detail: the suffix -ing-. This suffix was originally used to form adjectives (and adjectival nouns) derived from a noun. Its meaning was something like "having of, full of, pertaining to". Thus, ugnis 'fire' plus -(i)ng- makes an adjective ugningas 'fiery, full of fire', enthusiastic, passionate'; miškas 'forest' plus -ing- produces miškingas 'rich in forest, densely covered with forests, sylvanous'. In most of the other Indo-European languages, this suffix appears with expanded or contracted meanings.20

15. The word order in Lithuanian is quite free, reflecting to a great degree the word order we imagine Proto-Indo-European must have had. Take a sentence like 'The house stood in the middle of the forest', of which the following varieties are possible in Lithuanian:

The house (1)  stood (2) in the middle (3) of the forest (4)
1. Namas (1) stovėjo (2) viduryje (3) miško (4).
2. Namas  stovėjo miško  viduryje.
3. Stovėjo namas viduryje miško .
4. Stovėjo namas miško  viduryje.
5. Viduryje miško  stovėjo namas.
6. Miško viduryje stovėjo namas.
7. Stovėjo miško  viduryje namas.
8. Stovėjo viduryje miško namas.
9. Namas  miško  viduryje stovėjo.
10. Namas  viduryje miško  stovėjo.21

In other words, just with four parts of the sentence (1 = subject. 2 = predicate verb, 3 = (prepositional) locative, 4 = genitive, complement of the (prepositional locative) we can have ten combinations of word order in Lithuanian, to wit:

1) 1 - 2 - 3 - 4.
2) 1 - 2 - 4 - 3.
3) 2 - 1 - 3 - 4.
4) 2 - 1 - 4 - 3.
5) 3 - 4 - 2 - 1 .
6) 4 - 3 - 2 - 1.
7) 2 - 4 - 3 - 1.
8) 2 - 3 - 4 - 1.
9) 1 - 4 - 3 - 2.
10) 1 - 3 - 4 - 2.

Because of this and other inherited features, the Lithuanian word order can be posited as the approximate word order of (at least) late Proto-Indo-European.

16. Finally, we arrive at an area of importance which is usually the first one to be mentioned, sometimes the only one illustrated by examples. Obviously, we are referring to the lexicon (vocabulary) of Lithuanian.

Although nobody has yet invented an exact and precise method of making a statistical analysis of linguistic data, especially in lexicon, it is generally known that about one half to three fourths (more precisely, five eights) of the Lithuanian (basic) lexicon is directly 'inherited from (Proto-)Indo-European.22 Thus, for any work in the etymology of any Indo-European language, Lithuanian data are indispensable. Every linguist working in this area of linguistic research must have enough knowledge of Lithuanian in order to be able to use Lithuanian data sufficiently well.

There are even words in Modern Lithuanian today which are closer to the posited Proto-Indo-European form than any other Indo-European languages — ancient or modern—can provide.

Let us, then, look at some examples. For Proto-Indo-European, we reconstruct the word for 'wolf as follows: *WLKWOS. The Lithuanian form today is vilkas, quite close to the posited form. On the other hand, Sanskrit

(Old Indic) has vrka — which means that Sanskrit had already replaced the Proto-Indo-European 1 by r. For the same word, Greek has lukwos, Latin lupus (most probably taken over from a dialect), Old Slavic vluku, Gothic wolfs, etc. Let us now take this and some more examples and put them next to each other:

Proto-I.-E. Old Indic
Latin Gothic Modern Lith.
*WLKwOS vrka- lupus wolfs vilkas 'wolf'
*SUNUS sunus(h) -- sunus sūnus(h) 'son'
*WERT vert- vart- virp- vert- 'to turn''

(Hundreds of similar examples could be easily found in various etymological dictionaries. The best in English is: Carl Darling Buck, A Dictionary of Selected Synonyms in the Principal Indo-European Languages, Chicago, 1949.)

Since we have undoubtedly "persuaded" every reader of this article to start learning Lithuanian without any delay, we feel obligated to provide this issue of Lituanus with a selected bibliography on the Lithuanian language and related problems. This bibliography will follow as a separate short item.

1. Winfred P. Lehmann, Historical Linguistics: An Introduction, New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston. 1962. This book is perhaps the only textbook-like introduction to general historical linguistics. Since, however, it uses basically the data from the Indo-European languages, it could be considered an introduction to Indo-European historical linguistics as well. It is widely used in introductory course to historical linguistics in the English speaking world. Recently, it also appeared in a German translation.
2. Actually, the form eiti 'he goes' is Old Lithuanian; today, the form eina is used.
3.Cf. Antanas Klimas, "English and Lithuanian: Two Candidates for the International Languages," The English Record, XIV, 4 April, 1969), 62. (This article is also reprinted in this issue of Lituanus.)
4. Cf. Antanas Salys, "The Russianization of the Lithuanian Vocabulary under the Soviets, Lituanus, XIV, 2 (1967), 47-62. The language situation in Soviet-occupied Lithuania is now very briefly thus: a) more and more Russians are brought in: in 1939, there were only circa 2 per cent of Russians among the total population of Lithuania. Now it is about 12-18 per cent b) A great majority of the Lithuanian primary and secondary schools, however, have managed to retain Lithuanian as the language of instruction. The Russian language, however, is taught in all schools starting in grade 2 or 3. c) There are many Russian primary and secondary schools were the language of instruction is Russian. There is even a Russian theater in Vilnius where the performances are given in Russian. On the other hand, some 200,000-300,000 Lithuanian deportees still in Siberia and in other areas of Russia, where they have been living since forties, are not allowed to have any Lithuanian schools, newspapers, etc. This alone clearly shows that the Soviet Union is nothing but a Red Russian colonial empire trying to Russianize all the non-Russian nationalities.
5. Cf. Peter Boyd-Bowman, From Latin to Romance in Sound Charts, Kalamazoo, 1954.
6. We hasten to note that there is no definite agreement on the Proto-Indo-European vocalic system (or, as a matter of fact, on the consonantal system as well), but we are using here a system favored by most Indo-Europeanists, disregarding the so-called laryngeals all together.
7. The shift from bh; dh, gh to b, d, g can be considered to have been a partial late Proto-Indo-European (or Northern Proto-Indo-
European) change; it took place in all Indo-European languages except Greek, Latin (Italian languages and Indo-Iranian.
8. It is generally assumed that Proto-Indo-European had the bilabial w (i.e., formed by both lis, articulating it), rather than the labio-dental v (i.e., formed by the upper teeth touching the lower lip) which most continental Indo-European languages now have.
9. Cf. Antanas Klimas, "Balto-Slavic, or Baltic and Slavic? (The Relationship of Baltic and Slavic)," Lituanus, XIII, (1967).
10. There is quite a bit of controversy concerning the final stage of the Indo-European diphthongs oi and ai in Lithuanian. Until now, the majority of scholars were inclined to believe that, in some cases, both the Proto-Indo-Eurooean oi and ai resulted in ie in Lithuanian. The present writer disagrees: my belief is that only Proto-Indo-European ei came down as Lithuanian ie. This problem will be dealt with in a publication under preparation.
11. Professor S. E. Mann states: "The small part played by apophony in the Slavonic languages means that the examples showing vowel alternation as between verb and noun are few. Its frequent occurrence in Lithuanian as compared with Slavonic is a strong argument for maintaining the Baltic and Slavonic languages as distinct linguistic groups." S. E. Mann, "Function, Aspects, and Semantics of A-stem tNouns in Slavonic and Related Languages," The Slavonic and East European Review, vol. LI, 96 (December, 1962), 70.
12. Cf. Antanas Klimas, "Balto-Slavic.or Baltic and Slavic?" op, cit., 33.
13. In Lithuanian, the Proto-Indo-European o became a, the vocalic I (Į) became il (ul). Thus, from Indo-European *ghlt- (which is zero grade of *ghelt-) we get the Lithuanian žilt-.
14. Both languages spoken in Yugoslavia.
15. The writer of this article learned the Ten Commandments from his grandmother, beginning them with this formula: Esmi tavo Viešpats Dievas... 'I am your Lord God...'
16. For a detailed discussion, see Jonas Kazlauskas, Lietuvių kalbos istorine gramatika ('Historical Grammar of Lithuanian'), Vilnius, 1968. A full list of these verbs can be found in: A. Sabaliauskas, "Atematiniai lietuvių kalbos veiksmažodžiai," Kai kurie lietuvių kalbos gramatikos klausimai, Vilnius, 1957.
17. The normal development (see above) of the Proto-Indo European diphthong ei is ie in Lithuanian. We give here the conjugation of the reflexive verbs because they preserved a more archaic stage: in non-reflexive verbs, the -uo became -u, and the -ie became -i.
18. One of the interesting developments of the Baltic languages is the fact that there is no difference made between the verbal form of the third person singular and the third person plural. This "general" third person form may be a very ancient form, i. e., a pure stem of the verb (root plus the stem vowel, no ending). Its origin, however, is still controversial. This is a unique feature of the Baltic languages: no other Indo-European languages have this.
19. Perhaps one should mention that dual (especially in verbs) is no longer really active in Standard Literary Language, but is still very much alive and used actively in several dialects.
20. For a detailed discussion, see Antanas Klimas, Primitive Germanic *kunigaz and its Spread, Univ. of Pennsylvania Ph.D. dissertation, 1956. (Summary in Dissertation Abstracts, 1956, University Microfilms, Inc.).
21. It is true that certain of these variations can be used only within a limited range of the verbal and written context, some dependent almost entirely on the preceding statements, their in-tonational and implicational patterns, etc. However, all of these variations are possible, and they do occur.
22. Cf. Ernst Fraenkel, Litauisches etymologisches Woerterbuch, Heidelberg and Goettingen, 2 vols., 1962-1965. Also: A. Sabaliauskas, "Lietuvių kalbos leksikos raida," (Lietuvių kalbotyros klausimai, VIII), Vilnius, 1966.