Volume 47, No. 2 - Summer 2001
Editor of this issue: Violeta Kelertas
ISSN 0024-5089
Copyright © 2001 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.


University of Southern California


Very often, those of us who encounter two speech communities, one living in the old country and one living in America, wonder what it is that makes "us" different from "them." "Us" and "them" refer respectively to speakers in the Lithuanian-American community and to speakers of Lithuanian in the old country. This paper looks beyond simple grammar differences in the language and searches for differences on a broader, discourse level. It attempts to answer questions asked by speakers of many émigré communities who go back to their countries of origin and, even though they speak the same language, find themselves linguistically isolated. As one speaker of American Lithuanian put it, "I spoke Lithuanian, they spoke Lithuanian, but we did not understand each other."

In this paper, I look at the narrative structure of American Lithuanian discourse and examine how it is different from Full Lithuanian. It is generally true that all personal narratives involve "the self," "the familiar" and "the other" (Ochs, 1996). The goal of this paper is to demonstrate, on the basis of American Lithuanian data, that the restrictions in language use, which is primarily limited to the private domain (home), lead to reinterpretation of what constitutes "the familiar" émigré speakers at home to talk to their immediate family and closest friends about specific events involving "the self" and "the familiar" is reflected in the schemata of their narratives. References in such narratives are limited to the "familiar," rather than "others," and this is reflected in the structure of narratives about specific identities and specific events. The effects of such unidimensional narratives by heritage language speakers will be discussed in the paper.

I further argue that such narratives reflect the community's social setting and are not a direct result of impoverished grammar per se, since the speakers still have a good command of the language. The analysis presented here suggests that language change and the social uses of language in language loss situations are far more greatly interrelated and intertwined than has been previously thought (Dorian, 1994). The functional viability of the language is largely affected by the reduced use of the language by speakers of various degrees of proficiency and different histories of language acquisition.


The data for the study came from two sociolinguistic interviews. One was conducted with a speaker of Full Lithuanian and the other with a speaker of American Lithuanian. Both speakers are young college-educated women. Nida, a speaker of Full Lithuanian, is 33 and came to the United States from Lithuania half a year before she was interviewed. Marytė, a speaker of American Lithuanian, is a 24-year old, second-generation Lithuanian American born in the United States to immigrant parents. Marytė learned Lithuanian as her first language and then switched to English as her primary language. Marytė still speaks Lithuanian to her parents and Lithuanian friends.

The result of this study are more suggestive than conclusive, since only two interviews were analyzed. However, the interviews were chosen from a large corpus of data and are representative of the kinds of narratives found in the two language varieties.

Narrative in Full Lithuanian.

In the first interview, Nida, a speaker of Full Lithuanian, is asked why her family made the decision to come to the United States. The adverb aplamai, 'in general', used in the interviewer's question, implies looking for the mind set of the family prior to making the decision:


Kodėl jūs nusprendėt aplamai važiuoti?
why you decided in general to go?
'Why did you decide to go in general?

Linguistic devices

Definite, pronominal NPs and past tense.

In the first part of her narrative, Nida volunteers specific information regarding specific events concerning her family:

3    N:

nes mes—nes mes—mes net neapsisprendę tokie išvažiavom,
because we—because we not even NEG-decided-PART such left
'because we—because we left even undecided'


kad mes pasiliksim ar net ir mūsų bilietai pirmyn atgal,
that we stay-FUT or not and our tickets forward back 
'whether or not we would stay, and our tickets [are] both ways'


mes tiesiog važiavom
we only went
'we only went'

6   J:

'to see''

7   N:

'to see for ourselves''


ir visiškai taip vat nesusiruošę imigruoti,
and at all such DM NEC-prepared immigrate-INF
'and were not at all prepared to immigrate.''

Rymes (1997) notes that the use of definite and pronominal noun phrases in combination with the past tense in narrative implies constructing specific events and specific identities and offers the specificity of experience. Nida's use of the past tense in combination with the personal pronouns in the beginning of the narrative familiarizes the hearer with her situation,

Indefinite noun phrases and present tense.

Through a combination of present tense and indefinite plural or generic noun phrases, the speaker can create a universal aura (Rymes, 1997). The events are no longer bound by specificity and are no longer related to a protagonist, but to "everybody" and imply universal truths. In fact, Nida alludes to those "universal truths" by constructing a normative process of immigration, by evoking a typical experience for "all people," e.g.:


ine taip kad žmonės žodžiu ruošiasi tam,
not as that people DM prepare that-DAT
'not as people prepare for that'


eina kryžiaus kelius,
walk cross-GEN: SG roads-ACC:PL
'walk roads of cross'


ten mina slenksčius valdiškų namų ir panašiai,
there walk steps-ACC public-GEN:PL offices-GEN:PL and similar
'there walk steps of public offices and the like.''

She uses the generic noun phrase žmonės 'people/ and the present tense verbs ruošiasi, 'prepare,' and eina, mina, 'walk,' to create a typified normative process of immigration and to show all the hardships that "people" are confronted with and have to go through, preparing, walking roads of cross, walking steps of public offices, and 'the like.'

Another instance when universal truth is constructed is through the use of indefinite pronominal noun phrases and the present tense. In this case, it is not a typified experience, but an assessment of such experience by virtue of universal truth as it is understood by people, e.g.:


kaip kaip kiti sako laimės kūdikiai.
as as other say luck-GEN baby-NOM: PL
'as others say lucky babies''

In her narrative, Nida introduces another scenario of immigration, that of winning the Green Card lottery. She makes an assessment of this event by evoking the opinion of others. She introduces an indefinite noun phrase kiti 'others,' and predicates an expression 'lucky babies' to convey people's attitudes to such unexpected success and luck. Her family that won the Green Card, is "a lucky baby" in the eyes of the others.

Suppressed predicates.

Another way to construct "universality" in the narrative is by omitting a predicate construction. Sentences of such pattern without a copula can be used to inform about a thing or a phenomenon or denote states and descriptive assessments (Ambrazas, 1997). In the Full Lithuanian interview, a predicate is omitted twice: one time, the present tense form of the predicate būti 'to be' in omitted (line 19) in combination with a demonstrative tai 'that;' another time, the predicate is omitted in combination with an indefinite noun phrase viskas, 'everything/all,' and a predicative neuter adjective lengva, 'easy,' (line 20), e.g.:

19     N

kadangi gal tai kad loterija, 
because maybe that lottery 
'For maybe that [it's] lottery''


kad taip viskas lengva, 
that so everything easy 
'that [made] everything so easy.''

In line 19, Nida informs the listener about an event, the Green Card lottery, which is one more way to emigrate legally to the United States. In line 20, she assesses this way of emigration, that "everything" is "so easy" compared to banging on the doors of a bureaucratic system (see lines, 22, 23, and 24 above).

The formal system and the indexical values in Full Lithuanian.

It has been widely noted that the formal system alone does not create meaning. Meaning derives from the interplay between the formal system and the social world of which it is a part. Ochs (1996:410) characterizes the process of constructing meaning as "a process of assigning situational, i.e. indexical, meanings to particular forms." In this manner, we derive meaning, and, in this manner, the linguistic index reveals social identity and membership in the group.

In the case of the Full Lithuanian speaker, Nida, the grammatical choices she makes construct the social world she is part of. The use of definite and first person pronominal noun phrases with the past tense creates the remembered personalized experience, which is cast against what is typical and normative. Indefinite pronouns and the present tense acquire their indexical value in the process of the narrative and create a normative picture at the society. Nida is casting herself and searching for her own identity against what is conventional and normative.

The first normative scenario she presents is that of "people" confronted with bureaucratic difficulties in their attempt to emigrate (lines 22, 23, and 24). Then she says:

25     N:

mes—mes va viso šito nedarėme,
we—we DM all that-Gen NEG-do-PAST 
'We—we haven't done any of that.''

By doing so, she evokes the norm and casts herself against it. Her family hasn't gone through what people normally have to go through. In this way, she is searching for what her family is and where it fits within the typified scenario.

Another typified scenario that Nida evokes is that of "lucky babies" (line 26), who win the lottery and everything is "so easy" {line 20). In fact, her family belongs to this particular group, because this is how they came to the United States, i.e., they won the Green Card lottery. In a sense, she identifies with the group by virtue of their experience, but there is a conflict between typification and personalization. She herself does not say they are "lucky babies," but she used the generic noun "others." It is the "others" who say that about her family. She, on the other hand, is doubtful about it (lines 3-8). There is tension between what is "normative" within a particular society and one's identity. Nida's question is "who are we?" and "Where do we fit?" within these normative experiences of others. She does not belong to the first group, where everybody has to put a lot of effort to emigrate, but she does not identify with the second group of "lucky babies" either. Even though they won the lottery, she is not sure whether she would like it here (in the US), or whether they would manage to create a new home and a new life in a new country. The search for self is cast against the norm in a dramatic way. The narrative is full of tension between typification and personalization in order to understand the self and to find one's own unique identity in the light of the "normative" experience.

Narrative in American Lithuanian.

In the second interview, Marytė, a speaker of American Lithuanian, is asked about the importance and value of Lithuanian marriages in the United States. The interviewer's questions to a certain degree frame the person's position as to what is expected and appropriate as an answer. In this case, Marytė is expected to make an assessment about the value of Lithuanian marriages in the eyes of the Lithuanian-American community.

Linguistic devices.

Definite, pronominal noun phrases and present/past tense.

In the beginning of the interview, Marytė
 is asked if it is difficult to find Lithuanian friends:

5     J:

Ar .yra sunku surasti lietuvių draugų šičia?
QUEST is difficult find-INF Lithuanian friends-GEN here. 
' It's it difficult to find Lithuanian friends here?''

6     M:

Aš esu ateitininkė ir skautė, 
I am ateitininkė and scout 
'I am an ateitininkė and a scout''


ir aš dirbu lituanistinėj mokykloj tai...
and I work Lithuanian—LOG school—LOG so 
'and I work at the Lithuanian school, so''


man tikrai nesunku surasti.
me—DAT really NEC-difficult find-INF
'it is not really difficult for me to find', [some]'

In this case and in the following instances, Marytė uses first person pronouns and definite noun phrases as reference points in combination with the present and the past tense. The distinction between personal experience and the norm, created by using first person pronouns with the past tense versus generic nouns and the present tense, made in Full Lithuanian, does not exist in the American Lithuanian narrative. The present tense with personal pronouns in Marytė's case is used to indicate the generality or universality of her own experience. By using the first person pronoun with the present tense, she is not necessarily referring only to herself, she could be speaking for members of the group referred to. Any information predicated about the "I" could speak for general trends within the group. However, she does not contrast her experience with the norm and does not place herself within broader community expectations.

Definite and pronominal noun phrases, when used in combination with the past tense, can signal launching a story of personal experience (Rymes, 1997). Marytė uses these formal devices to illustrate and support the point that is made by means of personal pronouns with the present tense (a more generic statement) by her own experience:

29     M:

mum reikėjo kas šeštadienį į lituanistinę,
we-DAT had every Saturday-ACC to Lithuanian- ACCSG School
'We had to go to Lithuanian school every Saturday,''


mes į stovyklas ėjom per vasarą,
we to camps-ACGPL went during summer-ACC 
'we went to camps in the summer,''


tai man atrodo kad mes tu-mūsų tėvai turi tokius pačius "ethics"
so I think that we ha- our parents have same ethics 
'so I think that we had- —our parents have the same • ethics,''

By narrating her personal experience (lines 29 and 30), Marytė supports her more general statement in line 31, about her and her boyfriend's parents having the same values, or "ethics."

Every time the interview question involves the normative net, asking for the information about a typified situation, Marytė personalizes the schema and relates "normative" to "self" and "familiar." The formal linguistic resources that she uses, definite and pronominal noun phrases in combination with the present and past tense, form a narrative about specific habitual events and specific identities. In this sense, Marytė's narrative shows asymmetry in terms of the normative frame that the question calls for and the personalized answer.

The narrative shows three instances of such asymmetry. In the first case, the interviewer's question has an indefinite generic noun phrase, žmonės, 'people,' and asks Marytė to express her opinion about the importance of finding a Lithuanian spouse for the people of Lithuanian heritage "in general" (lines 19-21). In her answer (line 22) Marytė falls back to her own "self," "for me, it is very important," e.g.:

19     J:

ar pavyzdžiui aplamai žmonėm kurie labai yra—nėra labai
QUEST for instance in general for people who are— are not very
'in general, for instance, is it difficult for people who are- are not very''


 įsijungę į veiklą sunku susirasti ten vyrą arba žmoną 
involved in activities is it difficult to find husband or wife
'who are not involved in activities to find a Lithuanian husband or wife''


lietuvį? (0.2) ir kaip svarbu tai yra?
Lithuanian? (0.2) and how important is that? 
and how important is this?

22    M:

MAN yra labai svarbu, kad surasčiau lietuvį.
me-DAT is very important that find-SUBJ Lithuanian- ACC
'For me, it is very important that I find a Lithuanian.''

In the second instance, the interviewer tries to move to the "other" mode again, leaving aside the "self" and "the familiar." The question is whether it is important for "others" (indefinite pronoun) to find a Lithuanian spouse (line 36), e.g.:

36    J:

O kitiem?
and others-
'and for others?'

[ar kitiems irgi ar jie
[and for others also they


37    M:

[others -DAT
'For others, no'


38     J


39     M:

Mano draugai ne. 
my friends no 
'For my friends, no.''

This time, Marytė moves form the "self" to "the familiar," from T to mano draugai, 'my friends,' in line 39, meaning 'For my friends, it is not important.' Every time there is an indefinite noun phrase in the question, it is assigned a referential value of personalization by means of a definite or pronominal noun phrase in the answer: "people," in line 19 is answered with "I" in line 22; "others" in line 36; with "my friends" in line 39. When one more attempt is made in the interview to get a response about the older generation's views toward Lithuanian marriages, Marytė falls back in reference to 'her parents,' the "familiar" category again, e.g.:

53     J:

o pavyzdžiui tų žmonių tėvai, ta senesnioji karta, 
but example- DAT those people - POSS parents - NOM that older generation - NOM 
'But, for example, those people's parents, the older generation,'


ar jiem labai svarbu kad jų vaikai—
QUEST they - DAT very important that their children — 
'is it important for them that their children—''

55     M:


57     M:

MANO tėvams- mano mano(.) mano tėvai sakė, kad jeigu
MY parents-DAT my my (.) my parents said that if 
'For my parents— my parents said that if,''


jeigu toks vyras bus geras tai jiems nesvarbu.
if that husband — NOM be — PUT good so they —DAT NEG — important
'if a husband is good, then it is not important to them.'

Following up the question about older people within that same generation, she makes reference to her friends' parents who are older than her parents, but who again constitute the "familiar" category (lines 62-64), e.g.:

62     M:

man atrodo, kad mano draugai kur turi vyresnius tėvus 
me seems that my friends who have older parents-ACC 
'It seems to me, that my friends who have older parents,'


tai jiems daugiau svarbu turėti—
so them—DAT more important have—INF 
'then it is more important for them to have—'


kad jie aspivestų su lietuviu
that they marry with Lithuanians
'that they marry with Lithuanians'

This is not to say that Marytė does not use indefinite noun phrases in her narrative: she does, as in line 62, when she says, 'My friends who have older parents.' The problem lies in the fact that such indefinite noun phrases do not function to relate the generic information. Instead of being used in the subject position, in which case it would predicate generic information about the indefinite 'older parents,' such a generic noun phrase is used in the object position, 'My friends who have older parents-OBJ.' in the American Lithuanian text. In this case, the referent point again is a definite noun phrase, 'my friends,' which talks about the 'familiar' rather than 'the other.' The norm or generic tendencies that would otherwise be created by using these linguistic means are missing from the American Lithuanian narrative.

Also missing are descriptive assessments informing the hearer about a thing or phenomenon which helps to create "universality" by using suppressed predicates, as shown by data from Full Lithuanian, Again, Marytė uses suppressed predicates as grammatical form of expression (see line 9), when she says, "for me, [it is] not difficult to find [Lithuanian friends],"' where the predicate 'to be' is suppressed. The problem here again is that, instead of using suppressed predicates to talk about universal tendencies, Marytė uses them with respect to "self," 'for me, [it is] not difficult.' By lacking topicality in discourse (the topic of the proposition being "I") such suppressed predicates do not create the same universal meaning as they do when used topically in the Full Lithuanian discourse (see lines 19 and 20 from Nida's narrative).

Formal system and idexicality in American Lithuanian.

The grammatical and lexical choices made by Marytė in the interview reflect her specific experience within the community of Lithuanian Americans in the United States. Marytė's use of definite and pronominal noun phrases to refer to herself and intimates, in combination with the present tense and the past tense referring to habitual events, does not cast her against the normative, typified community at large. Compared to the complex net created by Nida, a full speaker of Lithuanian, Marytė's narrative lacks the ability to construct a multidimensional net, where the search for "self" takes place against the backdrop of what is normative in the society. In Marytė's narrative, the conflict between typification and personalization is missing, there is no tension that constitutes a search for identity. 

The fact that Marytė fails to make reference to "others," "others" in part constituting a norm, does not allow her narrative to acquire "full force." One could hypothesize that the limitations in linguistic activities that heritage language speakers engage in plays an important part in the "impoverishment" of the narrative. It still remains to be investigated whether in fact heritage language speakers have a very specific function for the language, say talking about specific events and specific people, either family members or close friends. If that is the case, it could possibly be a partial answer as to why heritage language speakers fail to construct a multidimensional schema of the narrative and are limited to discussing the "self" and the "familiar" only. My experience in Lithuanian-American homes is that the family in fact does discuss very specific events, involving family or members of the Lithuanian-American community who are very close friends, in the 

sense that everybody knows each other and knows about each other (a community of familiars). A change in topic, however, usually involves a switch in code. For instance, if business or anything else connected to the outside (American) world is being discussed, the family almost always switches to English. If grandparents are at the table, such conversations are usually left for dessert, when everybody can move freely and interested parties can split into groups, one switching to English, another continuing to speak Lithuanian


The paper looks at narratives from two sociolinguistic interviews elicited from a speaker of Full Lithuanian and a speaker of American Lithuanian. The goal of the paper is to look at the role of "the self," "the familiar" and "others" in the narrative constructed by a heritage language speaker as compared to a full speaker. The data demonstrate that there are significant differences between the two narratives. In the case of Full Lithuanian, there is a complex multilevel narrative structure with references to the "self," "familiar" and "others," searching for a unique identity and understanding of oneself in the light of what is conventional and normative. American Lithuanian narrative is very different in the sense that it lacks the tension between typification and personalization which is always present in the narrative. Heritage language speakers refer to the "self" and the "familiar." For them, the category of "other" collapses with the "familiar" and does not exist as a separate entity. Specific events and specific identities created in the American Lithuanian narrative have nothing to be cast against. Such narrative is unidimensional and to some extent deviates from what would be expected form a full speaker of the language.

The results of the analysis speak to the importance of the social function as a force in language change. The data from American Lithuanian narrative strongly suggest that, because of the limited range of references during a limited range of activities, heritage language speakers are unable to create a multidimensional narrative schema involving "self" and "other."


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