ISSN 0024-5089
Copyright © 2012 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.

Volume 58, No.2 - Summer 2012
Editor of this issue: Loreta Vaicekauskienė

Language Standardization and Forms of Ideological Education


ELIGIJUS RAILA is an associate professor at the Faculty of History of Vilnius University. He studies issues related to Modern Age European and Lithuanian culture.

PAULIUS SUBAČIUS is a professor of Literature at Vilnius University, where he teaches theoretical disciplines and textual scholarship. His most recent book, Antanas Baranauskas: The Text of Life and the Lives of Texts (2010) deals with the biographical, social, and religious contexts of text production.

This article gives an overview of the development of aspects of common language creation and language standardization from the end of the nineteenth century to the restoration of independence in 1990. After World War Two, the actions of correcting the language went beyond the boundaries of spoken and written and public and private language usage. Efforts of the language standardizers during the Soviet occupation rhetorically and in external (public) forms of action coincided with the indoctrination and control mechanisms used by the totalitarian regime. Only very few cases of criticism of the prevailing practices in standardization can be identified, but they generally do not exceed the boundaries of the point of view that the level of usage culture should be increased in all areas.

Government men (or those striving to be such) are forced to appear at the podium without prepared texts, so all the people can quickly understand what language cripples our intellectuals are. 

Aleksandras Vanagas, 1990 

At the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, when the Lithuanian nationalist movement was expanding and its leaders were drawing up guidelines for the restoration of the country’s independence, the Lithuanian language became the key factor integrating the increasingly modern community and the most important sign of the people’s identification of or identification with the nation. As the ethnolinguistic makeup of society and the definition of the Lithuanian territory were becoming more defined, and linguistic awareness was developing more ambitious aspirations, the issues of language standardization became especially important. Moreover, the appearance of periodical publications made the comparison and adjustment of usage by a wide variety of authors an inevitable daily concern. Confrontation with the Polish and German cultural influence necessary for the purification of national identity prompted the consideration of elements adopted from other languages as evils and shortcomings.

“Deficiency,” “defect,” and “error” discourse is fundamentally related to the origin and development of philological criticism in antiquity, and for this reason, the concept of “a spoiled and polluted language,” which had prevailed among national linguists since the initiatives to “Lithuanianize” church language started by Adomas Jakštas and Kazimieras Jaunius, was not unique or special in any way. Specific arguments, designations of “culprits,” strategies of standardization, and the accumulated continuity of such awareness today are more worthy of attention. “What ages have damaged, it is time to fix” (Simonas Stanevičius) – this is a common attitude of nationalism, which was incorporated into popular linguistic reasoning in Lithuania. It is possible that in the early period, in addition to common causes, the use of metaphors to describe the language situation as a “disease” or other pathological condition, or as a battle with an epidemic (metaphors that are still used) was provoked by the influence of the doctors who were the leaders of Lithuanian nationalism.1 Language regulation and consultation about spelling standards initiated by the periodicals Auszra, Szviesa, and Varpas qualitatively differed from earlier attempts to adapt spelling to one or another dialect selected as a basis, in essence for merely practical reasons.2 At the end of the nineteenth century, these attempts were equated with the laying of a foundation for the community of the nation. However, lacking the status of an independent state, no administrative or philological institution was able to do this, simply because no serious organized institutions of science, study or education existed. For this reason, only a member of the national community, in other words, a man of the people with a degree in linguistics, could have gained authority in language standardization. 

Jonas Jablonskis, who became the most famous leader of “collective linguistic assistance,” never forwarded his linguistic project strictly or strongly. When considering spelling issues, he was inclined to accept the view that spelling is subject to mutual agreement. His biographer (clearly a supporter of a much stricter approach) said: “When publishing his first book on grammar norms for the public, Jablonskis tried to adapt to its habits. This was a compromise for Jablonskis as a linguist, and later he made even more of them.”3 After returning to Vilnius after the First World War, Jablonskis started following the spelling principles established by the Lithuanian Science Association. “Jablonskis accepted these spelling principles not because they were better than his, but because the majority of people wrote this way and because he did not want to destroy the unity of spelling.”4 A little earlier, Jablonskis had written to Jonas Basanavičius that: 

...the Science Association, among other things, should work on creating a written language terminology, necessary for all branches of science. Of course, the Association will not complete the terminology, but it should bring much light and uniformity into the mixture of terminology that we can now see in our literature. 5 

The correspondence of these two activists involved in the rebirth of the nation reveals their major concern was not as much the influx of foreign words, or confusion and the lack of norms in the Lithuanian written language, as much as their intention to search for an authoritative opinion and consensus on the standard language. In this case, it would probably be appropriate to go deep into one very important aspect of the modernization of national culture that has essentially not been considered in the scholarly literature – the perception of responsibility and personal liability for a language. In the field of national culture, personal linguistic liability at some point acquired the value of a moral imperative. It would be possible to assert that the first standardizers of the Lithuanian written language, influenced by the concerns of the national movement and the creation of the state, regulated people’s language, but not their lives. Coming from a society that was becoming conscious of its nationality, they eventually became its mentors and helpers, but the authority was personal, not institutional, and it worked primarily as an example for educated people to follow. Many standardizers of that time distinguished themselves with an especially reflexive linguistic self-consciousness. In essence, language as an organon of communication became a core part of the self and a source of spiritual introspection. This perception of language could not turn language standardization suggestions into means that intrusively regulate public life. Instead, an appeal was made to personal consciousness and private efforts to get rid of certain habits and form new ones. 

“I am a linguist,” Andrius Ašmantas wrote in his diary in 1930.6 However, the diary pages of this well-known Lithuanian language specialist speak about his deep feeling for fiction, which seems to have been an integral component of the cultural maturity of that generation of linguists. To them, a book was a pleasure and provided wisdom, rather than material for a philological steward: “Books are my purest joy, and not once have I regretted or been disappointed for admiring one.”7 The admiration for fiction and respect for its creators was a very strong antidote to reckless language standardization according to a single model and the willful behavior of standardizers. On the other hand, in free, although nondemocratic Lithuania, writers of the interwar period not only dared to protest against the puristic attitudes that were rampant among some linguists, but also to get support from the public. This contributed to the relatively moderate nature of the activity of language proscribers. Aleksandras Žirgulys, the editor of many classic texts, out of all the linguists who started their activity before the war and did not emigrate, was the textologist who stayed the closest to literature and the only one in the Soviet period who dared to critically compare the approaches of the standardizers of the two different periods in this respect. In the sixties, remembering earlier corrections, he pointed out that in Jablonskis’s texts the cautious warning “we do not say it this way” was used more frequently than the imperative and positive “we say it and write it this way.” Žirgulys reminded his colleagues of Kazimieras Būga’s criticism regarding the destruction of diversity – “watering down” – which was especially dangerous when editing fiction. The author finished his article with an (auto) ironic passage – the only one detected in Kalbos kultūra (Language cultivation) of that time – which said that even the best text or a work of an experienced Lithuanian language specialist (not excluding his own essay) can end up in the anonymous language cultivation machine: “I wonder if some all-knowing and all-correcting regulator of these days will jump in here to make improvements?”8 

After the Second World War, the “literary deviation” of language standardization noticeably diminished. When discussing the formation of the new linguistic environment, a good starting point would be the anachronistic thought, charged with ethnolinguisticism, by Arnoldas Piročkinas: “It is not difficult to notice that the standard languages of peoples low in population and politically, economically and culturally oppressed form in a different way than the languages of peoples high in population and completely sovereign. The formation of languages of peoples with low population is for the most part influenced by linguists.” 9 This thesis, which was moderately applied at the dawn of the development of a standard language, became the fundamental provision of language standardization in the Soviet period. It is paradoxical that, by protecting and nourishing the native language as an authentic and unfalsified reality and often appealing to the heritage of the Lithuanian literary “fathers,” linguists became “language combatants,” who, in respect to society, used almost the same means of control that the apparatus of Soviet reeducation and censorship did.

We will try to reveal how institutions that regulated language issues took over the methods and genres of expression of public impact used by the totalitarian system, and how the gradually changing rhetoric acquired an increasingly strong ideological hue. According to Zigmas Zinkevičius’s memories, in the early postwar period the most beautiful form of the first manifestations of proletarian socialism with a national face can be seen in the language standardization field. According to the professor, when he himself was a student, Lithuanian language specialists “were divided into brigades” (in the same way students cleaning the ruins would be) to register all the incorrect written language forms in Vilnius and to correct the language in the city.10 Eventually, such national diligence, which though concrete actions continued the prewar idea of the restoration of “Lithuanianism” in Vilnius, coincided with the ethos of socialist work. After two decades, the “brigade based” standardization method was revived with direct institutional support from the government. According to Jonas Balkevičius, the Language Cultivation Section of the Vilnius Department of Monument Protection and the Ethnography Association of the Lithuanian SSR made up a Public Language Commission, which together with the Executive Committee of the Vilnius People’s Deputy Council, prepared a plan to monitor “the records, posters, slogans and other visual aids containing text” in organizations and enterprises.11

The transfer of the activity of “repairing defects” in the language used in written text (mainly literary sources, textbooks and newspapers) to everyday space was a key turning point in the Soviet period. It is so obvious that there is even a certain degree of risk of not fully evaluating the real consequences and attendant effects of such an “extension of the authority” of linguists. In the Soviet period, the idea of controlling conversational flow and small everyday language, such as that found on labels and menus, provoked a social action scale that correlated with official repressive practice. Language checking “raids,” which started in the Brezhnev era, were a method close to political thought control and the operation of a police state, wherein daily lives are directly interfered with by following and eventually by prosecuting any member of society. The concept of a “raid,” which is associated with the actions of militias, people’s combatant militia supporters, young Dzerzhinsky supporters, and other similar organizations, for the first time appeared in the specialist literature in 1970, when a story was told about how students were sent to check signs in shops and cafeterias.12 These were the rudiments of the idea of a language inspectorate. Incidentally, the knowledge of future professional philologists and their linguistic feelings were not consulted; instructions were given instead. It was proposed that the inspectors should always have correction notebooks, prepared and copied by the Lithuanian Language Section, on hand. Inspections of public food service and retail outlets carried out by language cultural sections operating in regions of the country were occasionally mentioned in the “Kronika” (Chronicle) of Mūsų kalba (Our language).13 

“The involvement in people’s private affairs, which was usual at that time, was no less important to totalitarian ‘ideals’ [...] than the requirement for uniformity,” 14 expressed by a “canon” made up of both the imitated pronunciation of radio announcers and the linguistically and ideologically correct May 1st posters that had to be the same throughout the republic. “Topical issues of everyday language” – recurring short TV shows on this issue – whose frequency is described in the previously mentioned “Kronika” of Mūsų kalba, show that the particular status of the private sphere was ignored. This and other sources also show that the heads of various organizations or representatives of certain professions were gathered together for language improvement seminars in the same way as they were brought together for political education (Communist indoctrination). Moreover, during meetings with linguists, they were criticized, given instructions, and forced to justify themselves in a way similar to the way they had to during regular short Party meetings.15 In effect, an organizational, subordination, and obedience scheme for the purpose of language standardization that paralleled that used for Communist indoctrination was enabled. In some cases, the “improvement” and “raising” of language culture “with the help of administrative means” was even encouraged, and regrets that these means were not as effective as expected were expressed.16 For example, responsible bodies ignored the offer to establish a new full time position – a TV language editor and head (i.e., to increase the power of editors already at work) – and to make a state language examination compulsory for journalists. 17 Soviet mentality manifested itself in its “pure form” when, after the beginning of perestroika and the emergence of possibilities of freer expression, discussions were begun about “language norm propaganda” and “the planned fostering of correct language.”18 

In the prewar period, schools, the army, some publications (especially those funded by the Commission of the Ministry of Education), and a few other cases, made up those narrow institutionalized spheres in which language standardization operated publicly and with the support of the state. Soviet ideology, at best, ignored one’s privacy and tried to overcome cultural differentiation, and, for this reason, linguistic education was moved to “collectives at work.” The monitoring and insurance of linguistic progress at establishments and organizations became one of many segments of “inspection and supervision.” The efforts to raise the level of the culture of the people evenly in cafeterias and “red corners”19 coincided with the ideological line of eliminating social status and raising egalitarianism. Treating the imperative of standardization as an absolute is revealed in the form of a paradoxical tautological terminology – using the concept “literary language cultivation,”20 which seems to imply that there is a “literary language” and “literary language with a higher level of culture,” and not simply a cultivated language, which is in itself different from uncultivated (with no culture and not literary) language. It was in the Soviet period that the concept of “spiritual poverty” was conceived and became popular. It was applicable to both those who were not interested in Soviet art and those who found language cultivation boring. For example, it is symptomatic that in the commentary on the humorous sketches of Zavaliauskas, who was the compère of the ensemble Nerija, the connection between “mutilated language” and “spiritual poverty” was emphasized. 21 

Even though it may seem that the Soviet linguists’ concern with the foundations of national culture that is emphasized these days had to be based on a multilayered, broad view towards language – Heidegger’s “house of being” – in reality the standardizers only relied on a narrow understanding of language, in which language only (or at least mainly) fulfills the function of communication. The “great narrative,” claiming that under certain conditions, if language standardizers work resolutely, “a language, which rises above dialects as a means of communication, will form,” was almost universally prevalent. 22 And, because it “rises above,” it is not surprising that the negative evaluations of dialects that occasionally appeared were based on the utilitarian purpose of language; for example, linguists positively reviewed an article in Tarybinė mokykla (Soviet school) stating that “the incorrect pronunciation of sounds (often in a dialect) is an obvious hindrance in the perception of information.”23 

In the program texts of magazines intended for language practice needs, a straightforward and latent assumption was made that the only opposition to those trying to increase the level of language culture were language destroyers (the historical enemy of Soviet linguists in the struggle for progress – “feudal church jargon”24) and those who had not yet come to their senses or were indifferent. Relatively small or simply silly mistakes in language usage were described using the strictest and almost metaphysical categories – “The retailers who launched birch juice (beržų sultys) created a true language hell.”25 Even small quips after reaching fortissimo became a radical duel between the “righteous” and the “heretic”; a symptomatic example of attacking freer thinking is the condemnation of the derivatives visažinantis “all-knowing” and visataisantis “allcorrecting” in Kalbos kultūra, because Žirgulys had used them in an ironic way in the same magazine.26 The personification of language phenomena shows that reality and texts are constantly mixed; Kniūkšta warns, “He is not going to leave, like some unsupervised child, the dative with the infinitive.”27 The supervision was so strict that its bureaucratic textualization acquired clear features of Orwell’s Newspeak: it seems that when describing the establishment of the Language Commission, the linguists could no longer comprehend ordinary words. The semantically illogical phrase from the Government’s resolution, “the recommendations are compulsory,” 28 did not disturb them; on the contrary, it pleased them. 

In those few publications in Kalbos kultūra that contain some level of skepticism, the largest doubts concerning the prevailing approach regarded the negative assessment of the standardizers (naming mistakes and being judgmental). For example, Pranas Kniūkšta welcomed the fact that Būga “clearly favored a positive approach to language standardization” (when allowable forms are proposed instead of the correction of errors).29 In some cases, the level of supervision in Kalbos kultūra regarding “enthusiasm” when evaluating fictional texts was exaggerated. However, much more often, standardizers declared their merits by shamelessly announcing: “some creators of fiction make many mistakes. Their works are greatly improved by the editors.”30 

Bibliographies provided in reviews of Mūsų kalba show that any issues of Lithuanian philology were eventually considered related to language cultivation. The consolidation of language cultivation as the main linguistic perspective is threatening, in the sense that it suspends curiosity and spontaneity, which are not subordinated for a practical purpose, and enslaves the entire philological field for the purpose of norms and order. In “the list of desired themes and issues” announced in Kalbos kultūra, an attempt was made to universally cover the reality of the humanities and even “vivid literary expressions” (such as the headings of essays with a “free choice of topic,” even though methodological guidelines for teachers were not discussed),31 which gives the impression of total control over speech and writing. 

In the future, two hypotheses should be considered more extensively. According to the first one, national idealists who were language standardizers gathered around such organizational and expressive forms that were sanctioned by the official discourse. The second hypothesis suggests that the totalitarian Soviet regime invoked the language cultivation idea and practice as part of a thought-control mechanism that “tames” society, especially those parts related to culture, to be acclimated to other parts of the system, and creates an illusion of concern in national affairs. Even though these presumptions seem different, they only fail to coincide in whether a larger initiative is ascribed to linguists or the leaders of the Communist Party. The impact, which at that time people experienced because of the interference of Bolshevism and language standardization practices, can hardly be interpreted considering the intentions of the power players. Nor did these intentions predetermine the present-day partially inherited post-Soviet state of awareness, which was formed by many years of “reeducation” and “making Soviet people more cultured.” 

Translated by Chad Damon Stewart 

1 Jonas Basanavičius’s hypochondria should be considered as a specific factor of consciousness; Vincas Kudirka held to personal stoicism, but he projected his painful inner state into external – on the social level – sarcastic descriptions.
2 Gelumbeckaitė, “Raidžių karai,” 39.
3 Piročkinas, Prie bendrinės kalbos ištakų, 149.
4 Vosylytė, Kelias į didįjį Žodyną, 27.
5 Jono Jablonskio laiškai, 71.
6 Ašmantas, Dienoraščiai. Laiškai. Bibliografija, 71. It is symptomatic that, in the explanations, the compiler Aldonas Pupkis Lithuanianized the names mentioned in the diary.
7 Ibid., 41–42.
8 Žirgulys, “Iš ankstesniųjų kalbos taisymų,” 11–17.
9 Piročkinas, J. Jablonskis, 195.
10 Sviderskis, “Atsiminkite telefoną 2-37-02,” Literatūra ir menas (1968 sausio 13), quotation based on: Mūsų kalba 6 (1987), 31.
11 “[Iš J. Balkevičiaus interviu],” Literatūra ir menas (1971 gegužės 29), quotation based on: Mūsų kalba 6 (1987), 42.
12 Vitkauskas, “Įdomūs ir reikalingi leidiniai,” 96.
13 “Kronika,” Mūsų kalba 6 (1982), 44.
14 Tamaševičius, “Metaforos,” 309.
15 For comparison, see Pupkis, “Vilniaus miesto kalbos,” 33–34.
16 Pribušauskaitė, “Spaudos apžvalga,” 52.
17 Klimavičius, “Spaudos apžvalga,” 42.
18 Keinys, “Kalbos kultūros darbų apžvalga,” 59.
19 Editor’s note: A small Communist shrine set aside in public buildings or workplaces.
20 Drotvinas, et al., “Žymaus lietuvių kalbininko netekus,” 4.
21 Pribušauskaitė, “Spaudos apžvalga,” 53.
22 Piročkinas, “Literatūrinės kalbos terminas,” 29.
23 Šimėnaitė, “Spaudos apžvalga,” 49.
24 Morkūnas, “Lietuvių literatūrinės,” 3.
25 Klimavičius, “Spaudos apžvalga,” 39.
26 Kniūkšta, “Apie ‘Kalbos kultūros’ principus,” 20.
27 Ibid., 17.
28 Korsakas, Ulvydas, “Lietuvių kalbos komisijoje,” 4.
29 Kniūkšta, “K. Būgos nuopelnai literatūrinei kalbai...,” 14–24.
30 Ulvydas, “Literatų kalba turi būti sklandi,” 11.
31 Redakcinė kolegija, “Kalbos kultūros problematika ir temos,” 91–94.


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Drotvinas, Vincentas, et al. “Žymaus lietuvių kalbininko netekus,” Kalbos kultūra 30 (1976), 3–7.

Gelumbeckaitė, Jolanta. “Raidžių karai: Lietuvių rašyboje (ne)vartojamos lotyniškos abėcėlės raidės,” Naujasis Židinys-Aidai 1 (2012), 35–40.

Jono Jablonskio laiškai, ed. Arnoldas Piročkinas. Vilnius: Mokslas, 1985.

Keinys, Stasys. “Kalbos kultūros darbų apžvalga,” Kalbos kultūra 51 (1986), 56–62.

Klimavičius, Jonas. “Spaudos apžvalga. 1982 m. sausis–birželis,” Mūsų kalba 1 (1983), 29–44.

Kniūkšta, Pranas. “Apie ‘Kalbos kultūros’ principus, metodiką ir siūlymų poveikį,” Kalbos kultūra 51 (1986), 12–37.

Kniūkšta, Pranas. “K. Būgos nuopelnai literatūrinei kalbai ir jo taikytinkalbos norminimo principai,” Kalbos kultūra 36 (1979), 9–24.

“Kronika,” Mūsų kalba 6 (1982), 37–46.

“Kronika,” Mūsų kalba 2 (1989), 39–51.

Morkūnas, Kazys. “Lietuvių literatūrinės kalbos puoselėtojas,” Kalbos kultūra 20 (1971), 3–6.

Piročkinas, Arnoldas. “Literatūrinės kalbos terminas ir jo analogai,” Kalbos kultūra 19 (1970), 25–32.

______. J. Jablonskis – bendrinės kalbos puoselėtojas. 1904–1930. Vilnius: Mokslas, 1978.

______. Prie bendrinės kalbos ištakų: J. Jablonskio gyvenimas ir darbai 1860–1904 m. Vilnius: Mokslas, 1977.

Pribušauskaitė, Joana. “Spaudos apžvalga. 1978 m. liepa–gruodis,” Mūsų kalba 4 (1979), 46–55.

Pupkis, Aldonas. “Vilniaus m. kalbos sekcijai – 20 metų,” Mūsų kalba 6 (1987), 27–44.

Redakcinė kolegija. “ ‘Kalbos kultūros’ problematika ir temos,” Kalbos kultūra 38 (1980), 91–94.

Šimėnaitė, Zita. “Spaudos apžvalga. 1979 m. sausis–birželis,” Mūsų kalba 1 (1980), 42–51.

Tamaševičius, Giedrius. “Metaforos, kuriomis gyvi esam: Arba kaip kalbama apie grėsmes kalbai,” Naujasis Židinys-Aidai 5 (2011), 308–314.

Ulvydas, Kazimieras. “Literatų kalba turi būti sklandi,” Kalbos kultūra 52 (1987), 11–13.

Vanagas, Aleksandras. “Lietuvių kalbos būklė tarybiniais metais,” Literatūra ir kalba 2 (1990), 21–24.

Vitkauskas, Vytautas. “Įdomūs ir reikalingi leidiniai,” Kalbos kultūra 19 (1970), 96–100.

Vosylytė, Bronė. Kelias į didįjį Žodyną, eds. Kazys Morkūnas and K. Vosylytė. Vilnius: Lietuvių kalbos institutas, 2002.

Žirgulys, Aleksandras. “Iš ankstesniųjų kalbos taisymų,” Kalbos kultūra 13 (1967), 11–17.