ISSN 0024-5089
Copyright © 2014 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.

Volume 60, No.2 - Summer 2014
Editor of this issue: Almantas Samalavičius

Book Review

Multiple Perspectives in Linguistic Research on Baltic Languages. Edited by Aurelija Usonienë, Nicole Nau, and Ineta Dabađinskienë. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2012. viii+287 pages. ISBN: 978-1-4438-3645-6.

The volume under review seeks to make research into Baltic languages – in all its variety – accessible to the international linguistics community. Lithuanian and Latvian scholars, like their native-speaker colleagues of other “small language[s]” (Vaicekauskienë, p. 85), such as Afrikaans, still publish in their mother tongues most of the time, probably partly to uphold some standard of academic discourse in Baltic. This tradition, though respectable, has the disadvantage that it is hard for outsiders – the present reviewer included – to know what is happening in Lithuanian and Latvian linguistics. Multiple Perspectives in Linguistic Research on Baltic Languages offers ten articles on a wide range of topics in this field and is truly an important step in opening it up to the anglophone world – even in view of pioneering work in this direction by, among others, Holvoet.1 

The collection of articles is divided into three parts. The first contains two corpus-based contrastive studies. Audronë Đolienë looks at the realization of epistemic necessity in Lithuanian and English. On the basis of translation data, she shows that Lithuanian should be included in the east-west cline proposed by van der Auwera et al., “Epistemic possibility in a Slavonic parallel corpus: A pilot study,”2 Like the East Slavic languages and unlike English, this Baltic language prefers adverbials, e.g., turbűt (probably) to verbs, e.g., turëti (to have to) to express epistemic necessity. This tendency is attributed to the low degree of grammaticalization of the modal verbs in Lithunian. The cases in which must is not translated into Lithuanian, or the translations feature modal markers not triggered by any item in English, are thought to be due to “differences in [the] culture-specific conceptualization of probability and [the] varying use of pragmatic conventions.” (p. 35) This intriguing idea deserves to be examined in more detail in a followup study. Maria Voeikova and Ineta Dabađinskienë compare Lithuanian to Russian with respect to the acquisition of case by children. They give a very clear – and for their intended audience, highly necessary – overview of the case system in both languages and find that Lithuanian “has a more prototypically inflecting case system, in which reliable (phonologically transparent and salient) inflectional endings serve as principal indicators of case forms” (p. 53), than Russian. Because children tend to learn the most important distinctions and typical functions in a language first, the Lithuanian case system can be expected to be established earlier than its Russian counterpart. This hypothesis appears to be confirmed by Voeikova and Dabađinskienë’s longitudinal study of the acquisition of case. However, as the authors themselves admit, it is exploratory at best. Considering the well-known fact that the differences in acquisition among individual children are huge, one can wonder whether conclusions drawn from the speech of one Lithuanian girl and one Russian boy have much significance. 

Part two of the volume is more discourse-oriented. The first article studies the link between standardization ideology and linguistic self-confidence. Loreta Vaicekauskienë shows that the standard language is seen as a state affair in Lithuania; its correct use is considered connected to “the survival of the nation.” (p. 84) Accordingly, language rules are highly institutionalized and the speech of people in the public domain is heavily monitored. The author argues that this type of standardization has a negative impact on the linguistic self-confidence of speakers. Her interviews (the questionnaire is not appended, unfortunately) with twenty-four TV and radio program hosts, who can be considered expert language users, indeed bring to light an almost schizophrenic attitude. What the informants value most is clarity, eloquence, informativeness, and the like. When asked to assess their own language, however, they use the official criterion of correctness and become self-deprecating. It would be interesting to see how the situation “in other speech communities with different degree[s] of institutionalization of language ideologies and language monitoring” (p. 100) compares to Lithuania. In the second article, Jűraitë Ruzaitë investigates the discourse of food promotion on Lithuanian bread packages, which the present reviewer was surprised to read are a post-Soviet “genre.” She adopts a multimodal approach and analyzes how designers employ layout, graphics, and language to sell the product. Some of her observations are obvious. The finding that bread packages allude to health and naturalness in various ways can serve as one example. But it is fascinating that global themes in the discourse of food are combined with the “[local] idea of bread as a ‘cultural myth.’” (p. 117) Pictures of people in traditional costumes, the national colors, references to saints, and so on are used to suggest that bread is part of the country’s heritage and somehow holy and/or magical. In the final article, Jolanta Đinkűnienë deals with hedging, i.e., a writer’s attempt to tone down his or her commitment to the truth of a proposition in academic texts in Lithuanian. She argues that, in this language, hedges typically take the form of adverbials (which links up nicely with Đolienë’s results). The author focuses on the many ways in which items such as galbűt (maybe) and bene (possibly) actually function in discourse and on the quantitative differences between their usage in a number of scientific fields. Her conclusion is twofold. On the one hand, although Lithuanian academics have a wide range of adverbial hedges at their disposal, they use them sparingly. In this regard, the study complements the cross-linguistic evidence3 that hedging is characteristic of English and Anglo-Saxon culture. On the other hand, there is a continuum from the humanities and the social sciences, in which hedging is rampant, to the hard sciences, which contain hardly any hedging devices. This that disciplinary trends may prevail over cultural trends. 

The third part consists of five articles on grammatical categories. Joanna Chojnicka looks at the Latvian oblique. This verb form is usually regarded as a mood and as signaling unconfirmed information. In the author’s opinion, however, it indicates that the speaker is not the source of the information. Moreover, its contexts of usage are used to support the claim that reportive evidentiality, i.e., the grammatical marking of the meanings “reportedly” and “allegedly,” and reported speech are the extremes of a single cline rather than two distinct categories. Chojnicka shows that the oblique can be used in a subclause of indirect speech, in an evidential main clause, and in complex sentences in which the complement clause obviously reports the content of a report. It is not clear, however, whether the main clause can be interpreted as a reported speech introducer […] or as a source of the report. (pp. 181-182) 

The second article deals with the specifying existential sentence type in Lithuanian, the equivalent of English there are roads that must not be followed. Violeta Kalëdaitë describes its grammatical makeup (e.g., singular subjects take the nominative case, plural ones the genitive) and its functions (e.g., a topic changer) but, regrettably, does not do much more than sketch an interesting research program. In the third article, Erika Jasionytë looks at the Lithuanian impersonal modals reik(ë)ti (to need) and tekti (be gotten), which – in line with Đolienë’s claim – are said to exhibit a low level of grammaticalization. She convincingly argues on the basis of corpus data that the former is more “modalized” than the latter. They both primarily express what van der Auwera and Plungian call participant-external modality: “[It is the] circumstances […] external to the participant, if any, engaged in the state of affairs […] that make this state of affairs either possible or necessary.”5 But reik(ë)ti is more subjective than tekti in that it also often conveys deonticity – which, for clarity’s sake, is taken here to include obligation, directivity, and moral necessity. The fourth contribution to this part presents an alternative to the traditional analysis of the reflexive verbs in Latvian as a middle voice. Andra Kalnača and Ilze Lokmane describe them in terms of thematic roles and distinguish three main types: subject reflexives, such as mazgâties (to wash oneself), where agent and patient are co-referential, the former is the subject; object reflexives such as glabâties (to be kept), where agent and patient are not co-referential, the latter is the subject; and impersonal reflexives such as iesâpçties (to feel sudden pain), where there is no agent or subject, only an experiencer. The even more fine-grained network they propose for the various meanings expressed by reflexive verbs in Latvian, impressive though it is, cannot be discussed within the scope of this review. Finally, Loïc Boizou is concerned with the annotation of corpora and, more specifically, with the way in which Lithuanian numerals should be tagged. He makes a compelling case for their treatment, not as a separate word class, but as either nouns or adjectives (the same has previously been pointed out for other languages). It is argued on morphosyntactic grounds that đimtas (a hundred), for instance, behaves as a noun while vienas (one) functions as an adjective. The author also suggests relegating potentially problematic issues, such as pronominality and quantification, to a semantic subsystem in the annotation. One cannot but wonder, however, whether such strict divisions are tenable from the point of view of grammar. The literature on English quantifiers (e.g., Brems on a lot of, heaps of, and so on) shows that, synchronically, different points on a developmental semantic scale toward quantification correlate with different points on a syntactic scale from noun phrase to complex determiner. This remark is not meant to diminish Boizou’s efforts. The present reviewer is aware that the inherent fuzziness of grammatical categories and the inseparable bond between form and function are hard, if not impossible, to capture with a part-of-speech tagger. 

Multiple Perspectives in Linguistic Research on Baltic Languages is a very well-edited collection of papers. The few exceptions include the numbering of the various types of subject reflexives in Kalnača and Lokmane’s (p. 242) article and the not entirely idiomatic English in one or two other articles. The editors are right in pointing out that the studies in the volume follow the international trend of substituting intuition-based research for data-driven research, “which enhances the reliability and objectivity of their findings,” and that “the authors are explicit about the methodology they use” (Usonienë et al., p. 2). Aside from Vaicekauskienë and Voeikova and Dabađinskienë, whose papers are based on a questionnaire and linguistic experiments respectively, they all turn to corpora for data, but in different ways. Chojnicka and Kalëdaitë, among others, use selected corpus examples to illustrate their arguments and, in a way, to show that the phenomena under discussion are found in ‘real’ language. Jűratë Ruzaitë, Jasionytë, and others take corpora as their starting point – Đolienë in particular is at the forefront of contemporary corpus linguistics in combining comparable corpus data with translation data.6 They analyze the variation between languages and/or genres and in function and/or form to look for quantifiable tendencies. The volume under review testifies that the two approaches are valid: they just serve different purposes. According to the editors, another important aspect of the book is that “each piece presented here is embedded in the international discussion of the respective field or on the topic under consideration” (Usonienë et al., p. 2). Most of the articles indeed have an international frame of reference. Voeikova and Dabađinskienë’s paper, for instance, is clearly situated within the framework of natural morphology.7 Similarly, Kalnača and Lokmane apply the thematic role analysis of, among others, Kemmer8 to the reflexive verbs in Latvian as part of “a project to write a new academic grammar” (p. 230), and Chojnicka’s study is meant as a contribution to the joint creation of “a database of evidential markers in European languages” (p. 171). The three articles on modality also take the existing literature about other languages into full account. This international perspective makes the volume even more relevant for its intended audience. It is not just about a perhaps lesser-known language family; it addresses a variety of issues in a way that appeals to linguists all around the world. A final, critical comment about the first part of the previous sentence is in order, however. Of the ten papers in the collection, only two deal with Latvian. The rest are on Lithuanian. One could say that there is a certain imbalance between the two languages and that, in a sense, the title’s reference to Baltic conceals this imbalance – though, admittedly, it is not easy to come up with a good alternative. 

Daniël Van Olmen
(North-West University, Lancaster University)


1 See Holvoet, “Objects, cognate accusatives and adverbials” and “On the syntax and semantics of adpositional local phrases in Latvian.”
2 van der Auwera, “Modality’s semantic map.”
3 Vold, “Epistemic modality markers.”
4 Hyland, “Boosting, hedging, and the negotiation of academic knowledge.”
5 van der Auwera and Plungian. “Modality’s semantic map,” 80.
6 See Mortier and Degand, “Adversative discourse markers in contrast.”
7 See Dressler, “Morphological typology and first language acquisition.”
8 Kemmer, The Middle Voice.


Brems, Lieselotte. The Layering of Size and Type Noun Constructions in English. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 2011.

Dressler, Wolfgang U. “Morphological typology and first language acquisition: Some mutual challenges,” Morphology and Linguistic Typology, ed. by Geert Booij et al. Online proceedings of the Fourth Mediterranean Morphology Meeting, September 2003, University of Bologna, 2005. URL: <>.

Holvoet, Axel. “Objects, cognate accusatives and adverbials in Latvian,” Linguistica Baltica 1, 103-112, 1992.

Holvoet, Axel. “On the syntax and semantics of adpositional local phrases in Latvian,” Linguistica Baltica 2, 131-149, 1993.

Hyland, Ken. “Boosting, hedging, and the negotiation of academic knowledge,” Text 18, 349-382, 1998.

Kemmer, Suzanne. The Middle Voice. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 1993.

Mortier, Liesbeth and Liesbeth Degand, “Adversative discourse markers in contrast: The need for a combined corpus approach,” International Journal of Corpus Linguistics 14, 338-366, 2009.

van der Auwera, Johan, and Vladimir A. Plungian. “Modality’s semantic map,” Linguistic Typology 2, 79-124, 1998.

van der Auwera, Johan, et al. “Epistemic possibility in a Slavonic parallel corpus: A pilot study,” In Modality in Slavonic Languages: New Perspectives, ed. Björn Hansen and Petr Karlik, Munich: Sagner, 201-217, 2005.

Vold, Eva Thue. “Epistemic modality markers in research articles: A cross-linguistic and cross-disciplinary study,” International Journal of Applied Linguistics 16, 61-87, 2006.