The government of Social- Democrats drafted proposals and recommendations for the national minority development strategy in Lithuania in 2015-2021 which aims at creating harmonic society and promoting integration of national minorities and preserving their identity. A lawbill on the spelling of names and surnames has been drafted which allows to spell them in official documents on the Latin basis by non-Lithuanian letters. The next issue is the spelling of localities in several languages in places of compact residence of minorities as is recommended by framework convention of the Council of Europe ratified by Lithuania.
A big part of Lithuanian society views the concessions to ethnic minorities, first and foremost the Poles, as a threat to the very existence of the state. Rallies were staged in the country under the motto “No to Polonization of Vilnius Region!”, “Protect the land of ancestors, the state language, and integrity of the land!”. But experts insist there is no threat to the Lithuanian language as there is no problem of integrating national minorities into Lithuanian society. Young people from non-Lithuanian families experience no communication problems and successfully enter local institutes. After joining the European home Lithuanian citizens have to tolerantly comprehend the processes undergoing in the EU.
Language as economic factor
The education, science and culture committee of Lithuania and the European information bureau in Lithuanian Saeima have recently initiated a discussion on whether the European Union pays sufficient attention to the implementation of the multilingualism policy. Much of the discussion directly relates to national minorities in Lithuania, as well as to millions of other Europeans whose native language does not correspond to the state language of their countries of residence. Experts say such people comprise a majority in modern Europe.
The discussion was started by Agne Kazlauskaite, language and translation coordinator of the Lithuanian mission to the European Commission. “Multilingualism is the wealth of Europe,” she said adding that yet in 1958 the founding documents of the European Union stressed the importance of preserving various languages and cultures on its territory. Since then all important EU documents have been translated into all official languages of EU member-countries (23 at present and Croatian is to become the 24th) and billions of euro are allocated to advocate multilingualism. Kazlauskaite said besides official languages EU countries speak over 60 regional and national minority languages. A special European charter has been designed to regulate their preservation and use (Lithuania has not inked it so far). It gives grounds to state that multilingualism is an integral part of the EU legal system while the right to speak the native language is the basic freedom of modern Europeans. Kazlauskaite said the aim of the European multilingualism policy is to preserve the current language wealth and use it for efficient de velopment.
It has been calculated that EU enterprises annually lose up to 11 percent of profit simply because they cannot properly agree with potential partners. The vital task today is to make as many as possible EU citizens speak their native and one-two other languages since childhood. To advocate the idea the European Language Day has been widely celebrated on September 26 since 2001. There are so many important and interesting events that celebrations usually last for a week. To intensify foreign language studies by various Europeans – students, teachers, scientists, professionals in various spheres, and senior citizens international programs Socrates, Erasmus, Leonardo Da Vinci, and others have been designed and successfully operate. Kazlauskaite said the language sector of the European economy which is not always visible to outside observers accounts for 8.4 billion euro. Oral and written translation of all EU speeches and documents into 23 official languages costs a lot! Although the European Commission plans this summer to begin introducing machine translation the demand for skilled interpreters keeps growing.
Discussion participants who already had experience in dealing with machine translation said its efficiency for Roman languages reaches 89-90 percent while for Lithuanian language it is 65 percent so far. Kazlauskaite recalled that each spring various countries, including Lithuania, hold competitions for 17- year old beginning translators who fluently speak two or more languages. Success in such a contest offers the shortest way to a prestigious employment in EU institutions.
Director of the Lithuanian Language Institute Iolanta Zaborskaite calculated that two euro are allocated for translation each year per every EU citizen. It is clear the total result is considerable. There were calls to stop translating EU documents in all official languages and save money by translating them into three-four most popular languages – English, German, French, and Spanish, for example. “Genuine democracy cannot be cheap”, supporters of true European integration objected. “It is specifically important for a relatively small number of Lithuanianspeakers. Besides, we have a strong argument as Lithuanian language is the oldest of all living languages in modern Europe which is an attractive trademark for its preservation and use”, said Zaborskaite.
Europe in search of treasure
Senior research fellow of the Institute of Social Research Julija Moskvina and Chairwoman of the State Language Commission Daiva Vaisniene presented at the discussion the first stage of the project Language Treasures of Europe which in 2009-2012 was held in 19 countries by the British Council jointly with other European partners and national institutes of culture. The project mostly aimed at researching local language policies and practices in order to reveal “language treasures” buried in each European country. The state of all languages in a determined area was studied – both official, foreign, regional, national minority and immigrant. Researchers believe the obtained result should encourage politicians, scientists, and public leaders who formulate and implement the European multilingualism policy to actively cooperate with each other along the guideline and promote benevolent and viable cultural and language exchanges in schools, universities, and society in general.
Experts say Lithuania should study Polish, Russian, Belarussian, or Latvian as the first foreign language rather than English.
Conclusions of scientists made on the basis of the results of the first stage of the Language Treasures of Europe project look unexpected at first sight. For example, although all European Union countries focus on the studies of English as the first (and often obligatory) foreign language and it absolutely dominates in this capacity the European Commission recommends to gradually sidetrack from the practice. Experts say languages of close neighbors should be studied as the first foreign language and English should come second. It means in Germany the first foreign language should be French, Polish or Czech, in Lithuania – Polish, Russian, Belarussian, and Latvian.
The European Commission insists that for preserving and developing European multilingualism it is extremely important to support educational establishments of all levels – from kindergartens to universities where they speak national minority languages. It is also necessary to stop dubbing foreign movies and TV shows, there should be captions instead so that spectators can hear the original language.
Lithuanian Education and Science Minister Dainius Pavalkis expressed caution regarding the recommendations and called not to interpret them literally as “such laws can make us recognize the Polish language as the second official like Greeks have actually to do regarding the Turkish language.” The minister explained why not all European recommendations should be followed: “Relations between countries are a very sensitive issue.” For interaction within EU and in order to avoid mistakes Pavalkis called to use English as lingua franca because “the most active and educated residents of Lithuania are ready for that.”
Socio-linguistic map of lithuania
How is multilingualism developing in Lithuania? The question was answered during the discussion by Professor of Russian philology desk of Vilnius University Ala Lichaceva and her colleague, lecturer at the Polish Studies Center of the University Kinga Geben who have recently completed a special research called Socio- Linguistic Map of Lithuania: Cities and Towns.
Is the traditional multilingual situation changing in various regions of Lithuania due to massive emigration and considerable decrease in population? How are the multinational composition of population in various regions and their languages interlaced? Does multinational Lithuania remain multilingual? Which languages do they speak in our cities? And what are language preferences of Lithuanian residents depending on their nationality, age, and education? The researchers tried to provide exact answers and under the leadership of Vilnius University Professor Meilute Ramoniene summed up the data of the Cities and Languages project carried out in 2007-2009 in Vilnius, Klaipeda, and Kaunas and compared them with fresh results of the Socio-Linguistic Map of Lithuania project held in 2010-2012. The latter project polled 2660 respondents in 67 cities and towns (with a population above 3000). The total number of respondents in both projects was 4697.
What do the results of the project show ?
First of all, they showed that representatives of 154 nationalities live in Lithuania today. It is natural that big cities are mostly multilingual – Vilnius and Klaipeda. But there are also relatively multilingual regions. In Jurbarkas, Kalvarija , Silute, Seduva they mostly speak Lithuanian. Eisiskes, Nememcine, Salcinikai and other southeastern towns mostly speak Polish. Visaginas, Ignalina, and Zarasai speak Russian. In general the language repertoire of Lithuania is broad enough and continues to expand. Schoolchildren named 37 languages when asked which language they speak at home.
Naturally, the Lithuanian language occupies the strongest positions. It is native for 81.22 percent of respondents and practically all those polled said it was a language which they know most of all. Among foreign languages 94.57 percent said they speak Russian, 51.97 percent – English, 34.96 percent – Polish, 21.67 percent – German, and 5.26 percent – French. Good knowledge of Russian and Polish depends on the nationality of respondents most of who live in big cities and in the southeast of the country. French is spoken where it is possible to study it in school. Young Lithuanians mostly speak English, German or French, older people – Russian and Polish. All respondents clearly demonstrated that native language is the most beautiful for representatives of all nationalities. The Lithuanian language sounds better for residents of small towns, while Russian, French and English are most attractive for residents of big cities.
The most necessary language for Lithuania was naturally Lithuanian. It was named by 65.7 percent of respondents. The second necessary language was English (52.69%). Russian was the third (21.42%) followed by German (3.66%), Polish (1.64%), and French (1.58%). Priorities directly depend on the age of respondents: young people are loyal to English and the elderly prefer Lithuanian, Russian, and Polish.
In general the language repertoire of Lithuania is broad enough and continues to expand. Schoolchildren named 37 languages when asked which language they speak at home.
Dialects complement linguistic variety in Lithuania. Their preservation and use is very important for residents of homogenous ethnic regions – northern Samogitija, northern and central Aukstaitija, southern Dzukija, and western Suvalkija, and less important for ethnically motley southeast of Lithuania. Lichacheva and Geben arrived to the following conclusions. Firstly, territorial and social multilingualism is clear in Lithuania as even in one and the same family people often speak various languages or dialects. Secondly, major cities in the country begin to resemble megacities of the world where multilingualism is common in business, culture, and higher education. Thirdly, the evident expansion of the English language poses no threat to the official Lithuanian language as its positions are very strong in the country .
At the same time experts believe the increasing number of studied foreign languages and migration-triggered changes in the ethnic palette of Lithuania should strengthen linguistic variety in the country and public tolerance to it. Therefore, to promote the policy of multilingualism it is specifically important to encourage the preservation and spread of native languages of all strata of society, promote positive spoken forms of residents and use the existing linguistic situation to design methods and ways of stimulating multilingualism.
for Amber Bridge