Reformed Lithuanian

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Reformed Lithuanian is the Lithuanian language as it was official in Lithuania in the late interwar period after the language purification camapign and is now official in Free Lithuania.

It is called "Pure Lithuanian" or "Real Lithuanian" by proponents to make it clear that they don't speak about the language currently spoken in Lithuania, but, however they tend to call it just "Lithuanian" among themselves as they believe this is the real Lithuanian language, and not another one. It is referred to as "Interwar Lithuanian" by opponents.


The language purification campaign was directed by the commission of appointed prominent linguists and lasted for over a decade, officially starting in 1927. The monthly publication "Lietuvių kalba" ("Lithuanian Language") used to be a place where the decitions of the commission were published. After publishing, they used to become binding for various state institutions. The process was slow partially intentionally (to allow people to get used to the new words) and partially due to the reason that long discussions were encouraged to ensure that the new words introduced would be as widely accepted by the general population as possible. Ordinary people were also part of the process as they were able to suggest new words or tell their opinion about various issues that used to be raised in "Lietuvių kalba". As such, in most cases it used to take several months to accept a new word in place of an old one and in some cases even several years.

An interesting note is that laws and even the Constitution would change automatically after some particular word would be officially changed; in all the subsequent printed versions of the particular law new words had to be used instead of the old ones. It was established however that due to lituanization of the word the meaning does not change and therefore it was not permitted to argue in courts that the new word holds a different meaning. In cases where words were changed not on one to one basis and when the grammatical rules were changed the procedure was somewhat harder. The Language Usage Review Division of the Commission was meant to watch the official usage and had the power to withold new laws in case they are not written according to the rules of Reformed Lithuanian. All these issues were enshrined in the Constitution that was adopted by the government of Antanas Smetona - one of the articles stated that "The text of the Constitution is considered to be changed by supplanting the old words with new words at the time the decission of the Commission about that particular change of words on one-to-one basis is officially announced. In case grammatical, orthographical or other rules of the language are changed, the text of the Constitution changes according to the principles laid out by the Commission. Where there are several possibilities for changing the text the exact way of change are decided by official government institutions on the advice of the Commission. Any changes to the constitution made according to this article are not considered to be constitutional ammendments. The meaning of the Constitution is considered to be completely unchanged due to these changes (with the exception of cases when the changes are approved by official government institutions). The principle specified in this article is to be applied in laws as well."

Although the anti-purification phillologists were generally not invited into the commission or resigned soon, the commission still had many issues to address. Among them was the need for reintroduction of some at the time archaic grammatical rules. An interesting dispute was between those supporting the creating of neologisms and those who supported reintroduction of old words by changing their meaning to new subjects. A significant minority of commissioners supported the idea of "logicalization" of the language (which was unique at the time), which was meant to make it easier for people to study various sciences; the suggested means to achieve this were the construction of new scientific terms based upon certain logical rules (for example, the lituanized names of chemical elements were suggested to have their gender based on werther they are metallic or not, declension and other features of the words would have also been used based on various features of the elements and therefore any person familiar with these logical rules would have been able to tell various things about a chemical element even if he or she heard its name for the first time). Such debates frequently postponed the introduction of particular words for a long time. The reform still was frantic to some extent as some of the words that were changed early later had to be changed again after new language rules were agreed upon. Still, the reform went on and the majority of loanwords in common use were changed by 1934. The purification campaign continued in various sciences from then on, as well as in the lituanization of various geographic names. In addition to that, systemization was being carried out in 30s by publishing dictionaries of the Reformed Lithuanian terms based on subjects.

As the intended scope of the purification campaign was not declared at the start, it was unclear where it should end. One formerly prominent activist of the purification resigned from the commission over this issue in 1936, claiming that the campaign should already finish; this was denounced by the president of the commission by a claim that "The campaign should continue and will continue until there will not be a single chemical substance, a single animal or plant, a single tribe in Middle Africa, a single city or a river large enough to be marked on maps that would not have a Lithuanian name". These words however were not fulfilled as the purification campaign came to an abrupt halt in 1939 when European part of Lithuania was occupied by Russia during the Thunderstorm War.

During this Russian occupation, in the main area of Reformed Lithuanian (official use) the language was largely supplanted by Russian and in other cases not regulated at all. The press of the resistance was written using Reformed Lithuanian but as the publishers did not always had access to dictionaries, sometimes some loanwords were used as well. During the subsequent German occupation the Reformed Lithuanian enjoyed some renaisance as most local official affairs were once again done in Lithuanian. However, Germans did not enforce Reformed Lithuanian, so the official language was actually some kind of mix of Reformed Lithuanian and pre-purification Lithuanian, with additional flavour of new slang that came from Russian and German during the war. When the Russian armies reoccupied Lithuania again in 1947 and the puppet state called Lithuanian State was established, the use of Reformed Lithuanian, and in fact any standartised Lithuanian, became discouraged; instead of it, the Russians encouraged the standartization of local dialects, effectively making five different languages (Aukštaitian, Dzūkian, Lietuvinink, Samogitian and Zanavyk). Russian was probably meant to become lingua franca in Lithuania instead of some standartised form of Lithuanian.

After the Second Great War the official use of Reformed Lithuanian was officially discontinued by the government of Kingdom of Lithuania as well, but there were attempts to continue the purification campaign unofficially. The non-governmental organisation called Lithuanian Language Purification Institute was established in Vilnius. It exists to this day but its actual influence is limited as it has no official support nor any official funding. This Institute introduced very few actual changes to the Reformed Lithuanian (mostly related to the naming of things that were invented after 1939) and primarilly worked in publishing dictionaries and educating people about the language, as well as lobbying against the use of various particular loanwords. Therefore it might be concluded that the active formation of the Reformed Lithuanian ended in 1939. While Free Lithuania continues to encourage the use of Lithuanian words over loanwords, it has no need to further lituanize the terms that were not lituanized, because there are little scientific initiatives in that country which has a population only of several thousand people.


Reformed Lithuanian differs from Common Lithuanian firstly by the fact that there are no loanwords, e.g. word "telefonas" ("telephone") was changed to "garsnešis" (literally "soundcarrier"); even such things as names of sciences were changed from Latin/Greek ones to lithuanized versions (e.g. "Istorija" ("History") became "Amžyba"), later the names of the continents too. Some other geographical places also had their names changed in Lithuanian language (although in many cases the lituanization in this field was only partial, translating such words as "city" or "new" for example when they would be part of a geographic name). In addition, some old cases and other word forms that had went out of use prior to the interwar period were reintroduced in order to "restore the language" as it used to be. In addition to replacing loanwords, some names of various things that consisted of two or more words were changed to shorter ones as well - this was meant to prevent new loanwords from finding their way into people's vocabulary, as it was perceived that such possibility is more serious when the respective Lithuanian words are long.

However, with the exception of some words that were originally crafted for it, Reformed Lithuanian never became a popular spoken language in Lithuania, but all newspapers, radio transmittings, official speeches in the interwar Lithuania were done used it, thus developing a certain type of disglossia.

Reformed Lithuanian and Common Lithuanian are mutually intelligable as the grammar is similar, but someone who does not know the words of Reformed Lithuanian might not understand some more complex ones; although in many cases it is so that due to the fact that these words are made of Lithuanian roots, it is not very hard for speaker of Common Lithuanian to guess their meaning. It might be harder for a native speaker of Reformed Lithuanian to understand Common Lithuanian however if he does not know any foreign languages that would use Latin, Greek and other loanwords extensively.

Currently Reformed Lithuanian is used as official language only in Free Lithuania, and used for other purposes almost exclusively there. However, many words originally crafted for this form of pure Lithuanian language, found their way into Common Lithuanian. And although there were some initial attempts to get rid of those words, now they are still being used; most of loanwords remained in the Common Lithuanian however.

Having its own names for many things which most other languages call by loanwords - including great ammount animals, plants, all the known chemical elements, etc. - Reformed Lithuanian is claimed by its proponents to be language that has the most words and a remarkable achievement of the interwar Lithuania. The opponents of the language however claim that as language is commonly used by few and no actual scientific publications are published in it, most words are in fact not used anywhere and perhaps many of them are not even known by anybody who speaks Reformed Lithuanian (and therefore exist only in dictionaries).

For other forms of Lithuanian language, see article Lithuanian language.


Originally, when it was used in the interwar Lithuania, Reformed Lithuanian was written in script that is currently mostly refered to as Smetonian alphabet, a purposefully crafted form of the Latin alphabet. In Free Lithuania however it was changed later to the so-called Original Baltic Script, a non-Latin alphabet based on some old Baltic symbols which probably were never used as a writing system. Some people in Free Lithuania, as well as the proponents of Reformed Lithuanian living elsewhere, supports the usage of Smetonian alphabet however. The form of Reformed Lithuanian as it is used in Free Lithuania, written using the Original Baltic Script, is also called Antarctic Lithuanan.

Reformed Lithuanian alphabet is based on the Lithuanian alphabet that was used before interwar period, but some of the letters were changed and some new introduced. Key principles that were adopted in the creation of the Reformed Lithuanian alphabet were:

  • One letter for one sound - diphtongs that came to Lithuanian from Venedic language, such as "sz", were changed.
  • Easiness to write - it was made possible to write every word without having to raise pen from paper. Diacritics were not used for any letter; it was made acceptable to write letters "i" and "j" without dots.
  • No unnecessary characters - as Reformed Lithuanian had all words lituanized, the usage of letters "F" and "H" was dropped (these letters appear only in loanwords). There was also a suggestion to change "C" to "Ts" under this principle as it was argued that "C" actually represents two sounds.
  • Simplicity of characters - no character should take a longer time to write than it is logical. Under this principle, "W" was changed to "V". Other characters were not changed, but this principle played an important role in choosing new characters.
  • Devenedisation - a principle that was not clearly defined under which the characters of Venedic origin which were thought to be not the most logical solutions for Lithuanian language were to be changed.
This page was created by Abdul-aziz.
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