Lithuanian a living fossil

laurent485

Member
Chinese
I have just learnt by surprise that the Lithuanian language is the most conservative language in Indo-european family that still lives now in contrast to Sanskrit, Latin and ancient Greek. Lithuanian retains many archaic features of Proto Indo-european language that have been lost in most other modern languages.

My biggest surprise is that, though thousand years passed, Lithuanian is considered still to be at the SAME stage as Sanskrit and even older than ancient Greek, regarding morphology and grammar structure. That's all what I know. Could someone give me more detail about this language, its linguistic value within Proto Indo-european research?
 
  • olaszinho

    Senior Member
    Central Italian
    I do not think that most Slavonic languages are less conservative than Lithuanian from a grammatical point of view. For instance, some of them, such as Slovenian and Sorobian, even retain the dual which is extinct in Lithuanian. As for the comparison with Sanskrit or ancient Greek your comment is obviously exaggerated. Anyway, there may be interesting lexical similarities between Lithuanian and some ancient European languages.
     

    sokol

    Senior Member
    Austrian (as opposed to Australian)
    No, Lithuanian is not "at the same stage" as Sanskrit: it is a modern language which developed away from Proto-IE just as any other IE language; only it retains many features which have been lost in other languages - but this fact has been overstated by the source to which you're referring. (Which you haven't quoted, so I can't say anything about your source.)

    For example, Lithuanian has lost neuter gender - it retains some reflexes of it but it has only two grammatical genders, masculine and feminine; and with this it is definitely "more innovative" than e. g. all Slavic and many Germanic languages (possibly all with the exception of English, about that I'm not sure).

    Inflection, then - declension: Lithuanian has 7 cases, but the same number has been preserved by Bosnian-Croatian-Montenegrin-Serbian. Also, it has developed some "extra cases" which usually are traced back to Finno-Ugric (see Wiki: illative, adessive and allative casus variations of vocative), so here it also shows an innovation which is supposedly not even Indo-European.

    Lithuanian also, it seems, doesn't even mention dual anymore (I know that it was well-preserved in older texts but the English Wiki article isn't even mentioning dual anymore), while Sorbian and Slovene preserved dual.

    This just for starters, I have no deeper knowledge and just read that Wiki article, and noticed those few things right away - it is an exaggeration to describe the language as "living fossil".
    Still, of course, it preserved some features not present in other IE languages, and some only present in some of them.
     
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    koniecswiata

    Senior Member
    Am English
    I believe that this idea of Lithuanian being so archaic has come about because it has been conservative in reference to certain sound shifts. Consequently, the relation to Sanskrit is more evident to the eye--but this doesn't actually make it more conservative, or actually closer to Sanskrit than some other IE language.
     

    Sobakus

    Senior Member
    I believe that this idea of Lithuanian being so archaic has come about because it has been conservative in reference to certain sound shifts. Consequently, the relation to Sanskrit is more evident to the eye--but this doesn't actually make it more conservative, or actually closer to Sanskrit than some other IE language.
    Well, sound changes is what caused virtually all Germanic languages(except Icelandic) to loose declension. But the archaism of Lithuanian isn't limited to sound changes I might imagine, it's also manifested in the vocabulary and the grammatical structure, although I don't know if it's more archaic than the Slavic one.
     

    koniecswiata

    Senior Member
    Am English
    Sobakus,

    A few years ago, a Polish linguist named Mañczak did a study. He looked for IE roots by going over the Book of Genesis in the Bible--something translated into all or most IE languages years ago. He found that in the vocabulary, the language exhibiting the greatest percentage of retained IE roots was...Polish--and Slavic languages in general. I'm not sure now if German or Lithuanian were in second place. Also, Latin, Greek, and Sanskrit were not among these top contenders.
    As far as I know, Lithuanian has had some grammatical innovations that would distinguish it from old IE constructions (I think they have a kind of postposition system for some prepositional concepts that seem a bit like Uralic languages, a lack of neuter gender, 3rd person plural is the same as 3rd person singular in conjugation). Of course, grammar is notoriously changeable and not always the best way to establish relatedness, or degrees of relatedness. However, Slavic languages do seem to have retained a lot of more conservative forms (Slovenian has dual number).
     

    Dan2

    Senior Member
    US
    English (US)
    A few years ago, a Polish linguist named Mañczak did a study. He looked for IE roots by going over the Book of Genesis in the Bible--something translated into all or most IE languages years ago.
    At first one might think that the English Bible would have an extremely high percentage of IE words: in the King James version of Genesis, most of the words are Germanic, there's a good amount of Romance, and a bit of Greek - all branches of IE.

    But there's a lot of Germanic vocabulary that's difficult to trace back to IE. The first "real" word in the English Bible is "beginning". Does this count as "not IE" because one can't (I believe) relate it to any known IE root? Does one assume (in the context of this study and in general) that these words are not IE, or merely that we haven't found cognates in other branches of IE? What about all the Germanic words, many very common, like "hand" and "finger", for which there are only speculations as to an IE connection? Is it really possible to do a study like Manczak's in a scientifically rigorous way?
     

    Frank06

    Senior Member
    Nederlands / Dutch (Belgium)
    At first one might think that the English Bible would have an extremely high percentage of IE words: in the King James version of Genesis, most of the words are Germanic, there's a good amount of Romance, and a bit of Greek - all branches of IE.

    But there's a lot of Germanic vocabulary that's difficult to trace back to IE. The first "real" word in the English Bible is "beginning". Does this count as "not IE" because one can't (I believe) relate it to any known IE root? Does one assume (in the context of this study and in general) that these words are not IE, or merely that we haven't found cognates in other branches of IE? What about all the Germanic words, many very common, like "hand" and "finger", for which there are only speculations as to an IE connection? Is it really possible to do a study like Manczak's in a scientifically rigorous way?
    I think we're moving away from the topic... But If I remember well, it's estimated that +30% of the (Common) Germanic vocabulary cannot be traced back to (P)IE. I'll try to dig up some references other than the one from Wikipedia :).

    Groetjes,

    Frank
     

    sokol

    Senior Member
    Austrian (as opposed to Australian)
    But there's a lot of Germanic vocabulary that's difficult to trace back to IE.
    Yes, Dan, this is true - Germanic vocabulary has a stock of words which aren't traceable to IE roots; there's no reason to believe that those words were "younger" or "not IE" in origin but it is impossible to prove whether they could be considered old IE heritage or not (except if there will be found some kind of Rosetta Stone showing some or many of those words in non-Germanic IE languages :)).

    But to assume automatically that those aren't IE isn't correct either.

    Also, Mañczak's studies (is he really written like that, koniecswiata? as Polish doesn't have the eñe in its alphabet ;-)) have another flaw: the Book of Genesis isn't exactly the ideal source for trying to discover the oldest and most original "IE words". In many (most?) languages Bible translations are strongly influenced by the Latin and/or Greek original version (well, not quite "original" versions obviously, except for some New Testament books written in Greek, and Latin's even only the translation of Greek - but I think it is clear what I mean ;)).

    Because why should the Book of Genesis contain the "oldest words"? Just because it is the "oldest book" of the Old Testament?
    The simplest answer to that one is "nope", and I think we needn't really discuss the why's here. :)

    But getting back to Lithuanian; I think it should be clear by now that it is by no means the most conservative living IE language.
    On the other hand, every IE language is a "living fossil". Even English. :D
    It is only the investigation of as many fossils (living*) ones as well as dead ones) as there are available which makes up for a good and more-or-less watertight reconstruction of proto-languages.


    *) The concept of "living fossil" of course is a metaphor. Obviously, there is no such thing as a "fossil which still lives" - the definition of "fossil" includes that the thing is dead.
     

    koniecswiata

    Senior Member
    Am English
    I don't want to derail this Lithuanian-focused thread with this answer to much, but I'd like to reply to a few of the expressed ideas or doubts.
    1. Of course, a study like Manczak's is flawed a bit if you put it up to complete scientific scrutiny. But then, Historical Linguistics is flawed in this way by nature when you are speculating about languages for which you don't have hard evidence since IE was never written down, and we can't know with certainty that it actually existed. Maybe it already was a group of similar dialects/languages--nothing more than that.
    2. I believe Manczak chose the Old Testament because it tends to reflect at least a slightly earlier phase of the written language of various IE languages.
    3. The fact that there are Latin or Greek words in the Old Testament isn't really that relevant when checking for "Indo-Europeanness" since they are also IE.
    4. He was particularly focusing on words that are "commonly agreed on" as being IE. Not "hand" or other words that might be. Of course, even this is speculative. Anything when talking about IE is somewhat speculative.
    5. They do believe that proto or pre-IE had a postposition system, but apparently this was lost still during the IE phase. That system that Lithuanian has is a more recent development independent of that other postposition system.
    6. I wrote Manczak with an ñ, just because my keyboard doesn't have the correct Polish letter--so I was making a sound equivalence--maybe a little too creative.

    I totally agree that other IE languages may have aspects of being "IE fosssils" besides the famous Lithuanian. For example, English is the only IE (I think) language to preserve the "w" pronunciation of w (semi vowel unclosed lips), and it never gets to be considered a language fossil.
     

    Ben Jamin

    Senior Member
    Polish
    Some clarification to the earlier posts:
    'Mańczak' is the correct spelling of the authors name.

    Polish has 7 cases too: nominative, genitive, dative, accusative, locative, instrumental and vocative.

    Then something about Mańczak's works:
    I read a book on relation between languages and must say that he uses a rather "free" method for his lexical comparison. His choice of texts i highly haphazard, and not well justified, and neithet are his conclusions. I would not rely very much on his conclusions, even if they are often suggestively presented.
     

    sokol

    Senior Member
    Austrian (as opposed to Australian)
    You can use the special characters toolbar of Polish forum, koniecswiata :) - anyway, let's leave Mańczak aside for now, as I think that what is worth saying about this study of his, concerning the topic of this thread, has been said already. :)
    Didn't PIE have postpositions?
    I am sure that there must exist theories trying to trace back parts of Indo-European morphology to postpositions, and there are definitely cases in modern IE languages (such ones not influenced by any Ural-Altaic language :)) when agglutination of e. g. personal pronouns to nouns or adjectives creates secondary "declensions" (my native dialect for example), but this really is not the point here, or so I would say: the principle of agglutination after all is known to many language families, not only Finno-Ugric.

    Unfortunately I don't know Lithuanian, nor Finnish or Hungarian, so I can only rely on what I read on Wiki - but what I read there looks pretty much like those features mentioned above indeed are a loan from Finno-Ugric, and not common IE heritage. (Wiki says so, but of course Wiki is not a scientific source - and while there exist many excellent Wiki articles I have no way of telling whether this is one such.)
     

    Sobakus

    Senior Member
    But getting back to Lithuanian; I think it should be clear by now that it is by no means the most conservative living IE language.
    How come? I don't think I missed any posts and no other candidates were suggested in place of Lithuanian. If the posts about some Slavic tongues preserving some of the features Lithuanian has lost are what makes you think Slavic is more conservative, this is generally thought to not be the case, as I know. Slavic is after all the innovative subgroup of Baltic, it has it's own peculiar non-IE syllable structure(rising sonority), strict aspect distinction and at least two times more new phonemes(sibilants and palatals) complete with root consonant alterations throughout the declension(because of the new phonemes).
     

    sokol

    Senior Member
    Austrian (as opposed to Australian)
    How come? I don't think I missed any posts and no other candidates were suggested in place of Lithuanian. If the posts about some Slavic tongues preserving some of the features Lithuanian has lost are what makes you think Slavic is more conservative, this is generally thought to not be the case, as I know. Slavic is after all the innovative subgroup of Baltic, it has it's own peculiar non-IE syllable structure(rising sonority), strict aspect distinction and at least two times more new phonemes(sibilants and palatals).
    Well, Lithuanian indeed is very conservative in some respects, but it also shows Finno-Ugric influences - and because of this it isn't really okay to claim that it were the most conservative IE language.

    Actually, to declare any living IE language as the "most conservative" one is problematic from the very beginning - as many candidates show both conservative and innovative features.
    And yes, Slavic languages surely should not be considered the most conservative one (overall) either; still it retains neuter gender, and in some languages also dual - both lost in Lithuanian, and both considered ancient IE heritage.

    German and Spanish-French-Italian also aren't candidates, they've lost too much declension for that; Persian too, but I can't tell about Indo-Aryan or Celtic languages, or Corsian for that matter - or even exotic dialects of all those which might have retained features considered to be conservative.

    As I see it, it is just a matter of "how many" so-called "living fossils" a particular language and its dialects retained, and not "which one" of the living IE languages were a so-called "living fossil".

    Even German, and some of their dialects, has retained some features considered conservative - in my native dialect for example survivals of former dual tense in the number of "two" (three forms: "zwe" masc. "zwo" fem. and "zwoa" neuter), which became extinct in standard language and most dialects a couple of centuries or so ago.


    And this is what I thought should have become clear by now. :)
     

    Sobakus

    Senior Member
    Well, Lithuanian indeed is very conservative in some respects, but it also shows Finno-Ugric influences - and because of this it isn't really okay to claim that it were the most conservative IE language.
    But the problem is, it is thought to be. Simply because the linguistic science doesn't see any other contenders for this title. Of course you can propose yours. Finno-Ugric or any other influences don't make a language more or less conservative in any way, because conservativeness is a relative term, not an absolute one.
    If, as some maintain, language change is cyclic then no features can be conservative.
    IE languages are obviously considered conservative or not relative to the PIE.
     

    hadronic

    Senior Member
    French - France
    Lithuanian is very conservative in its declension system, which is very reminescent of Sanskrit's and Latin's.

    On the other hand, its verbal morphology is very poor, when compared to Sanskrit and Greek for that matter. Sanskrit and Greek enjoy amounts of various tenses (aorist, pluperfect,...), moods (optative, subjonctive,...), voices (middle, and some passive), a very intricate morphology (root reduplication, perfective a-/e- prefixation [like eleluka]), lots of so-called irregular verbs,... Lithuanian has nothing of all of that.
     

    Lietuvis

    New Member
    Lithuanian
    When someone who never tried learning language and literally has no knowledge what so ever about it, instead of referrer to what other people said. Just wow.. I think I should start offending most of the comments where it says Wikipedia, for whom used Wikipedia to answer the question you must be with 0 knowledge until this days...

    To answer question is yes it it the oldest surviving language in world, now try to understand that from word to word... It is the oldest living language, its not the oldest language but it is the oldest surviving language of all Indo-European languages...

    No amature in here will ever give you the answer your looking for... You will have to do this the old faction way, if you want to know the answer to your own question you will have to learn the language your self! But I will tell you that is that is merely impossible for a foreigner to learn Lithuanian...
    Both spoken and written language are two different things. The written part is practically new and spoken is ancient. You will be able to learn written part is difficult but not impossible, when you come to spoken part this is where it gets extremely difficult... I will keep my cool so I don't discourage you from maybe learning it, am not gonna go into this why it is so you should learn it on your own...

    1 .I would suggest you to look at cooperation of Lithuanian with Latin/Greek/Sanskrit to now days known sources (use google scholar) to understand why it is what it is... Most important of all don't ever read what is in Wikipedia...

    2. Find Sanskrit vocabulary and then find Lithuanian vocabulary and compare them all together look more for the what the word means in both languages and especial look what kind of letter has changed from its original wold (Original world being Sanskrit it is), there are many Sanskrit words that we still use until this day and the meaning are same as in Sanskrit.

    3. Search up cooperation with Lithuanian/Latin/Greek/Sanskrit counting system, number system, season counting.

    4. Religion of Romuva try compering it to Hinduism (Like there gods, names, and believes) This religion is still alive and well.

    Mostly none of the commentary people are knowledgeable in anyway, when they can only analyze Wikipedia, there are many factors why it makes Lithuanian the oldest living Language in wold! I just gave you information about some things that most people would understand easier, so you can look up and read some more about it. The forum has no space for me to explain why it is that it is.

    If you as foreigner want to know that you should learn Lithuanian, and a Lithuanian knows that even for native speaker this language is hard to even know it...
     

    Awwal12

    Senior Member
    Russian
    To answer question is yes it it the oldest surviving language in world, now try to understand that from word to word... It is the oldest living language, its not the oldest language but it is the oldest surviving language of all Indo-European languages...
    That statement makes no sense whatsoever. We can call languages "old" or "not as old" only as long as they are dead and therefore stopped changing (so they can be somehow objectively dated as a whole). Living languages, on the other hand, are in the state of a constant change, even though the rate may be drastically different, so there is no way to tell "how old is that language" or "which language is older". All that makes as much sense as "this flock of geese is older than that one".
     

    Olaszinhok

    Senior Member
    Italian
    If you as foreigner want to know that you should learn Lithuanian, and a Lithuanian knows that even for native speaker this language is hard to even know it...
    Every language may seem to be difficult/hard for its native speakers.. I've heard Chinese, Arabs, English, French, Portuguese, Poles, Russians, Spanish, Greeks say their own Language was the hardest ever. Apart from this, linguists rarely or never use the adjective difficult when they want to describe the features of a certain language.
     
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    Ben Jamin

    Senior Member
    Polish
    Every language may seem to be difficult/hard for its native speakers.. I've heard Chinese, Arabs, English, French, Portuguese, Poles, Russians, Spanish, Greeks say their own Language was the hardest ever. Apart from this, linguists rarely or never use the adjective difficult when they want to describe the features of a certain language.
    If you take into consideration phonetics, vocabulary, morphology, syntax, obligatory information (for example perfective or not perfective, or determined or not determined), phraseology, idiomatic, style, social relations, etc, and sum it all up, all known languages will appear approximately equally difficult, even if they are simpler on certain areas, they are more complicated on others.
     

    AndrasBP

    Senior Member
    Hungarian
    To answer question is yes it it the oldest surviving language in world, now try to understand that from word to word... It is the oldest living language, its not the oldest language but it is the oldest surviving language of all Indo-European languages...
    This is a myth that is widespread in Lithuania.
    However unscientific and dated this view is, you're not allowed to question it as a foreigner, because you're an "outsider" who is not "knowledgeable", even if you're a fluent speaker of Lithuanian and trained in linguistics. :rolleyes:
    Some Lithuanians will even get offended when you tell them that their language was not that hard to learn.:)
     
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