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The first attempts to explain the origin of the Lithuanian language date back to the 16th century. Especially popular was the story of the Roman origin of the Lithuanian language, a story which was based on certain linguistic data (similarities between various Lithuanian and Latin words).

An important event for the study of the Lithuanian language was the publication in Königsberg in 1653 of D. Klein’s Grammatica Litvanica. In the early 17th century K. Sirvydas’ first dictionary of the Lithuanian language was published in Vilnius.

Because the Lithuanian language is especially archaic, it already drew the interest of the first scholars to create linguistics: the German F. Bopp and the Dane R. K. Rask. In 1856 the German linguist A. Schleicher published the first scholarly grammar of the Lithuanian language, Litauische Grammatik. Important research about the Lithuanian language was published by the Germans A. Leskien, K. Brugmann, A. Bezzenberger, and others.

In the late 19th and early 20th century eminent researchers of the Lithuanian language also appeared in other European countries. Especially noteworthy are the works of F. de Saussure (Switzerland), A. Meillet and R. Gauthiot (France), V. Thomsen (Denmark), J. J. Mikkola (Finland), F. Fortunatov and G. Ulyanov (Russia), J. Rozwadowski (Poland), and the Czech J. Zubatô.

At that time, important research about the Lithuanian language was also published by the Lithuanian linguists F. Kurschat, A. Baranauskas, K. Jaunius, and the brothers A. and J. Juška.

A new stage in Lithuanian language research began after the restoration of Lithuanian independence in 1918 and the establishment of the first Lithuanian university in Kaunas in 1922. The two most eminent Lithuanian linguists, J. Jablonskis (1860-1930) and K. Būga (1879-1924), were also on its faculty. The former wrote normative grammars which in essence laid the foundation for present-day standard Lithuanian. The latter, while working at Russian institutions of higher education, published very valuable studies on the lexicon and ethnogeny of the Balts and began compiling a large Lithuanian dictionary. This university (after 1930 – Vytautas the Great University) and later also Vilnius University included on their faculties the eminent Lithuanian linguists Pr. Skardžius, A. Salys, and P. Jonikas, who left Lithuania in 1944 to avoid the Soviet occupation. J. Balčikonis continued the work on the dictionary started by K. Būga.

The Lithuanian language was also intensively researched in foreign countries. Significant studies were published by the Germans E. Hermann, R. Trautmann, and F. Specht, the German-based Lithuanian J. Gerullis, the Danes H. Pedersen and L. Hjelmslev, the Dutchman N. van Wijk, the Swiss M. Niedermann, the Swede R. Ekblom, and the Estonian P. Arumaa. Very important for Lithuanian linguistics was the work by the Latvian J. Endzelīns. The following linguists published their most important work after World War II: the German E. Fraenkel, the Pole J. Otrębski, the Norwegian Chr. S. Stang, the Swiss A. Senn (who worked in Lithuania and later in the United States), the Finn E. Nieminen, etc. After World War II the most important centers for research into the Lithuanian language were the Institute of the Lithuanian Language (from 1952 to 1990 – the Institute of the Lithuanian Language and Literature), Vilnius University, and somewhat later other institutions of higher education.

In 2002, at the Institute of the Lithuanian Language, the publication of the most important Lithuanian philological work of all time, the 20-volume Lietuvių kalbos žodynas (Dictionary of the Lithuanian Language), was completed. This undertaking was begun in 1902, when K. Būga began organizing his collections of words. In 1991, the Institute completed publication of the three-volume Lietuvių kalbos atlasas (Atlas of the Lithuanian Language; data collection was begun in 1950 under the direction of K. Morkūnas). From 1965 to 1976 the three-volume Lietuvių kalbos gramatika (Grammar of the Lithuanian Language) was published at the Institute (K. Ulvydas headed the group of contributors).

At Vilnius University, J. Kazlauskas, J. Pikčilingis, E. Jakaitienė, V. Mažiulis, J. Palionis, A. Paulauskienė, A. Rosinas, B. Stundžia, V. Urbutis, and Z. Zinkevičius enriched Lithuanian linguistics with important research on historical grammar, dialectology, phonology, lexicology, and language history. Especially noteworthy is the six-volume Lietuvių kalbos istorija (History of the Lithuanian Language; 1984-1994) by Z. Zinkevičius.

In recent decades, valuable studies on Lithuanian linguistics have also been published by researchers at other institutions of higher education in Lithuania: V. Drotvinas, A. Pakerys, A. Kaukienė, R. Marcinkevičienė, V. Sirtautas, and K. Župerka.

Research into the Lithuanian language is also successfully continuing in foreign countries. Especially important contributions have been made by R. Eckert, J. Range, W. Schmid, F. Scholz (Germany), W. Smoczyński (Poland), T. Bulygina, V. Ivanov, J. Otkupshchikov, J. Stepanov, V. Toporov, O. Trubachev (Russia), A. Nepokupnyj (Ukraine), A. Erhart (Czech Republic), P. U. Dini, G. Michelini (Italy), W. R. Schmalstieg (United States), and others.

Currently, the most important foreign publication in the field of Lithuanian philology is Jonas Bretkūnas’ multivolume translation of the Bible with exhaustive commentaries. The greatest credit for editing this work goes to F. Scholz.

Algirdas Sabaliauskas

© Institute of Lithuanian Literature and Folklore, The Institute of the Lithuanian Language, Lithuanian Institute of History, Institute of Mathematics and Informatics, 2003 - 2006