Centenary of a Language

Audrys Antanaitis and Viktorija Čmilytė-Nielsen

Lithuanian was established as the country’s official language on September 1, 1922, in the first Constitution of the Lithuanian nation. The 100th anniversary of its official status was commemorated in Constitution Hall at Seimas on September 14, 2022.

The president of the National Language Commission Audrys Antanaitis presented a six-step program for the preservation of Lithuanian in the future.  Shedding light on the evolution and importance of the language were other speakers, including Seimas Speaker Viktorija Čmilytė-Nielsen, Science and Education Committee Chair Artūras Žukauskas,
historian Dr. Artūras Svarauskas and Lithuanian Language Institute member Dr. Jurgita Venckienė.

Three written language variants existed in Lithuanian texts published between the 16th and 19th centuries. None of them remained as standard language. Lithuanian was spoken by country folk, some city dwellers and nobility. In the public sector, other languages were used – for example, official Slavic, Latin, Polish, later Russian. The Lithuanian Movement initiated by “žemaičiai” (Samogitians) at the beginning of the 19th century was the first to consider a common Lithuanian language, based on the Samogitian dialect. Although other efforts were made, they did not come to life. The call for a standardized language became stronger with the rebirth of nationalism at the end of the century. The publishers of newspapers “Aušra” and “Varpas”, which promoted national awareness, chose the language used in the Western Highlands (Vakarų Aukštaitija) as a basis of standard Lithuanian, and this variant was the one finally adopted, with some changes made over the first decades of the 20th century.
The commemoration also included literary readings by Lithuanian youth.