Moacir P. de Sá Pereira on December 1st, 2008

How to teach little kids Lithuanian in 1796. (

In addition to the usual Turkey Weekend antics that the Lithuanian-American youth of Chicagoland has come to expect, this year Lemont also hosted the 14th iteration of the Mokslo ir kūrybos simpoziumas. It’s an opportunity for various academics to get together and talk about their research in a bunch of very broadly conceived panels. It is interdisciplinary on a macro level, but not on a panel level, even though the panels often feel like a bit of a mishmash, too.

Its approach to interdisciplinarity is almost maddening, since it doesn’t feel like a formal feature of the academic work. Sure, there’s some networking done, but very little in the way of larger conclusions gets accomplished. I remarked to my mom how it took me a while to get used to the fact that the discussants would call the presentations “pranešimai,” which to me has a much stronger connection to the term “announcement” than to “presentation.” On the other hand, DLKŽ points to it as a term of art for “public lecture.” Yet of the few presentations that I did hear, they did feel much more like announcements than presentations. They felt like expository, state-of-the-field things for a very general audience. Maybe that’s the point, but somehow it felt half-done.

There were a few panels about the Lithuanian language, and I was honored to be able to film one of them in its entirety. The rest of this post will be, then, precisely about that panel, which was about historical approaches to the Lithuanian and (Old) Prussian languages. To get a sense of the wide level of interests of the simpoziumas as a whole, look at the four titles of the papers:

  • Senosios lietuvių raštijos tyrimai problemos ir sprendimai
  • Prūsų vardyno tyrimo problemos
  • Rusiškų raidžių diegimas XIX a. antroje pusėje: bendrinės lietuvių kalbos strategija ar klaidžiojimas užrištomis akimis
  • Lietuvių kalbos žodžių tvarka XVI-XIX a. atributinė frazė

The first two papers seem more like introductions to a contemporary field of research. The last two look like they have specific conclusions in mind based on a certain amount of working through the data. Two on issues, two on results. And though all four papers probably fall under “filologija” in Lithuania, I think that the first and third might not be entirely unacceptable in literature departments in the US, while the second and fourth would fall into linguistics departments. In terms of the actual presentations themselves, the second and fourth were the toughest to follow, and they included black-on-white PowerPoint presentations that hurt my eyes.

And though I wasn’t able to get much in the way of a conclusion from the first presentation, other than that any sort of computational linguistic analysis on old Lithuanian texts cannot be done until we can digitize the entirety of the Bretkūnas Bible, the presentation did include a few links I want to pass on:

  • Senieji raštai. This is a collection of online facsimiles of Lithuanian writing from the 16th century on. It’s an immense accomplishment with concordances and indices and the like. What I looked at renders fine without downloading the Lithuanian linguistic font Palemonas, but they strongly encourage its use. Here is a link to the 1706 translation of Aesop’s fables, though you have to scroll through a bunch of German to get to it.
  • E-Paveldas. I just love the name of this site. Sadly, pulling up the website immediately drops you into a search form–there’s no way to simply browse the collection. A simple search for texts in Lithuanian from 1300–1800 yields 53 results, which, minus the 20 or so metrikos, is enough to splash around with. The title page of one of their books is the image accompanying this post. (NB the hilariously Germanic “pardrukawotas,” despite the book’s being published in Vilnius)

The third presentation was by UIC’s own Giedrius Subačius on the intensely interesting episode in Lithuanian national history known as “spaudos draudimas.” Subačius, however, instead of taking the reactionary/nationalist position of focusing on the knygnešiai and the “heroism” of the publishers and nationalists, instead limits his focus to the other side. How on earth, he asks, did Lithuanians and the Russian goverment try to enact the Empire’s diktat, that Lithuanian could be only written using the Cyrillic alphabet?

The answer is that initial attempts to bend the alphabet to the language’s needs were promising but crushed because they strayed too far from the basic Russian (not more widely Cyrillic) alphabet. Furthermore, the more imperial employees got involved, the worse the level of linguistic rigor became, and we ended up with a debased Lithuanian filled with massive regional idiosyncracies. The Imperial desire to establish a standard bureaucratically instead created a hot mess of contradiction.

I had heard of Subačius before, and he presented exceptionally well–working within the timeframe and without notes. It helps, of course, that he knows this topic through and through (here is a powerpoint presentation, and here is a recent article). But even so, he managed to keep us all very engaged. His own lack of reliance on PowerPoint (he was the only one without an accompanying presentation) probably helped, though he did have a quick outline of his talk that he handed out to everyone. He also name-checked Staliūno Making Russians, a book I think I very much want to read over break.

It seems, then, that I did learn a bunch at that panel, frustrating as it was (my lack of interest in aggravating the frustration prevents my going on about the Q&A session that followed). So I hope some of the links here will be useful to you all.

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