English is ‘a threat’ to the native language

The Baltic Times
Yury Sogis, VILNIUS

The Chairman of the State Language Committee has said that the Lithuanian language is being threatened by the widening use of English in schools and business.

“The English language becomes a dominating means of communications and threatens the cultural identity of Lithuanians,” said State Language Committee Chairman Irena Smetonene.

Smetonene addressed the public during the Day of Books, Language, and Publishing in Vilnius. She said the situation must be changed by means of improving legislation in Lithuania. She also said that children”s language contests and the National Dictation Exam are effective means to advance the Lithuanian language in society.

“Sometimes high school students and college freshmen frankly tell us what their teachers say about the Lithuanian language. It seems that public schools and families do not really address the image of our language and why it is needed in the first place,” the official said.

The controversial speech came shortly after Smetonene presented a report outlining the 2009-2012 national language policy to Parliament. The document is aimed at enhancing the image of the Lithuanian language and its practical use in various fields.

Smetonene said she was concerned that a new generation of professionals educated mostly in English may lack qualifications to develop new terminology in Lithuanian. She said the entertainment business, sports, and even daily shoptalk in Lithuania was becoming increasingly infested with Anglo-Americanisms.

The language official noted that a kind of disdain for the Lithuanian language is fostered in children who attend “integrated lessons” in which numerous subjects are taught in English. Through these programs children start to think that English is, in practice, the only language they will need.

Though the Lithuanian language is still strong and in no danger of dying anytime soon, Smetonene warned people that “a stone rolling downhill picks up speed and after a while cannot be stopped.”

Though the Seimas (Lithuanian parliament) is in the process of pushing through a number of amendments to the state language law, efforts have been stalled by controversial issues related to correct transliteration of personal names. Various ethnic groups that live in the country rely on different alphabets and often use sounds and letters that cannot be translated into Lithuanian. Transliteration problems can then cause confusion when spelling the names in legal documents and in public courts