by Alan Craig

The Lithuanian language became of particular interest to me with the discovery of two academic papers in my mother’s effects in 2015. These papers, numbered 3 and 5a, were written in the 1970s by a Scottish high-school teacher named Alex Grant. Some research discovered that Alex had been a teenage ‘boyfriend’ of my mother’s—though a cousin of mine, Anne Bissett, thinks he was more interested in my mum than she was in him! Nonetheless, Alex does have a family connection in that his half-sister Jessie Yokubaitis married my mum’s half-cousin Russell Fletcher (Zinkevičius). That side of the family will be explored on a separate page, and also in the article: Matilda Fletcher (Zinkevičius).

Alex was actually born in Bellshill as Aleksandras Pridatkis, the son of Lithuanian immigrants to Scotland. His first language was Lithuanian. Alex became a self-trained linguist and developed an explosive theory about the links between modern Lithuanian and the ancient language of the Minoans. In particular, his hypothesis is based around the translation of two ancient artefacts: the Phaestos Disc, and the Lemnos Stele. Although I will eventually cover his work elsewhere on this site, here’s a brief summary of the hypothesis with regards to the Phaestos Disc, which to date has never been adequately translated:

The disc is a clay tablet, about the size of a large saucer, and is stamped on both sides with a spiral of ‘hieroglyphical’ characters. Alex noted a similarity between its characters and the famous Linear B symbols on the tablets discovered on Crete by Sir Arthur Evans in the early twentieth century. These were eventually translated by Michael Ventris in 1953 and, with John Chadwick, Ventris developed a syllabary linking them to Ancient Greek. Alex found that by applying the sounds given to symbols in the Linear B syllabary to similar shapes (characters) on the Phaestos Disc, one could create ‘sentences’ of sounds that bore a remarkable similarity to modern Lithuanian words. In fact, the similarity was so close that reading the sounds in order revealed a coherent story in the Lithuanian language. One or two matches could be a coincidence—but when an actual story emerged, Alex knew that this could be no mere chance!

I cannot tell whether Alex’s theory has any academic veracity, but at least a couple of professors have thought the work was significant, and I have sent copies of these papers to a university in Vilnius, Lithuania. I will update this site if new information comes to light. Alex Grant died in 1995, and it now seems certain that he was at my mother’s funeral in Scotland in 1992; sadly, we were not introduced. I know Alex married Alice Kenneford in 1950, and they had four children. I have been in contact with some of the surviving children, and they have found no other information or additional papers in their parents’ effects.

Lithuanian, the official language of Lithuania only since 1918, belongs to the Baltic sub-family of the Indo-European family of languages. The language is spoken by approximately three million people in Lithuania and by an additional half-million in other parts of the world, mostly in the Western Hemisphere. The earliest surviving written Lithuanian text is a translation of the Lord’s Prayer dating from the early 1500s. The language was banned by the Russian Tsarist overlords from 1864 to 1904. It is said to be the most conservative living Indo-European language, retaining many archaic features otherwise found only in ancient languages such as Sanskrit or Ancient Greek.

Lithuanian alphabet

The Lithuanian alphabet is based on Latin script. The current alphabet has 32 letters (12 vowels and 20 consonants) and looks somewhat like an English alphabet, except Y comes between I and J, and there is no Q, W, or X. It also contains several additional letters with diacritics:

A a   Ą ą  B b   C c   Č č   D d   E e   Ę ę   Ė ė   F f   G g   H h   I i   Į į   Y y   J j

K k   L l   M m   N n   O o   P p   R r   S s   Š š   T t   U u   Ų ų   Ū ū   V v   Z z   Ž ž

Ą, Ę, Į, and Ų have a ‘little tail’ (linguists call it Caudata). These are used to indicate long vowels, historically diphthongs with an ‘n’ sound. The Č, Š, Ž each has an ‘inverted circumflex’ (called a caron) for palatalisation, while the Ū has ‘straight bar’, called a macron, to indicate a long vowel. The Ė (or E with dot) indicates a long or short vowel. The diacritics are used mainly in dictionaries, and are often not found in general use.

Pronunciation guide

Here is a rough guide to the pronunciation of the Lithuanian letters, though English speakers will often find little to distinguish between the sounds of some letters (e.g. I i and Y y; or Ų ų and Ū ū ):

Regular Alphabet
A a ah, as in father; or uh, as in cut
Ą ą uh, as in above
B b b, as in Beta or big
C c ts, as in hats or tsunami
Č č ch, as in Charlie or cello
D d d, as in Delta or dog
E e e, as in met (short); or a, as in Alpha (long)
Ę ę a, as in man or cat
Ė ė ay, as in May
F f f, as in Foxtrot
G g g, as in Golf
H h h, as in Hotel
I i i, as in mint or bit
Į į ee, as in feet
Y y i, as in ink
 J j ya, as in Yankee or yawn
K k k, as in Kilo
L l l, as in Lima
M m m, as in Mike or mother
N n n, as in November
O o aw, as shawl or bawl
P p p, as in Papa
R r rr, as in the Spanish arroyo (rolled)
S s s, as in Sierra or Sam
Š š sh, as in should or shiver
T t t, as in Tango
U u u, as in put; or oo, as in foot
Ų ų oo, as in hoot
Ū ū oo, as in school
V v v, as in Victor
Z z z, as in Zulu or zebra
Ž ž s, as in measure or azure

 

Digraphs & Diphthongs
ch ch, as in the Scottish loch
dz ds, as in beds or adze
dg, as in judge or edge
ai ai, as in Kaiser; or i as in kite
au au, as in sauerkraut; or ow as in how
ei ay, as in day or Seine
ie ea, as in year
ui ui, as in ruin
uo oo-ah, as in wah
oi oy, as in boy
ou o, as in go

 

Lithuanian surnames

In English-speaking cultures, it is customary that the mother, father and children in a family all have the same surname: when Miss Jane Austin marries Mr Charles Dickens, she typically becomes Jane Dickens, or Jane Austin Dickens, or Jane Dickens née Austin – in older times, she would be addressed as Mrs Charles Dickens! However, Lithuanian surnames have different suffixes for a man, a married woman, and an unmarried woman. Men’s surnames typically end in –us, –as, or –ys (as in Vidrinskas, Andrekus, Laukys). Their sons inherit the father’s surname unchanged; however, both their wives and their daughters take slightly different names.

Thus, the wife of (Mr) Vidrinskas would be named Vidrinskienė, but their daughter would be Vidrinskaitė. When the daughter marries, she is most likely to take her husband’s name, and this is then adjusted to reflect her marital status. So, if the daughter of (Mr) Vidrinskas and (Mrs) Vidrinskienė were to marry a Jonas Andrekus, then her surname will change from Vidrinskaitė to Andrekienė, and her daughter’s surname would be Andrekutė (because, to further confuse matters, the surname endings for unmarried women can differ, depending on the spelling of the name’s ‘stem’). Here is how we would name family members if they had the surname stem Sipul-:

  • All males in the family have the same suffix  [e.g. –is in Sipulis], and that form is what we would generally think of in the English-speaking world as the ‘family name’.
  • The mother in the family, typically, has the suffix –ienė at the end of her name [e.g. Sipulienė]. (In English-speaking records, the suffix would likely drop the diacritic and be spelt –iene.) You wouldn’t call someone ‘Mrs. Sipulienė’, because the -ienė already tells you that she is ‘Mrs’.
  • The daughter in the family typically has the suffix  –__tė  at the end of her name  [e.g. Sipulytė]. The specific spelling of the –__tė depends on the rules of Lithuanian grammar (discussed below). Again, you wouldn’t call someone ‘Miss Sipulytė’, because the –ytė ending already infers that she is a ‘Miss’.

There are other slight variations of these suffixes associated with differences in grammatical case. Like many other languages, Lithuanian is an inflected language in which the suffix endings are changed (according to rules of grammar) to reflect different grammatical cases. All of the examples above are in the nominative case.

Suffix rules for surnames:
  • The suffixes –as, –is, –ys, –us, –ė, –a can be added to the root to form the family name for a male.
  • The suffix –ienė denotes a married woman.
  • The suffixes –aitė, –ytė, –utė, and –iūtė denote unmarried women.
To form the ‘married’ name for a female:
  • The suffix –ienė is added directly to the root after dropping the male suffix (-as, –is, –ys, –us, –ė, or –a); an exception is that if the suffix is derived from a disyllabic masculine name ending in –us (or –ius), the suffix –uvienė is sometimes used.
To form the ‘maiden’ name for a female:
  • The suffix –aitė is added to the root if the male family name suffix is –as or –a
  • The suffix –ūtė (-iūtė) is added to the root if the male family name suffix is –us (-ius)
  • The suffix –ytė is added to the root if the male family name suffix is –is, –ys, or –ė
Patronymic forms:
  • The typical Lithuanian surname suffix endings –aitis, –avičius, and –evičius are all patronymic suffixes. They all mean ‘son of’; however, the –aitis suffix is considered to be ‘more Lithuanian’, while the suffixes –avičius, and –evičius are considered to be ‘more Slavic’ (for example: Antanaitis or Antanavičius).

 


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