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English in post-1990 Lithuania

English in post-1990 Lithuania

Loreta VaicekauskienėVyresn. mokslo
Crucial political turning-point of Lithuania two decades ago concurred with the worldwide technological developments and expansion of the globalization processes. Certainly it brought a number of significant changes into the sociolinguistic landscape of Lithuania. The need for and benefits of an international language for information access and external communication rapidly increased the demand of learning English. Additionally, the English language has gained noticeable symbolic power as a linguistic resource that ensures a speaker the most profitable social mobility and serves as a means of identity expression.
The project focuses on the social value of the English language in Lithuania after the country regained independence in 1990, more specifically on:
(1) Language ideologies:
  • Lithuanian official language ideology and language planning concerning English language;
  • Common people's attitudes towards the use of English and English borrowings;
  • Place of English in the linguistic hierarchy of non-native languages in Lithuania;

(2) Language learning and use:
  • Command and use of English in various domains in comparison with other foreign languages in Lithuania (esp. Russian);

(3) Language contacts and structure:
  • Grammatical and functional aspects of the use of English borrowings in traditional and electronic media;

(4) Social meaning construction and plays with language:
  • English as symbolic market value (urban linguistic landscapes);
  • English as a means of persona construction in stylistic practices of social media.
Current development of language contacts has been chosen for the research since the contacts were quite sporadic prior to 1990s. In 1918–1941 German, French and Russian were the languages that have been taught and/or used by the citizens of Lithuania. During the Soviet period (1945–1990) Russian was a mandatory L2. The command of English, despite the instruction of it as a second foreign language in most elementary and high schools had been passive and hardly applicable. After 1990 school curricula were adjusted and English became the first foreign language, and today it is studied from the second grade up in over 90 percent of primary schools of Lithuania.
Compared to Western European communities which gradually experienced spread of the global English since World War II, this was an abrupt ideological shift for Lithuania, mostly driven by shifting social values from below. This circumstance including the post-Soviet status of Lithuania will be given special attention in the study as it helps to explain why and how a negative official disposition of language planners towards the spread of English was developed in Lithuania. Since the achievement of independence several laws were passed to preserve Lithuanian from “unwelcome influence” of the newly introduced English language. Before long, legally binding means intended both for the purification of language corpus (i.e., replacement of the English by the Lithuanian neologisms) and for the domain planning (e.g., limiting English in certain public domains) were introduced, and they involved financial penalties for non-compliance.
The overall framework that I adapt in my research lies within functional and postmodern critical paradigm, and I will also approach language as a stylistic practice. These are the most fruitful approaches helping to explain conflicts between the official ideology and the social, and economic, motivations and choices of speakers. Empirical data include official documents and language planning means from 1990, large-scale attitudinal surveys, usage data of recent English borrowings, linguistic landscape of capital Vilnius as well as stylistic practices with mixed speech on Lithuanian Facebook.