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Lithuanian language ideals

Experimental research on language attitudes

Project strand description
The democratisation of media and the development of technologies during the past few decades have significantly changed the use of language in public. What has up until now been considered the domain for exceptionally standardised, edited and prepared written and spoken language, today is becoming the domain for the diversity of numerous language varieties. Smaller towns are experiencing a revival of regional identity and dialects as its most salient feature. Language(s) of urban landscapes and electronic media increasingly acquire socially marked features. Standard language obviously is not disappearing anywhere, but its content and status is affected by growing tolerance of linguistic diversity. In other words, diverse speech in public is becoming a norm (rather than a violation of norms).

Recent studies of attitudes suggest that the condition of standard languages is indeed changing. Hypothesis has been raised that these changes may undergo either of two scenarios: 1) (most often) the need for a single ‘good’ language remains but conservative standard language is replaced by its modernised version, thus, a new standard is legitimized; 2) besides standard language, other varieties spread in public use all of which get considered as equally acceptable standards.

1 Map. Research points: regional centres and their satellites
Our experimental research is aimed to address this particular aspect by lightening up the relationship between standard and other varieties of Lithuanian. Experiments have been conducted with 9-10th grade students in 7 Lithuanian regions and in capital Vilnius (see the sites highlighted in red in the map). The regional centres represent all ethnographic and dialectal regions of Lithuania; particular cities were chosen according to their cultural and urban status. The research sites are situated at relatively small distances away from the regional centres and belong to the corresponding regions according to their administrative subordination and influence zones. Thus, cities may be regarded as potential centres of norm attraction shaping the regional standards of Lithuanian.
Two aspects, conscious and subconscious values are strictly methodologically controlled because of their well-known effect on research data: direct research addresses conscious attitudes which usually correspond to the official ideology, and indirect experiments give access to suconscious attitudes which are much more associated with actual linguistic behaviour (language use). During experiments we are going to study pupils’ attitudes towards three varieties of Lithuanian – standard Lithuanian, Vilnius speech and the dialect of their regional centre. Covert attitudes will be measured using Speaker Evaluation Experiment, SEE: after having listened to several recordings (2 females and to males of each variety) pupils will have to evaluate imagined personal qualities of the speakers. The research is based on the assumption that more positive evaluation of speaker’s qualities is directly related with the prestige of a corresponding variety. In overt part of the experiment, pupils will be asked to compose a rating of language varieties (dialects).
Students‘ attitudes provide better understanding of their use of language and their identity, which is worth studying because today‘s youth attitudes suggest future tendencies of language use. In order to reach statistical significance, it is planned to survey 150-200 pupils around each regional centre, more than 1500 pupils in total.

Click here to see more findings from the attitudinal experiments.