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Lithuanian language ideals

Findings from the attitudinal experiments

In 2011–2012, attitudinal experiments were carried in a number of smaller towns around Telšiai, Marijampolė, Šiauliai, Panevėžys, Utena, Alytus, Kaunas and Vilnius (see Map 1). In total, 1451 ninth and tenth graders (703 girls, 712 boys, and 36 have not indicated their gender) were surveyed. The experiments have been conducted in 21 towns (in one school in each) and in Vilnius (in two schools) – in 23 schools in total.

Map 1   

Strong local identity is best seen when local dialects or the dialects of the closest regional centre are ranked highest. Highest local loyalty was expressed overtly in four out of eight research sites – in Telšiai, Alytus, Kaunas, and Vilnius. In these regions the rankings corresponded to the classic hypothetical model: the local dialect was ranked highest, the standard Lithuanian – lower, and Vilnius speech – lowest or the same as the standard. In the remaining sites (in Utena, Panevėžys, Šiauliai, and Marijampolė), the local dialects were also ranked high. However, their positive ranking was not significantly different from Vilnius speech, i.e. the corresponding local dialect was ranked equally high with Vilnius speech. Such high ranking of Vilnius speech, which is often downgraded in the official metalinguistic discourse, is a rather surprising finding. In four out of eight research sites Vilnius speech was ranked equally with the standard Lithuanian, and in two research sites it was ranked even higher than the standard. Such results are likely due to the widespread view, that “Vilnius speech” is a synonym for the “standard Lithuanian”.

However, the directions of future language change should be best reflected in the covert language attitudes. In our research we raised such questions like whether notable local patriotism can guarantee social prestige to the speakers of the local dialect? What is the relationship between the standard Lithuanian and Vilnius speech when people are asked to evaluate speakers’ personality traits? If the standard language is the ‘best’ language in the community, what linguistic features are seen as its most representative features?

The experiments with stimuli of the standard Lithuanian, Vilnius speech and corresponding local dialects (four recordings of each variety – two of male speakers and two of female speakers) have revealed several important aspects of language variation and change. In all regions, the stimuli of local dialects received statistically significant lower rankings than the stimuli of Vilnius speech and the standard Lithuanian. The speakers of the local dialects were assessed as less intelligent, conscientious, self-assured, trustworthy, goal-directed, fascinating, nice, or cool. We lack previous research to be able to say when such negative evaluations came to light; however, our findings show that they have to be treated as evidence that, among Lithuanian speech community, local dialects have lower social mobility than non-dialectal varieties like Vilnius speech and the standard Lithuanian.

The ranking of Vilnius speech and the standard Lithuanian stimuli has shown an increasing tolerance of variation in language as well as has revealed potentially broadened conceptual boundaries of the standard Lithuanian. The most positive personality traits related with superiority dimension were allocated to the speakers of the standard Lithuanian, whereas according the personality traits related with social attractiveness and dynamism Vilnius speech was evaluated with no statistically significant difference from the standard Lithuanian: in all regions as equally fascinating, in some regions – as equally cool and nice. In Panevėžys region the speakers of Vilnius variety were evaluated as significantly more interesting and nicer than the speakers of the standard Lithuanian (see Map 2).

Map 2   

Such results should be treated as a sign of undergoing shift of values and are likely related with the developments in media and its tendencies towards conversationalisation.