Language Education Policy Profile



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1.3 First (Native) Language Spoken by Ethnic Groups


A question was asked on the topic of one’s ‘native language’ in the 2001 census. As already noted, the Lithuanian Statistics Department translate the term ‘native language (gimtoji kalba)’ into English as ‘mother tongue’. This data, therefore, provides a useful measure of the degree to which the minority languages are being used in the early socialisation of children. Table 3 presents a summary of the results. They indicate that the ethnic language is being maintained by an overwhelming majority of ethnic Russians and Poles. All other groups show evidence of substantial language shift.

Table 3: Ethnic group by native language (‘mother tongue’) spoken

Ethnic Group



Native or Mother Tongue

Lithuanian

%

Russian


%

Polish


%

Belarussian

%

Other


%

Not indicated

%


Lithuanian

96.7

0.3

0.1

0.0

0.0

2.9

Russian

6.3

89.2

0.2

0.04

0.1

4.2

Poles

7.3

9.5

80.0

0.4

0.2

2.6

Belarussians

3.8

52.2

5.8

34.1

0.03

4.1

Ukrainians

5.9

52.2

0.4

0.1

35.2

6.2

Other

4.5

10.7

0.2

.01

76.5*

8.1

Source: Lithuanian Statistics Department. Special tabulations


Note: * This figure is due the fact that relatively high proportions of some quite small minorities (e.g. Jews, Germans, Tartars, Romany & Armenians) claim their ethnic language as their mother tongue.

It is clear from Table 3 that the language shift among the smaller minority groups is towards Russian rather than Lithuanian. This, however, is only the case when total population figures are used. If the figures are broken down according to age-group, a rather different picture emerges. Here it can be seen that while 82% of the total state population claim Lithuanian as their native or mother tongue, some 86.7% of those aged 0-4 years are returned as Lithuanian speakers. The reverse of this is that while 18% of all age-groups claim a non-Lithuanian language as their mother tongue, this is true of only 13% of those in pre-school years (i.e. 0-4). Part of this is due to demographic changes (see Section 2.2 above), but part is also due to language shift.

This trend is also apparent when the Census of 2001 is compared with the Census of 1989. For example, Table 4 below shows the percentage of Lithuania’s ethnic groups claiming Russian as their native, or first, language in 1989, compared to 2001.

Table 4: Percentage of Lithuania’s ethnic Groups with Russian as the first language in 1989


Ethnic Group



% claiming Russian as first language


1989

2001

%

%

Lithuanian

0.4

0.3

Russian

95.6

89.2

Poles

14.5

9.5

Belarussian

59.5

-

Ukrainian

48.9

46.6

Others

64.3

-

Source: Vaitiekus (1992) 71

These figures indicate that in 2001, when compared to 1989, smaller proportions of all minorities, including Russian, claimed Russian as their mother tongue. Overall, 14% of the population of Lithuania claimed Russian as their native language in 198972, but only 7.9% did so in 2001.


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