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Baltic identity crisis: dangerous politicisation of languages | Opinion


An institution by the name School of Slavonic and East European Studies (University College London), established in London, United Kingdom has recently come to my attention where I found that the Baltic culture and traditions are institutionally associated, studied, and linked under Slavonic studies, which I find really concerning.

Before I begin, I would like to make it clear that this is not at all intended to harm or create a negative impression of Slavic people or their rich and beautiful culture.

It is quite important to emphasise that there are only a few million native speakers of the Baltic languages, namely 2.8 million in Lithuania and 1.3 million in Latvia. On the other hand, there are over 300 million speakers of Slavic languages, and probably double that number of speakers of Germanic languages.

Both, Lithuania and Latvia have sizable Polish and Russian minorities with state-funded national schooling and are really equal citizens of the respective countries. The Baltic republics have as much history in common with the Slavic people as with their Germanic or Nordic counterparts.

Linguistically, it is usually geopolitically merged into a hypothetical proto-Balto-Slavic branch (a subgroup of Indo-European languages) as a result of excessive contact between the countries, which resulted in the development of some similarities between the languages.

These hypotheses have been challenged and it remains uncertain if such a close connection even exists, and if it is not a result of centuries-long enforced polonisation and russification which resulted in these similarities.

It is very sad that studies of languages are politicised by many linguists, and I say that with great confidence. No studies examining the much greater relationship between the Latin, Greek, Sanskrit, Germanic and Romance languages and the Baltic languages have been ever conducted to such a great extent.

Why is the much deeper grammatical connection between the Greek, Sanskrit and Latin and the Baltic languages is silenced and hidden away? And who is the political beneficiary of the censorship of this academic information?

Two Baltic scholars, namely Antanas Klimas (1924-2016) and Jānis Endzelīns (1873-1961) over the duration of their careers have provided a significant amount of linguistic evidence challenging this hypothetical Balto-Slavic grouping, but with little international recognition.

It is quite political that ideas and scholarship derived from ethnic Balts who naturally have higher degree of expertise in this area are disregarded, and views which favour the political interests of the big and powerful, i.e., Poland and Russia, are widely accepted and favoured. My point about it being more of a political rather than linguistic linkage is reaffirmed because both scholars have very limited recognition outside of the United States of America. It makes you wonder why, doesn’t it?

It gets just more and more desperate when we continue the analysis. Scholars who claim the Proto-Balto-Slavic classification usually present a few words that are shared between the Baltic and Slavic languages, but neglect and hide the abundance of words that are shared between, for example, the Germanic and Baltic languages. This behaviour is politicisation of languages in its purest form.

Some scholars also identify one-word Satemisation found in the word “hundred” as a unifying factor for the Balto-Slavic grouping, however, neglect all other sister languages, such as the Romanian, Hindi or Catalan, which phonetically are as much Satem as any other languages belonging to this grouping. Nobody seems to link Hindi to Slavic languages, for example, although its vocabulary does share a significant number of common words.

Tomas Dūminis
Dr. Tomas Dūminis, the BR guest author is a scientist and has special research interests in Baltic Anthropology. He is a graduate of Queen Mary University of London.

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