MARTYNAS MAŽVYDAS LANGUAGE
<...>Martynas Mažvydas came to the University of Königsberg at the invitation of Duke Albrecht. An analysis of the language in his works indicates that he came from the South Žemaitish dialect area, most likely somehwere around Žemaičių Naumiestis, Gardamas, Švėkšna, perhaps (though less likely) from Kvėdarna, Laukuva, Varniai. Baltramiejus Vilentas called him a cousin from his father's side (frater patruelis). Apparently, he was the son of Vilentas' father's sister. It is speculated that he was born in 1520. He left for Königsberg already a learned person (in the Dukc's invitation he is called "honorable and learned"), and for that reason he finished his studies in one year. At the same time he managed to prepare (perhaps begun in Lithuania) and in 1547 publish his catechism - the first Lithuanian book. It is not long, 79 small format pages (11x18 cm). The author is not indicated on the title page, but Mažvydas immortalized himself in an acrostic: the first letters of lines 3-19 in the rhymed Lithuanian preface spell out Martinus Masvidius (Latinized). The book is to serve several purposes: besides the catechism itself it also includes a short primer, a small hymnal and two (Latin and Lithuanian) prefaces. Chr. Stang determined that Mažvydas used primarily the Polish catechism by Jan Seklucjan published in Königsberg in 1545 for his translation. He took some of the hymns from other people, but he changed their language according to his norms. His way of writing was modeled on Polish. He did not differentiate the length of vowels, he confused uo, ie with o, ė (he wrote them with the same o, e letters, occasionally using ie), was not consistent in writing š (usually , less often or ) and ž (more frequently ß, less often , ), and instead of the affricates č, dž he wrote , . He indicated soft consonants in the Polish manner with the letter i, even before e type vocalisms, e.g., gierai instead of gerai 'well'.
Imperfect orthography usually reflects the actual pronunciation. In his case it was
Žemaitish. Mažvydas' native South Žemaitish dialect is the basis of the first
Lithuanian book: he uses Žemaitish t, d instead of the affricates č,
dž before Proto-Lithuanian short *a (e.g., pateme, didem,
gieid instead of pačiame 'in the very...', didžiam 'big,
large', geidžia 'desires, desire'), the vowel ė is diphthongized in
the Žemaitish manner (however, because ie and ė are written
identically so often, this can be discerned only in some examples, cf tiews, turieti,
padiek instead of tėvas 'father', turėti 'to have', padėk
'help!'), there is a Žemaitish distribution of nasal vowels (only in word stems and
oxytone endings, e.g., atdodąsas (std Lith atiduodantysis) 'the one who
is returning (something)', dręsu (std Lith drįstu) 'I dare to...', acc
sg tą 'that', gen sg manęs 'me'), Žemaitish shortening of endings
(e.g., gals, wes, makitos, gier, gin, tik
instead of galas 'end', vėjas 'wind', mokytojas 'teacher', gera
'it is good', gina 'defends, defend', tiki 'believes, believe'), etc.
Žemaitish traits are retained also in morphology. Specific Žemaitish dative plural forms
are used (e.g., gims, tikrims instead of jiems 'for them', tikriems
'for the real...'), both numbers of the accusative (e.g., mani, tus, instead
of mane 'me', tuos 'those', šaukiančiuosius 'those who are
shouting'), locative (e.g., nakteie, instead of naktyje 'in the night', varguosu,
i.e., varguose 'in hardship, trouble'), some verbal forms (e.g., dewe,
The ū, ī have a South Žemaitish orientation (Mažvydas writes u,
i resp y) instead of the current standard Lithuanian uo, ie,
Although the basis of the language in Mažvydas' catechism is Žemaitish, there are also quite a few Aukštaitish traits. Particularly frequent are the Aukštaitish uo, ie (Mažvydas usually writes them as o, e) instead of the South Žemaitish ū, ī (even now when Žemaitish speakers interact with Aukštaitish speakers, they make the transition to uo, ie quite easily), the use of the nominal dat sg ending -ui and also the u stem loc sg ending -uj(e) throughout the entire text (this is also characteristic of later Žemaitish authors), the occasional use of forms with č, dž (these are rare, they comprise barely 4% of the corresponding examples) where Žemaitish speakers have t, d, dat pl masc ending -iemus (20%), definite acc pl masc forms with -uosius (84%), and some examples of verbal 1st pers pl endings with -me and imperative mood endings with -ki, etc. Not all of these traits can be treated as characteristic of the Aukštaitish dialect, because some of them might have survived as archaisms in Mažvydas' native dialect.
The Aukštaitish elements in the first Lithuanian book are characteristic of Vilentas' (Mažvydas' cousin) language and their origins must be sought in a northern West Aukštaitish subdialect, in that part of it where l is not hardened before e type vocalisms and barytone endings have a short a instead of the long o characteristic of other West Aukštaitish speakers. This area is most likely along the Žemaitish border (there are Žemaitish traits in Vilentas' writings), in the strip along Jurbarkas-Ariogala-Tytuvėnai. Mažvydas probably acquired those elements predominantly from his mother. Even though he grew up in a Žemaitish environment (his father's dialect), since childhood he heard his mother (whose influence is significant to a child's language) speaking a West Aukštaitish dialect from the areas near the Žemaitish border, a dialect which he must have also encountered when visiting his maternal grandparents. Later, after leaving Vilnius because of the persecution of Protestants, he most likely lived in this same subdialect area (near Ariogala with A. Kulvietis' mother).
The Lithuanian syntax of that period is poorly reflected in Mažvydas' catechism because he translated it almost word for word from Polish. He used many words and forms which have since disappeared or are rarely encountered, and some of whose meanings have since changed, e.g., byloti 'to speak', dangujesis and dangųjis 'heavenly', narsas 'anger, wrath', nasrai 'mouth', atpent 'again', biau 'or, perhaps', buklystė 'cleverness, deception', mieras 'peace', nepuotis 'grandson', pateikti 'to be lazy', penukšlas 'food', ryšiai 'shackles', steigtis 'to hurry', vetušas 'old'. A few words were also of his own creation, e.g., the grammatical terms balsinė 'vowel', dvibalsinė 'diphthong', sanbalsinė (sąbalsinė) 'consonant', skaitytinė 'letter'. Some of the religious and other terminology might have been created by other translators whose texts were used by Mažvydas. Mostly these are words translated morpheme by morpheme from Polish or Latin. Many words translated in the same manner were used in earlier times. Quite a few of them must have appeared immediately after the introduction of Christianity, when prayers and other religious texts were being translated into Lithuanian. It is now impossible to distinguish one from the other. They are words such as apturėti 'to get' (cf Pol otrzymać), galva 'a chapter in a book' (L capitulum), išguldymas 'explanation' (Pol wyłozenie), santėvonis (sątevonis) 'heir, successor' (L coheres).
Words of non-Lithuanian origin (and their derivatives) make up about 20% of the lexicon used in the first Lithuanian book. The largest number of loanwords are Slavicisms (not only of Slavic origin, but also words received via the Slavs). There are a few Germanisms and a some bookish Latinisms. Roughly only 30% of the Slavicisms were words which had become firmly established in Lithuanian at that time and were used or at least understood by all classes of people. Some of those words were: aliejus 'oil', altorius 'altar', angelas 'angel', apaštalas 'disciple', asilas 'donkey', bažnyčia 'church', karalius 'king', krikštas 'baptism', muitas '(customs) duty', rožė 'rose', vynas 'wine'. All other Slavicisms (about 70%) were at that time most likely used only by the upper class and, of course, by priests. These words eventually became part of the literary lexicon, used extensively in religious works from which they later entered the spoken language. In Mažvydas' works Lithuanian equivalents also exist for almost all of those loanwords, so their use was still optional at that time. Perhaps the loanwords, especially those acquired from East Slavic or words which came into Lithuanian via the East Slavs, which also appear in other early written texts were more widely used by the upper class (they are still used, or were used until recently, in the dialects), e.g., blūdas 'error, delusion, heresy', čertas 'devil', čėsas 'time', dėkavoti 'to thank', griešnas 'sinful', kožnas 'everyone', mūka 'suffering', neprietelius 'enemy', also those having East Slavic and Polish equivalents, e.g., ale 'but', čystas 'clean', gadnas 'suitable', etc. Polonisms were just beginning to enter Lithuanian at that time. In Mažvydas' catechism the following already exist (and survive in current dialects): dabotis 'to pay attention, heed', dūšia 'soul, spirit', gatavas 'finished, completed', iškada 'loss, damage', loska 'favor, grace', paslušnas 'obedient', pekla 'hell', smertelnas 'mortal', zdroda 'fraud, deception', etc. Many loanwords eventually faded from use and are now rarely, if ever, used, e.g., kaplonas 'priest', kotas 'executioner', kozonis 'sermon', lokamstva 'greed', paklanas 'gratitude, present', žėkas 'achurch servant, student'. Some of them have a slightly different form today, e.g., macis 'force, government' (cur usually mačis). Many Slavicisms in the first Lithuanian book reappear only in later written texts, from the beginning of the 17th c. (not all of them have been recorded in dialects), which means they may have been quite rare and known only to a small number of people in Mažvydas' time. Mažvydas might have been the first to use a few of them, moreover, there are some which did not appear in later texts, apparently they were used randomly by Mažvydas, e.g., abavem 'because' (Opol abowiem), pavinnas 'obligatory' (Pol powinny), ved 'but, well', (????).
Mažvydas was an educated person. He most likely knew not only Polish, but also the Slavic chancellery language then widely used in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and Latin as well. In his words of non-Lithuanian origin he used and certainly knew how to pronounce the consonants f, ch, h which were foreign to Lithuanian at that time. He occasionally added an h to the beginning of Lithuanian words (hypercorrection), e.g., hūkis, hūkininkas instead of ūkis 'farm', ūkininkas 'farmer'.
The first Lithuanian book was printed exactly one hundred years after printing was invented (1447). The first books in neighboring languages also appeared in that century: Latvian in 1585 (in Vilnius; there are data to indicate that Latvian texts were printed before 1525), Estonian in 1535 (in Wittenberg, only 11 incomplete pages have survived); Polish in 1513 or 1514 (in Krakow, barely 8 pages have been found). Mažvydas' catechism was the first public pronouncement to Lithuanians in their own native tongue, the first step of the written language and also an acknowledgment that Lithuanian had the right to develop into a written language. It is very important for the history of the Lithuanian language and for historical dialectology. Scholars are very interested in this book and have studied it thoroughly. Until World War II only one copy was known to exist. It was in the library at the University of Königsberg. After the war it was moved to Torun (Poland). A second copy, until then unknown to exist, was found and is now kept in the Vilnius University library. Several reprints of Mažvydas' catechism were published for scholarly purposes. The most thorough study of its language was prepared by Chr. Stang18 (he only erred in localizing Mažvydas'native dialect).
After finishing his studies at the University of Königsberg, Mažvydas worked as a
clergyman in Ragainė (ger Ragnit) until his death (1563). He also published the small
Lithuanian books "Giesmė Šv. Ambraziejaus" ("The Hymn of St Ambrose"
in 1549) and "Forma Krikštymo" ("The Rites for Baptism" in 1559,
where he immortalized himself in an acrostic which spelled out the Lithuanian form of his
The language in Mažvydas' later writings had changed. There was a large increase in
Aukštaitish elements. The number of forms with Aukštaitish affricates reached 61%, and
in part I of the hymnal even 87%. Apparently, Mažvydas eventually began consciously
avoiding Žemaitish nonfricative forms. This is indicated by the hypercorrections, e.g.,
Mažvydas' accomplishments are of great importance in the history of the formation of the Lithuanian written language. He not only gave birth to the Lithuanian written language, he also continued fostering it, gradually approaching the West Aukštaitish dialect used in Prussia.
Excerpt from the book Zigmas Zinkevičius. The History of the Lithuanian Language - Vilnius: Mokslo ir enciklopedijų leidykla, 1996, p. 230 - 236.