Samogitian dialect

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Žemaičių tarmė
Native to Lithuania
Region Samogitia
Native speakers
< 500,000 (2009)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3 sgs
Glottolog samo1265[2]

Samogitian (Samogitian: Žemaitiu ruoda, Lithuanian: Žemaičių tarmė) is a dialect[3] of the Lithuanian language spoken mostly in Samogitia (in the western part of Lithuania). Attempts have been made to standardize it. The Samogitian dialect should not be confused with the middle dialect[clarification needed] of the Lithuanian language as spoken between the 16th and 18th centuries, which was sometimes referred to as the Samogitian language.


The Samogitians and Lithuanians in the context of the other Baltic tribes, around 1200

The Samogitian language, heavily influenced by Curonian, originated from the East Baltic proto-Samogitian dialect which was close to Aukstaitian dialects.

During the 5th century, Proto-Samogitians migrated from the lowlands of central Lithuania, near Kaunas, into the Dubysa and Jūra basins, as well as into the Samogitian highlands. They displaced or assimilated the local, Curonian-speaking Baltic populations. Further north, they displaced or assimilated the indigenous, Semigallian speaking peoples. Assimilation of Curonians and Semigallians gave birth to the three Samogitian subdialects: "Dounininkų", "Donininkų" and "Dūnininkų."

In the 13th century, Žemaitija became a part of the Baltic confederation called Lietuva (Lithuania), which was formed by Mindaugas. Lithuania conquered the coast of the Baltic sea from the Livonian order. The coast was populated by Curonians, but became a part of Samogitia. From the 13th century onwards, Samogitians settled within the former Curonian lands, and intermarried with that population over the next three hundred years. The Curonians had a huge cultural influence upon Samogitian and Lithuanian culture, but they were ultimately assimilated by the 16th century.

The earliest writings in Samogitian language appeared in the 19th century.

Samogitian and its subdialects preserved many features of the Curonian language, for example:

  • widening of proto Baltic short i (i → ė sometimes e)
  • widening of proto Baltic short u (u → o)
  • preservation of West Baltic diphthong ei (standard Lithuanian ie → Samogitian ėi)
  • no t' d' palatalization to č dž (Latvian š, ž)
  • specific lexis, like cīrulis (lark), pīle (duck), leitis (Lithuanian) etc.
  • retraction of stress
  • shortening of ending -as to -s like in Latvian and Old Prussian (Proto-Indo-European o-stem)

as well as various other features not listed here.


The Samogitian dialect is highly inflected like standard Lithuanian, in which the relationships between parts of speech and their roles in a sentence are expressed by numerous flexions. There are two grammatical genders in Samogitian – feminine and masculine. Relics of historical neuter are almost fully extinct while in standard Lithuanian some isolated forms remain. Those forms are replaced by masculine ones in Samogitian. Samogitian stress is mobile but often retracted at the end of words, and is also characterised by pitch accent. Samogitian has a broken tone like the Latvian and Danish languages. The circumflex of standard Lithuanian is replaced by an acute tone in Samogitian. It has five noun and three adjective declensions. Noun declensions are different from standard Lithuanian (see the next section). There are only two verb conjugations. All verbs have present, past, past iterative and future tenses of the indicative mood, subjunctive (or conditional) and imperative moods (both without distinction of tenses) and infinitive. The formation of past iterative is different from standard Lithuanian. There are three numbers in Samogitian: singular, plural and dual. Dual is almost extinct in standard Lithuanian. The third person of all three numbers is common. Samogitian as the standard Lithuanian has a very rich system of participles, which are derived from all tenses with distinct active and passive forms, and several gerund forms. Nouns and other declinable words are declined in seven cases: nominative, genitive, dative, accusative, instrumental, locative, and vocative.


The earliest writings in Samogitian dialect appear in the 19th century. Famous authors writing in Samogitian:

  • Silvestras Valiūnas and his heroic poem “Biruta”, first printed in 1829. “Biruta” became a hymn of Lithuanian student emigrants in the 19th century.
  • Simonas Stanevičius (Sėmuons Stanevičios) with his famous book “Šešės pasakas” (Six fables) printed in 1829.
  • Simonas Daukantas (Sėmuons Daukonts in Samogitian), he was the first Lithuanian historian writing in Lithuanian (actually in its dialect). His famous book – “Būds Senovės Lietuviu Kalnienu ir Zamaitiu” (Customs of ancient Lithuanian highlanders and Samogitians) was printed in 1854.
  • Motiejus Valančius (Muotiejos Valončios or Valontė) and one of his books “Palangos Juzė” (Joseph of Palanga), printed in 1869. Palangos Juzė is considered to be the first geography manual in Lithuanian[who?].

There are no written grammar books in Samogitian because it is considered to be a dialect of Lithuanian, but there were some attempts to standardise its written form. Among those who have tried are S. Anglickis, P. Genys, S. Čiurlionienė-Kymantaitė, B. Jurgutis, J. A. Pabrėža. Today, Samogitian has a standardised writing system but it still remains a spoken language and everyone writes in their native speech.

Linguistic differences between Samogitian and Standard Lithuanian

Samogitian differs from Standard Lithuanian in phonetics, lexicon, syntax and morphology.

Phonetic differences from standard Lithuanian are varied, each Samogitian subdialect (West, North and South) has different reflections.

Standard Lithuanian → Samogitian

  • i → short ė, sometimes e;
  • u → short o (in some cases u);
  • ė → ie;
  • o → uo;
  • ie → long ė, ėi, ī (y) (West, North and South);
  • uo → ō, ou, ū (West, North and South);
  • ai → ā ;
  • ei, iai → ē;
  • ui → oi;
  • oi (oj) → uo;
  • an → on (an in south-east);
  • un → on (un in south-east);
  • ą → an in south-eastern, on in the central region and ō or ou in the north;
  • ę → en in south-eastern, ėn in the central region and õ, ō or ėi in the north;
  • ū → ū (in some cases un, um);
  • ų in stressed endings → un and um;
  • unstressed ų → o;
  • y → ī (y), sometimes in;
  • i from ancient ī → ī;
  • u from ancient ō (Lithuanian uo) → ō, ou, ū(West, North and South)
  • i from ancient ei (Lithuanian ie) → long ė, ėi, ī (West, North and South)
  • č → t (also č under Lithuanian influence);
  • dž → d (also dž under Lithuanian influence);
  • ia → ė (somewhere between i and e);
  • io → ė (somewhere between i and e);
  • unstressed ią → ė (somewhere between i and e);

The main difference between Samogitian and standard Lithuanian is verb conjugation. The past iterative tense is formed differently from Lithuanian (e.g., in Lithuanian the past iterative tense, meaning that action which was done in the past repeatedly, is made by removing the ending -ti and adding -davo (mirtimirdavo, pūtipūdavo), while in Samogitian, the word liuob is added instead before the word). The second verb conjugation is extinct in Samogitian, it merged with the first one. The plural reflexive ending is -muos instead of expected -mies which is in standard Lithuanian (-mės) and other dialects. Samogitian preserved a lot of relics of athematic conjugation which did not survive in standard Lithuanian. The intonation in the future tense third person is the same as in the infinitive, in standard Lithuanian it shifts. The subjunctive conjugation is different from standard Lithuanian. Dual is preserved perfectly while in standard Lithuanian it has been completely lost.

The differences between nominals are considerable too. The fifth noun declension has almost become extinct, it merged with the third one. The plural and some singular cases of the fourth declension have endings of the first one (e.g.: singular nominative sūnos, plural nom. sūnā, in standard Lithuanian: sg. nom. sūnus, pl. nom. sūnūs). The neuter of adjectives is extinct (it was pushed out by adverbs, except šėlt 'warm', šalt 'cold', karšt 'hot') while in standard Lithuanian it is still alive. Neuter pronouns were replaced by masculine. The second declension of adjectives is almost extinct (having merged with the first declension)—only singular nominative case endings survived. The formation of pronominals is also different from standard Lithuanian.

Other morphological differences

Samogitian also has many words and figures of speech that are altogether different from typically Lithuanian ones, e.g., kiuocis – basket (Lith. krepšys, Latvian "ķocis"), tevs – thin (Lith. plonas, tęvas, Latvian "tievs"), rebas – ribs (Lith. šonkauliai, Latvian – "ribas"), a jebentas! – "can't be!" (Lith. negali būti!) and many more.


Map of the sub-dialects of the Lithuanian language (Zinkevičius and Girdenis, 1965).
  Western Samogitian sub-dialect
Northern Samogitian :
  Sub-dialect of Kretinga
  Sub-dialect of Telšiai
Southern Samogitian :
  Sub-dialect of Varniai
  Sub-dialect of Raseiniai

Samogitian is also divided into three major subdialects: Northern Samogitian (spoken in Telšiai and Kretinga regions), Western Samogitian (was spoken in the region around Klaipėda, now nearly extinct, – after 1945, many people were expelled and new ones came to this region) and Southern Samogitian (spoken in Varniai, Kelmė, Tauragė and Raseiniai regions). Historically, these are classified by their pronunciation of the Lithuanian word Duona, "bread." They are referred to as Dounininkai (from Douna), Donininkai (from Dona) and Dūnininkai (from Dūna).

Political situation

The Samogitian dialect is rapidly declining: it is not used in the local school system and there is only one quarterly magazine and no television broadcasts in Samogitian. There are some radio broadcasts in Samogitian (in Klaipėda and Telšiai). Local newspapers and broadcast stations use standard Lithuanian instead. There is no new literature in Samogitian either, as authors prefer standard Lithuanian for its accessibility to a larger audience. Out of those people who speak Samogitian, only a few can understand its written form well.

Migration of Samogitian speakers to other parts of the country and migration into Samogitia have reduced contact between Samogitian speakers, and therefore the level of fluency of those speakers.

There are attempts by the Samogitian Cultural Society to stem the loss of the dialect. The council of Telšiai city put marks with Samogitian names for the city at the roads leading to the city. A new system for writing Samogitian was created.[citation needed]

Writing system

The first use of a unique writing system for Samogitian was in the interwar period, however it was neglected during the Soviet period, so only elderly people knew how to write in Samogitian at the time Lithuania regained independence. The Samogitian Cultural Society renewed the system to make it more usable.

The writing system uses similar letters to standard Lithuanian, but with the following differences:

  • There are no nasal vowels (letters with ogoneks: ą, ę, į, ų).
  • There are three additional long vowels, written with macrons above (as in Latvian): ā, ē, ō.
  • Long i in Samogitian is written with a macron above: ī (unlike standard Lithuanian where it is y).
  • The long vowel ė is written as o with tilde above (õ). In fact it is written like ė with macron: Ė̄ and ė̄. Image:E smg.jpg
  • There are two additional diphthongs in Samogitian that are written as digraphs: ou and ėi. (The component letters are part of the standard Lithuanian alphabet.)

As previously it was difficult to add these new characters to typesets, some older Samogitian texts use double letters instead of macrons to indicate long vowels, for example aa for ā and ee for ē; now the Samogitian Cultural Society discourages these conventions and recommends using the letters with macrons above instead. The use of double letters is accepted in cases where computer fonts do not have Samogitian letters; in such cases y is used instead of Samogitian ī, the same as in standard Lithuanian, while other long letters are written as double letters. The apostrophe might be used to denote palatalization in some cases; in others i is used for this, as in standard Lithuanian.

A Samogitian computer keyboard layout has been created.

Samogitian alphabet:

A a
Ā ā
[ėlguojė ā]
B b
C c
Č č
D d
E e
Ē ē
[ėlguojė ē]
Ė ė
Ė̄ ė̄
[ėlguojė ė̄]
F f
G g
[gė, gie]
H h
I i
Ī ī
[ėlguojė ī]
J j
K k
L l
M m
N n
O o
Ō ō
[ėlguojė ō]
P p
R r
S s
Š š
T t
U u
Ū ū
[ėlguojė ū]
V v
Z z
[zė, zet]
Ž ž
[žė, žet].


English Samogitian Lithuanian Latvian Latgalian
Samogitian žemaitiu ruoda žemaičių tarmė žemaišu valoda žemaišu volūda
English onglu kalba anglų kalba angļu valoda ongļu volūda
Yes Noje, tep Taip Nuj
No Ne Ne
Hello! Svēks Sveikas Sveiks Vasals
How are you? Kāp gīveni? Kaip gyveni / laikaisi / einasi? Kā tev iet? Kai īt?
Good evening! Lab vakar! Labas vakaras! Labvakar! Lobs vokors!
Welcome [to...] Svēkė atvīkė̄i! Sveiki atvykę Laipni lūdzam Vasali atguojuši
Good night! Labanakt Labos nakties / Labanakt! Ar labu nakti Lobys nakts!
Goodbye! Sudieu, vėsa gera Viso gero / Sudie(vu) / Viso labo! Visu labu Palicyt vasali
Have a nice day! Geruos dėinuos! Geros dienos / Labos dienos! Jauku dienu! Breineigu dīnu
Good luck! Siekmies! Sėkmės! Veiksmi! Lai lūbsīs!
Please Prašau Prašau Lūdzu Lyudzams
Thank you Diekou Ačiū / Dėkui / Dėkoju Paldies Paļdis
You're welcome Prašuom Prašom Lūdzu! Lyudzu!
I'm sorry Atsėprašau Atsiprašau / Atleiskite Atvaino (Piedod) Atlaid
Who? Kas? Kas? Kas? (Kurš?) Kas?
When? Kumet? Kada / Kuomet? Kad? Kod?
Where? Kor? Kur? Kur? Kur?
Why? Kudie / Diukuo? Kodėl / Dėl ko? Kādēļ? (Kāpēc?) Dieļ kuo?
What's your name? Kuoks tava vards? Koks tavo vardas? / Kuo tu vardu? Kāds ir tavs vārds? (Kā tevi sauc?) Kai tevi sauc?
Because Tudie / Dieltuo Todėl / Dėl to Tādēļ (Tāpēc) Dieļ tuo
How? Kāp? Kaip? Kā? Kai?
How much? Kėik? Kiek? Cik daudz? Cik daudzi?
I do not understand. Nesopronto Nesuprantu Nesaprotu Nasaprūtu
Yes, I understand. Sopronto Suprantu Saprotu Saprūtu
Help me! Padieket! Padėkite / Gelbėkite! Palīgā! Paleigā!
Where is the toilet? Kor īr tuliets? Kur yra tualetas? Kur ir tualete? Kur irā tualets?
Do you speak English? Rokounaties onglėškā? (Ar) kalbate angliškai? Vai runājat angliski? Runuojit ongliski?
I don't speak Samogitian. Nerokounous žemaitėškā. Žemaitiškai nekalbu Es nerunāju žemaitiski As narunuoju žemaitiski
The check, please. (In restaurant) Saskaita prašīčiuo Prašyčiau sąskaitą / Sąskaitą, prašyčiau / Sąskaitą, prašau, pateikite Rēķinu, lūdzu! Lyudzu, saskaitu


  1. "Request for New Language Code Element in ISO 639-3" (PDF). ISO 639-3 Registration Authority. 2009-08-11.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Samogitian". Glottolog. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links