Russian as a Heritage Language in Lithuania

Authored by: Meilut? Ramonien? , Ala Licha?iova , Jelena Brazauskien?

The Routledge Handbook of Heritage Language Education

Print publication date:  February  2017
Online publication date:  March  2017

Print ISBN: 9781138845787
eBook ISBN: 9781315727974
Adobe ISBN: 9781317541530


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The status, role, and place of the Russian language started changing radically in Lithuania toward the end of the twentieth century. The change began under Soviet rule, when an amendment including Lithuanian alongside Russian as the co-official language of the Soviet Republic of Lithuania was added to the Soviet Constitution in 1988. Since the restoration of the independent Republic of Lithuania in 1990, Lithuanian has been the only official state language in a de jure and de facto capacity. With these changes, the status of Russian has altered significantly, and rather than the dominant language of a political entity of which Lithuania was a part, it is currently a heritage language (HL) for people of Russian ethnicity and other ethnic groups of Russian speakers, 1 and a foreign language for other residents of Lithuania. The result has been a functional redistribution of the languages in Lithuania as well as changes in their higher or lower ranking in the country’s linguistic environment. Russian functioned as a lingua franca among different ethnic groups for more than a century (in Czarist Russia and during Soviet times), but Lithuanian has now taken over this role. Russian was also important in many other areas in Lithuanian society (Pavlenko, 2008) but, like in most post-Soviet countries, since 1990 the place and status of the Russian language has drastically altered. This has had a considerable impact on the language policy in Lithuania as English, the most preferred international language, has gradually become the first foreign language selected by students at schools while Russian, which used to be compulsory at secondary schools and even universities in the Soviet era, is now included in the list of optional school curriculum subjects. By contrast, a native-like command of Lithuanian has become one of the main requirements for receiving or holding a good position at work.

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