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Conference Information

Full Title: Revitalizing Baltic Linguistics in Berne

Location: Berne, Switzerland
Start Date: 06-May-2017 - 08-May-2017
Contact: Christa Schneider
Meeting Email: click here to access email
Meeting URL:
Meeting Description: This conference aims to bring together scholars working on different theoretical approaches in order to focus on Baltic linguistics from both a historical and a synchronic perspective.

Lithuanian, for instance, is a language of quite recent attestation, as its first book was printed in Königsberg (Duchy of Prussia) in 1547. So, any previous linguistic stage, as well as pre-historical contacts with other Baltic and non-Baltic speech communities (East Slavs, Germans, Finns, etc.) can only be reconstructed via the comparative method.

Attempts to establish the principles of multilingual communication in ethnically complex speech communities can be made not only for the present state of the language, but also for the past. In this case, instead of relying on fieldwork, one needs to extract data from written primary sources (i.e. the old linguistic monuments), and from the sociolinguistic accounts provided by the so-called palaeocomparativists or from the old grammars.

The political and social context in which Lithuanian emerged and developed, was a context in which polyglossia has always played a crucial role. The first case that comes into mind is the multilingual society of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania (13th-18th c.) where Latin, German, Ruthenic, Polish and Lithuanian were spoken (or written) by different social classes in different communicative settings.

Later events provoked the growing influence of Polish in the Grand Duchy after the Union of Lublin (1569), the strong impact of Russian during the Tsarist (1795-1918) and the Soviet (1940-1991) occupation. All this, together with the inner processes of differentiation and linguistic change, provide a very interesting setting for studies in Baltic linguistics along all its dimensions.

Central European approaches in traditional dialectology reached Lithuania in the middle of the 19th century. Subsequently, many dialect descriptions have been conducted and Baltic onomastics and toponomastics have been developed.

The emergence of the Lithuanian standard language in 1922 drew a sharper line between dialect and standard and encouraged some Lithuanian dialectologists to explore local language variation more closely. The first dialect classification, which also included a dialect map, was proposed in 1946 and has been later revised.

This was, of course, the time when William Labov proposed a theoretically motivated integration of social factors into accounts of language variation and change and helped to found contemporary sociolinguistics, an approach that reached Lithuania only some years later. In the 1980s attention was also paid to the interplay of Baltic variants and their mutual influences, especially in border areas, but this remains a less studied aspect.

Today, Baltic studies and Lithuanian linguistics is mostly to be found within the Baltic States. Quite regrettably, only a few institutions in Europe officially deal with such topics; nevertheless, there is a number of qualified linguists working on this linguistic area.

With this conference, we want do draw attention to Baltic linguistics, a topic which was once a part of the study program of the University of Bern but has been cancelled due to administrative changes in the late 1990s. Therefore, by focusing on any topic related with Baltic linguistics, the research potential in Baltic and Lithuanian linguistics as a whole will hopefully be highlighted in this conference.
Linguistic Subfield: General Linguistics; Historical Linguistics; Sociolinguistics
Subject Language: Lithuanian; Latvian; Prussian
LL Issue: 28.400

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