THE LITHUANIAN LANGUAGE AT THE END OF THE COMMONWEALTH
(Commentary by Gintis Kaminskas based on the chapter by this name of Dr Zinkevicius' book: History of the Lithuanian Language.)
By the time the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth neared its end (late 18th century), the privileged class of Lithuania was quite Polonised. Educated people no longer spoke Lithuanian and they considered themselves to be Poles of Lithuanian origin. Lithuanian was by then only spoken by uneducated people. Polish was used on the estates and in the churches and schools. As the Church hierarchy was run by Polish clergy they deliberately used the Polish language as a tool of Polonisation. Lthuanian-speaking priests were routinely sent off to Poland and were replaced by Polish priests who spoke no Lithuanian. They depicted Lithuanian as the "language of paganism", and Polish as the language of Christianity. The Polish priests even discouraged their Lithuanian parishioners from saying their private prayers in Lithuanian. No Lithuanian hymns were allowed to be sung in the churches of Vilnius and even at Saint John's church no sermons were given in Lithuanian after 1738.
Dr Zinkevicius says "Schools were assigned the task of merging all the Commonwealth's ethnic groups into one common national group which was to be Polish." As the the Belarusins and Ukrainians spoke related Slavic languages the Poles had an easier time Polonising them. The task of Polonising Lithuanians was somewhat more challenging. Lithuanian was progressively pushed out of schools, even elementary schools, where in the last years of the Commonwealth it had in any case only been used as a transitional aid until the pupils learned enough Polish. Polish was used in all government administration and as early as 1697 it was already officially decreed that court proceedings be written in Polish instead of the Slavic chancellery language.
What little Lithuanian the Polish-speaking priests reluctanly used was flawed and filled with Polonisms. This Polonised jargon was used to publish a very limited number of religious books, prayerbooks and hymnals for the Lithuanian peasantry. These jargonised writings only served to corrupt the Lithuanian language by introducing incorrect syntax and Polish loanwords. This did great damage to the fabric of the Lithuanian language. The use of this foreign language in official establishments also resulted in the distortion of Lithuanian personal names and place names. As the main repository of civil records at the time was the church (certificates of baptism, marriage, burial) the Polish-speaking priests routinely recorded their parishioners' names in a Polonised form, often leaving off the Lithuanian endings. Polish suffixes were added to many surnames and some surnames were simply translated into Polish. For example, the surname Ozelis (diminutive of ozys = 'billy-goat') might be changed to Kozlowski.
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