Parents, Spouses, Children: The Use of Language in the Noble Families of Lithuanian Intellectuals (the Late Nineteenth-Early Twentieth Century)

  • Olga Mastianica-Stankevič
Keywords: nobility, the Lithuanian language, intelligentsia


In Lithuanian historiography, the metaphor of ‘the split-off branch’ is often used when speaking of the fate of the nobility that did not take an active part in the process of the re-establishment of the modern Lithuanian nation and its state. The majority of the nobility identified themselves with the modern Polish nation, and only individual families of the nobles such as the Biržiška brothers, the Lazdynų Pelėda sisters, Gabrielė Petkevičaitė-Bitė, Šatrijos Ragana (Marija Pečkauskaitė), Sofija Kymantaitė-Čiurlionienė, and some others became involved in the Lithuanian national movement. For many of them, ‘becoming a Lithuanian again’ was a rather complex psychological process when often one not only had to oppose the environment of their parents and extended families, but also to learn the Lithuanian language. The aim of this article is to find out how noble Lithuanian intelligentsia families made the move from using Polish to speaking Lithuanian at home. As an additional theme, the article addresses the question as to which language was used for communication in the families of those who had made up their minds to identify themselves with the modern Lithuanian nation, in other words, which language was used in the families of parents, spouses, and offspring. The article reflects not completed research but only its beginning. Very likely, it pinpoints a new research problem and points to possible ways of approaching it. The first part of the article addresses the question whether there existed an unequivocal requirement in the Lithuanian national discourse of the late nineteenth-early twentieth century for the nobility involved in the Lithuanian national movement to use the Lithuanian language at home as well. The second part of the article dwells on several questions. First of all, an attempt is made to find out which language was used for communication between parents and their children determined to join the Lithuanian national movement. On the other hand, the article also discusses how the Lithuanian language used to be learnt, how Lithuanian functioned among the parents, spouses, and the offspring of noble intelligentsia families. So far, these questions have not been addressed in Lithuanian historiography. Late in the nineteenth-early in the twentieth century, noble Lithuanian intelligentsia families in many instances preserved the Polish language in their written communication, although quite a number of the parents of such families knew and could speak Lithuanian, and there were many who supported the national self-determination of their offspring. It should be pointed out that at that time a growing number of noble intelligentsia families were aspiring at starting nationally-engaged families, in which both the spouses and the children had to learn Lithuanian. The instances when one of the spouses did not support the national self-determination of the other and tried to obstruct the formation of Lithuanian national identity in later generations were gradually becoming rarer.