Linas Jegelevicius for the BNN
If the support for the proposal is there, we may all need soon to have to rub away the name of Lithuania from English-language maps and inscribe a new one- Lituania. That is the name that the Vilnius mayor and a prominent economist want Lithuania to go with in English.
«In order to get Lithuania better known we have to change the hardly pronounceable word and come up with an easier word,» Žygimantas Mauricas, the economist, sparked the discussion on Facebook.
Idea is not new
The idea is far from new: the experts who crafted Lithuania’s worldwide marketing introduction conception have also hinted to changing the name. According to them, it would do just good for the popularity of Lithuania. They argued that the word consisting of five syllables with the digraph «th» in the middle is hard to pronounce- especially correctly!- for any non-English speaker.
Although Lithuanian language watchdogs, older-generation politicians and historians scrambled to bristle against the proposal, some folks say: «Why not?»
«There are more than a couple of reasons why we ought to change the name in English,» Mauricas says and gives some explanation on the origin of the country’s English name.
«Britons took the name the way it sounds now in the modern English language from the Latin word «Lithuania», but the letter «h» is not pronounced in Latin. Perhaps out of imprudence or ignorance the-then Britons mangled the name and distanced it from the one that was mentioned for the first time in the historic annals back in 1009, «Litua/Litva» the economist says.
Second, he argues, for long, few cared about the distortion, as England- let’s leave it alone Lithuania or Litua-have emerged centuries later and English has become prevalent only over the last couple of centuries.
«Look, yet in the 17th century, Isaac Newton (renowned physicist-.L.J) did his great works on the rules of gravity in Latin, not English,» notes Mauricas.
Can you pronounce «Lithuania» correctly?
The economist working in a Scandinavian-capital bank in Vilnius insists Lithuania found itself in a very unlucky situation after English has risen to its worldwide hegemony.
«How many people can figure out what country one speaks about after hearing the pronunciation «lɪθəˈweɪnɪə»? No other nation, including the British people, grasps what country is meant by it. Therefore, when abroad we all have to render certain cues to the folks we are talking to, like «Latvia- Estonia», «Baltics», «Scandinavia», «Riga» and et cetera,» Mauricas says in his Facebook post.
He says Estonia is the «luckiest» between the Baltic neighbors, as the pronunciation of the word «Estonia» is similar both in Slavic, Roman and even Japanese languages. Even the Chinese are trying to utter something similar, he says. Only Germans and Scandinavians pronounce «Estonia» in their languages as «Estland,» the banker notes.
He goes further: «We cannot expect that Chinese will become an international language someday and that the name of Lithuania will be started pronounced the way the Chinese say it now- «Lituave.» We also obviously cannot hope that the Japanese language or Arabic will ever prevail on the map of the language usage, so what we have to do is convince the Britons and Americans to change the present name to «Lituania.» But the chances are slim, as the stride requires a lot of courage,» Mauricas believes.
Estonia did it, so why Lithuania can do it, too?
Mauricas has also paid attention to the fact that Estonians yet in 1921changed the country’s English name from «Esthonia» to the current name –«Estonia».
«Since the slowpokes Estonians lead all the rankings, the necessity for change will inevitably reach us, too, so it is better to do it rather sooner than later,» the economist argues.
With the present pronunciation, he believes, Lithuania «does a favour» for Latvia and Estonia, as one explaining where Lithuania is needs to refer to Latvia and Estonia as the countries in proximity.
«And what are we getting in exchange? Nothing. From the abundant posts I see that many are fed up with the explaining what kind of thing «Lithuania» is and that it not «Ukraine» or a land close to Latvia. After explaining where Lithuania is situated – let’s admit – we often hear this: «yes yes I know it- Riga», Mauricas writes in his lengthy post.
If Lithuania ever makes up its mind to change the name, it will not have to turn ear to what Britons, Americans, Australians, Nigerians, Zimbabweans, Antiguans or Barbadians say about it, he insists.
«It’s all about making it to Google: whatever makes to it that ends up in the language,» he says.
Importantly, the decision to change the name would be «a technical thing» for which only the political will is needed.
«Upon the decision, we would not need to get permission from the State Lithuanian language commission, because it’s about the use of the name in English, not Lithuania. If it were up to the commission, which clings on the approach that all has to be «traditionally and historically intertwined», it would not be possible, undoubtedly.»
The economist reminds that Georgia has been asking since 2009 to call it «Georgija» – the name by which all the Western world goes by.
«But because of the commission’s stubbornness we keep calling the country the same way as Russia- Georgia, though Japan and South Korea have changed the name from« Georgia» to «Georgija» in 2015 and 2011, respectively,» Mauricas emphasized. «So changing the name is absolutely up to us»
Vilnius mayor likes idea
Among the first ones to tweet in support of Mauricas’ proposal was Vilnius mayor Remigijus Šimašius.
«I was waiting until we all wake up one day and take a look at ourselves from the outside and tell exactly this. I am absolutely supporting the idea. Besides, the name of «Lituania» sounds more like the name of country in Lithuanian – «Lithuania»…The Hebrew way of saying it- «Lita» would be even better. But «Lituania» is awesome, too,»- the mayor posted on Facebook.
But some of the Lithuanian language watchdogs were not happy with the idea.
Language watchdogs are not over the moon
«Indeed, Mauricas is right affirming that other countries have the practice of changing countries’ names. But the quest to change the name of Lithuania in English sound quite strange to me…The pronunciation of the digraph «th» is relatively a new thing and is characteristic to the modern English language. If Mauricas does not like it in the language, there is not much to say about it, except that every language has its own sounds and we just do not change them,» Antanas Smetona, the dean of the Philology Faculty Department of Vilnius University, told delfi.lt, a popular Lithuanian website.
Disagreeing with the banker’s insistence that «English is uncontrollable», he counter-argues that all European languages, English including, are being taken care of in different ways.
«If we want to push for the new name («Lituania»), we first ought to get the name published in «Webster». If Lithuania really wants to do it, it should get in touch with the dictionary publishers first,» the professor advised.
Irena Smetonienė, the chairman of the State Lithuanian Language Commission, finds the resurfaced proposal «a very strange one».
«Somebody is suggesting to change the name (of Lithuania) in the English language, but what about it in French and German?. Germans do no ask us to pronounce the name of their country the way they do (in German)…There are names of localities that we mispronounce or pronounce quite differently, and all are fine about it. Here’s quite a weird situation- make another nation call us the way we want,» the Lithuanian language chief watchdog reasoned.
Still, the idea has garnered a good deal of support and encouragement.
Lithuanian MP shuns using word «Lithuania»
«I like the idea of changing the name. Because of two reasons: Estonians did it (changed the English name of their country-.LJ.) and it has proved to be a right thing: Estonia is ahead of us on many accounts, so being a big fan of Estonia and Tallinn, I’d follow in their footsteps; second, the pronunciation of the word« Lithuania» is really hard. Every time I try to do it I am feeling like a Zimbabwean, not Lithuanian,» Naglis Puteikis, a Lithuanian parliamentarian, told BNN. «In fact, I’ve developed sort of an inferiority complex with the clumsy pronunciation; therefore I am trying to shun pronouncing the word as much as I can».
He believes it would suffice for Government to issue a ruling to start the change.
«For Britons and Americans, I believe there would be little difference how to call us in the papers,» the lawmaker says.
That Lithuania has not responded to Georgia’s request to start it calling «Georgija» in Lithuania, Puteikis believes is about the relics of the Soviet mentality.
«We have not rooted them yet, obviously. But it, as well as the new name for Georgia, is a matter of time. The new generations will do what we frown upon,» the MP emphasized.
Well, maybe…But how to do it?
Meanwhile, Vladas Gaidys, head of polling and research company «Vilmorus», also agrees on the complexity of the pronunciation of the name «Lithuania».
«This kind of proposal is not new, so it means that the idea might be picking up support if kept in the air. On the other hand, years ago, there were suggestions to change the present tri-color flag to the one that is hoisted now at Lithuania’s presidential palace (known for its crimson colour and Vytis, a knight with a raised sword, in the background -.L.J). Although the discussions were there, they quickly fizzled out. We can see the same happening with this idea, too,» the pollster told BNN.
He says «he cannot see» how the name can be changed practically.
«We can do all sorts of changes in our own country, but how to make others go by the name we want?» he asked rhetorically.