Ode to languages – Postilla by Mikalojus Daukša (1599)

February 9, 2012

The situation with the Lithuanian language at the juncture of XIX and XX centuries was catastrophic. Since the end of XVI – beginning of XVII centuries the language was only spoken by peasants and small hidalgos, and later on it was only meant for low and uneducated people. It is amazing that most prominent linguists and men of letters of XIX century learnt the language not at home, not even in schools or gymnasiums; – only later, after graduating universities (most went to Sorbonne, or Petersburg , some to Germany) they discovered the uniqueness and beauty of their native tongue and learnt it. They introduced language norms, unified them and taught the nation the unique grammar. But this was even later…

Here is a nice fragment – to my mind one of the most beautiful historical texts about languages, written by Mikalojus Daukša in 1599. It was written as a foreword to Postylla Katolicka by Jokubas Vujekas, rector of the Vilnius Jesuit College, which Daukša translated from Latin into Lithuanian. In this foreword he gave his due to the Lithuanian language, and the Foreword itself  can be regarded as an ode to any Mother tongue. For several decades this fragment is learnt by pupils at schools in Lithuania by heart.

The “Foreword to the Gracious Reader”, which exalts the native tongue, emphasizing its importance to nation, and which expresses the hope that Lithuanian will become the language of Lithuanian literature and public usage is highly significant to the history of Lithuanian culture.

Fragment of  THE FOREWORD

It is neither the bounty of its crops, nor the distinctiveness of its garments, nor the beauty of its countryside, nor the strength of its castles and cities that make a nation hale; rather it is the maintenance and use of its native language, which strengthens fellowship, peace and brotherly love. For our language is our common bond of love, the mother of unity, the father of civic solidarity, the guardian of nationhood. Destroy a language and you will destroy consonance, unity and virtue of a nation. Destroy language and you will kill the sun in the sky, muddle up the order of the universe, and take away breath and honour.


In connection to what I previously wrote – the Basque language. Language teachers from San Sebastian have always been in pools project, but the revival of the language has taken place much earlier. I just marvel at the energy of those people – they were heroes of their times – who managed to bring back the Basque language into the country’s lives and homes. They managed to preserve one of the world’s treasures. Same are our colleagues from Sabhal Mòr Ostaig and University of Ulster, I guess. Their energy and efforts of trying to revive the Gaelic – Scottish and Irish – language are worth highest admiration! I am sure they will succeed.

P.S. amazing how each of us can use most modern tools to revive history and world heritage.



  1. And I see you’re learning WordPress very fast, Rasa :-). Thank you for the kind words about Sabhal Mòr Ostaig. Yes, we do have a cultural remit that extends beyond “mere” language teaching. The challenge is to harness the sentiments expressed above in an inclusive way that helps different languages/cultures work with, rather than against, each other.

    • Oh, it took me ages to find out how to make the picture appear on the post. I had it copied in a word format, had to think of a way to have it in jpg or so.. but I managed:)

    • Regarding your activities and sentiments about languages- I agree that sometimes people see only two colours, and it IS hard to harness this, as you put it.

  2. Beautiful ode! Thank you Gordon. How wonderful to join to socio-critically evaluate a KA2 ICT based LLP project and then, from the beginning, to be driven also beyond the original aims and tools, to the essence of languages evolution.

  3. Really interesting this, Irish Gaelic’s revival began in earnest around the same time as yours but Lithuanian is a lot healthier now than Irish, we have to keep trying though!

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