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Is incorrect spelling online disrespectful for the Lithuanian language?

The analysis of domain names conducted by the Internet Service Centre DOMREG at Kaunas University of Technology (KTU) shows that only 7% or approximately 2 000 out of 28 000 of the registered .lt domain names that could potentially have the equivalents with specific Lithuanian characters are spelled using the letters ė, ą, ę, į, ų, ū, č, š, ž of the Lithuanian alphabet. The remaining 93% of the registered .lt domain names are incorrectly spelled, i.e., written without any diacritical marks – dots, dashes, nasals or carons.

We talk with the Chairman of the State Commission of the Lithuanian Language Audrys Antanaitis about the reasons why we use incorrect Lithuanian language online, how the internet use influences the Lithuanian language in general and how the incorrect language use impacts general literacy.

Audrys Antanaitis, VLKK Audrys Antanaitis, Chairman of the State Commission of the Lithuanian Language

– Why do some people still use incorrect language online even though the possibility of using specific Lithuanian letters has been provided a long time ago? Scientist Gintautas Grigas thinks that the reason for the use of incorrect language is the inconvenient standard keyboard that requires frequent switching. What is your opinion?

– It would be better to have convenient computer keyboards fully adapted for the Lithuanian language. However, in this case, we would have to switch for writing in the English language because the Lithuanian language alphabet lacks three Latin letters q, w and x. We have to keep in mind that the European languages have more specific letters – their alphabets are expanded by the letters with other diacritics; therefore, in any case, if we type in several languages, we have to switch between the keyboards.

Perhaps writing in Lithuanian seems quite convenient to those who learn to write correctly using the standard keyboard. I do not consider it a serious problem. Of course, it would be much better if we could manage to install a fully-fledged Lithuanian keyboard or, even better, buy it; however, the entrepreneurs do not see the need, they do not feel the pressure from the users and do nothing about it. It cannot be achieved merely at the attempts of social activists or volunteers.

I think a bigger problem is the remaining strong sense of provincialism and thinking that writing in a non-Lithuanian manner will make us more similar to the Europeans. Unfortunately, incorrect spelling does not make us European; it only shows our disrespect to ourselves and our native language. In other words, the incorrect spelling reveals a bigger issue – a low linguistic or national self-esteem.

A standard Lithuanian computer keyboard is prepared – it is LST 1582 standard. It is fully-fledged, adapted for work according to the principle “what you see is what you get”, i.e., no additional second or third level is required to type the letters of the Lithuanian alphabet; these levels are only used for quotation marks or accent marks. However, we do not have an actual Lithuanian keyboard. For now, people could put the stickers of the standard Lithuanian keyboard on the buttons of the keyboard they are using.

– In 2004, Kaunas University of Technology, the registry of .lt domain, provided a technical possibility to use specific Lithuanian letters ė, ą, ę, į, ų, ū, č, š, ž in the domain names. However, very few domain names containing these letters are registered – they make only 1% of all the registered .lt domains. The situation is similar in all of Europe; however, the use of the national characters is popular in Russia, China and Arab countries. Maybe the Latin alphabet unifies Europe or are there other reasons?

– The countries and nations that have a different writing system, find it easier to preserve their written language. The Lithuanian alphabet is based on the Latin one, the differences are minor which is why it is easy for us to deviate to the Latin alphabet and spell incorrectly. For example, it is not possible in the Greek or Chinese alphabet so they have solved this issue by forming a habit of writing correctly in their native language. Unfortunately, the correct habits are in the process of formation in Lithuania; therefore, we have a problem of incorrect spelling.

– Is the habit of incorrect writing online harmful to literacy? Maybe we have stopped using nasals and carons when writing by hand and become more and more tolerant to proofreading errors?

– It is particularly harmful to literacy. Surveys indicate that the writing skills of the young generation are decreasing and their language is very poor. Obviously, it does not apply to all the society, there are highly literate and highly illiterate people. The internet and computers have contributed to this but we cannot blame the IT sector. You cannot stop the progress; we have to learn to adapt to new technologies and use them, learn, be aware and create proper habits. Only then, we will stop the incorrect spelling online and, hopefully, illiteracy will stop spreading so rapidly in Lithuania. Correction does not seem so important in text messages but the publishers try very hard to avoid it in books and publications. The level of the language reflects the level of the culture of the individuals, the institutions and the society.

– The prevailing incorrect spelling has formed the habits of the users which are very difficult to change. If we had the possibility of writing the Lithuanian letters with diacritics when we began using computers, maybe we would not have to discuss the problems of the incorrect spelling today?

– Of course, we would not have such a problem or it would have been less of a problem. But it could not have happened otherwise. We have not invented computers and the internet; we have not developed the first keyboard and created the first domain. We have only learned from the pioneers in the area. Perhaps, it is natural that we lagged behind and used incorrect spelling; we had no choice. We are used to that in Lithuanian history: we took our time to be baptised as Christians, we fought the Teutonic Order but have finally become a part of the European and Western culture.

Now, our main task is not to lag behind, understand how menacing is the deterioration of literacy in our society and implement a high-quality introduction of the Lithuanian language in information technologies. It only requires a higher level of society’s awareness, respect for our native language and a positive approach of the IT sector.

– Besides the incorrect spelling, there is another significant problem – Lithuanisation of the English words by adding an ending. What is your opinion about various memes in social networks mocking the linguists who try to create computer terms that fail to be accepted by society, seem strange and detached from reality? Perhaps, bullying and mockery have decreased after we have stopped using the List of Major Lithuanian Language Mistakes and began consulting the society instead of threatening them with fines?

– If part of our society jokes about the linguists, that is good. It means, our society is concerned about the issues of our language. In the same way, people mock or even are angry with the basketball coaches; it shows how much the Lithuanians love basketball. It would be worse if nobody joked and spoke about the Lithuanian language and failed to notice the work of the linguists.

With regards to the funny terms that have never been proposed by linguists, I also see it as a good thing. Society should joke. Most of our people have already heard the jokes about the vielabraukiai (trolleybuses) but maybe not everybody has heard about the skudurlėkiai (paragliders). I would like to say that the State Commission of the Lithuanian Language has nothing to do with these and other jokes.

The occurrence of memes and anecdotes shows creativity; the same person can create a beautiful and accurate equivalent for barbarism. Linguists rarely create new terms, more often they provide consultations to various specialists who are experts in their area and create new terms in that area. We consult how to construct the new terms, make them systematic and accepted or how to adapt the barbarisms that have already become the mainstream. One of such terms is a symbolic title Google (that has a similar fate as the word INTERNET): with frequent use, the word got a Lithuanian ending and became Googleʾas; further on, it has almost become a generic word – recently, we have recommended using gūglas, and gūglinti.

– Don’t you think that even if we make serious attempts to Lithuanise the computer and internet language, the so-called computing jargon containing plenty of semi-Lithuanised English terms will remain present. Linguist Antanas Smetona has acknowledged that professionals have the right to use jargon in their communication amongst themselves; maybe the programmers also should not be punished for their semi-English terms?

– Jargon is a natural part of life, an expressive form of language. Professional and social groups have their jargons and it is not reprehensible. However, when speaking publicly, you stop using jargon and speak the correct, commonly used Lithuanian language that everyone understands. A professional has to make attempts while writing textbooks, articles, teaching and providing professional knowledge to society. Currently, it is obvious how the medics are trying to do that and succeeding.

We should not think that linguists prohibit everything and impose fines for everything. It is one more common myth. The Language Commission has never done that; its work is to set the standards. I do not understand who has created a myth that the words “cepelinas” or “gypsy” are prohibited. The words “gypsy”, as well as “Romani people” and “cepelinas” are not prohibited.

We try to allow many parallel options, synonyms, accentuation contiguities; we have changed the status of the List of Major Lithuanian Language Mistakes – it is no longer a violation punishable by the Language Inspection. Now, it is a list of the language standards for society. Some members of the Language Commission have previously thought that fines for mistakes made no sense. However, at the beginning of the creation of the independent state, the majority had a different opinion.

In my opinion, the current path of the liberalisation of the language is the right one. It is stupid to impose fines for speaking, the use of language, even with mistakes. The only case that should be punished – when the state language is not used; it is mandatory in public life.

– In your opinion, what were the most unsuccessful, funny attempts to Lithuanise the English terms that caused the most negative reaction of the society? What were the reasons to replace, for example, the word byla (file) by failas, vaizduoklis (monitor) by monitorius, or sukčius** (hard disk) by** kietasis diskas, etc.? What new internet terms are currently discussed by linguists?

– Regarding the word sukčius (hard disk) – it is one more joke; a specialist or a user probably noticed the ambiguity of the verb sukti, suka, suko (rotate) and used it. The word vaizduoklis was created by computer or engineering specialists who tried to convey the English terms monitor and display. The linguists anticipated that the term vaizduoklis had no future due to its suffix -uoklis (for comparison: pakaruoklis (hangman)). Now, we use the terms monitor and screen.

The Lithuanian terms byla, failas, rinkmena (file) have been competing for a while (I think, IT specialists of Vilnius and Kaunas cities have used varying terms for some time) until we settled down on the term failas (file). The term byla may have negative connotations because it is associated with the legal language and the cases falsified by the Soviet authorities against the dissidents.

A new list of the foreign words contains many semi-Lithuanised terms, for example, kosplėjus (cosplay < costume play), glampingas (glamping), tuktukas (tuk-tuk).

– Computers and the internet have brought new words to the Lithuanian language and provided more imagery. We cannot imagine our messages and emails without emoticons. Another trend – many abbreviations, both Lithuanian and non-Lithuanian, for example, KVK (ką veiki? – what are you doing?), OMG (oh my god), LOL (laugh out loud), IRL (in real life). What is your opinion about that?

– A message can contain only smiles and it is amazing. Both emoticons and abbreviations are not bad. People have always played with the language and, in my opinion, it is good. If you write a letter to your beloved with hearts – it is beautiful. Obviously, we have to separate a public and private language.

The emoticons are not and should not be used in the official language. A public language is regulated by the law; while writing the laws, accuracy and precision are more important than picturesqueness and sentimentality. A private area is not regulated; therefore, emoticons or abbreviations are a part of the private language.

However, there is a downside to this phenomenon. The older generation does not understand the youth who use the English acronyms in their communication. We used to write letters and express our ideas in words and fluent sentences. Therefore, we are apprehensive about the possibility of the decreasing quality of the language of the young generation.

A long time ago, humanity invented a written language. They began from inscriptions, cuts, images – pictography. When we use too many acronyms and images, we kind of go back to the stone age. Most probably, the future generations would have ample space for interpretation of such a written language. I wonder if we will have the books written in such a language?

– The Lithuanian websites and e-shops are given many English domain names and the English trademarks of the Lithuanian products have almost become the norm. What is your opinion about this phenomenon and what advice could you give to the people who are searching for a domain name or trademark that is unique, precise, correct, short and easy to remember?

– The fact that domain names and trademarks in Lithuania are very often composed using English words is a real problem. An even bigger problem – incorrectly spelled Lithuanian words in the domain names.

A part of the English words in the domain names may be a necessity if an e-shop or a website is intended for the foreign market or it is an international project and the world needs to understand it. If a project is clearly Lithuanian and has no claims of becoming an international one, the authors should consider the Lithuanian words. The business community could find great and original ideas for the name of the enterprise, product or domain by looking through the dictionaries of the Lithuanian language or synonyms and consulting with the linguists.

All the public authorities and municipal institutions have to use correctly spelled Lithuanian language for their domain names. Neither business nor state should spell incorrectly; however, the highest standards are and should be applied to the public authorities and municipal institutions. The Lithuanian language is the state language in Lithuania. If any public authority is using an incorrectly spelled domain name, it can be considered a violation of the law in the widest sense.

We have to make sure the correct language is used, encourage the public authorities and municipal institutions to use specific Lithuanian letters in their domain names and compose those names correctly, according to the rules of the Lithuanian language. A domain name, a trademark or a name of the enterprise is a part of the public language; therefore, the linguists appeal to the public awareness and the duty of the institutions to use the state language.

– Thank you for the interview.

Daiva Tamulionienė, DOMREG Daiva Tamulionienė, Head of KTU Internet Service Centre

The Head of KTU Internet Service Centre DOMREG Daiva Tamulionienė talks about the advantages of the use of the domain names containing specific letters of the Lithuanian language:

The possibility to create domain names with diacritic characters of national languages was provided in 2003 when the internet management enterprise ICANN approved the technical documentation of the IDN (Internationalized Domain Name) for encoding and depiction of the specific national letters.

Taking into consideration the diacritic symbols that are quite often used in the words of the Lithuanian language, KTU approved the initiative of creation of the multilingual domain name system and installed it on 30 March 2004. IDN system enabled the creation of domain names containing specific letters of the Lithuanian alphabet ą, č, ę, ė, į, š, ų, ū, ž.

Even though complex issues of the installation of the IDN system have been resolved, the main problem remained the habit of people to spell incorrectly. While there had been no possibilities of using specific Lithuanian letters, the users got used to writing by replacing them with the common letters of the Latin alphabet.

The domain names with specific Lithuanian letters are created under the same procedure as other domain names, i.e., according to the requirements stipulated by the procedural regulation of .lt domain; however, the number of the IDN domains makes only approximately 1% of all .lt domains. Most of the users continue using the incorrectly spelled .lt domain names even though it has been 17 years since the possibility to use the correct language was provided.

If a domain name has unique Lithuanian letters ą, č, ę, ė, į, š, ų, ū, ž, you should register both options of the domain name – IDN domain with specific Lithuanian letters, for example, gražus-vardas.lt, and the incorrectly spelled one using the Latin letters, for example, grazus-vardas.lt. If you have both options, you should direct to one of them without losing the traffic when the users write either of the website’s addresses in the browser.

It should also be noted that when the incorrectly spelled name of the website is given while speaking on the telephone or advertised on the radio, it sounds unnatural and makes it more difficult for the users to memorise the website’s address. While written in the ads or posters on the buildings, the incorrectly spelled domain names look as if they are written with mistakes and it is harmful to the image of the business.

Another important advantage of the use of the IDN domain is increased security. Using both options of domain names, you can avoid confusion and disputes regarding the misleading similarity between your domain name and that of the other domain holder due to their similar spelling. When you have both options, it is easier to protect your website from your competitors or the attempts of criminals to mislead by directing the users to a different website.

Published 2021-03-09