According to the data of the population census in 2011, 84.2 per cent of the total population of the Republic of Lithuania were Lithuanians, 6.6 per cent Poles, 5.8 per cent Russians, 1.2 per cent Belarusians, 0.5 per cent Ukrainians, and 0.6 per cent other nationalities. Most residents of the largest ethnic groups indicated their language as their native language: Lithuanians 99.2 per cent, Poles 77.1 per cent, and Russians 87.2 per cent. Answers to the question about foreign languages showed that about 78.5 per cent of the population knew at least one foreign language. 41.6 per cent of population knew one foreign language, 29 per cent knew two languages, 6.6 per cent knew three languages, and 1.3 per cent knew four and more languages. The biggest share of population knew Russian language (63 per cent), 30.4 per cent English, 8.5 per cent Polish, and 8.3 per cent German.
The constitution of the Republic of Lithuania, approved in 1992, establishes Lithuanian as its state language (Article 14). Article 37 of the Constitution provides that citizens, who belong to ethnic communities, shall have the right to foster their language, culture, and customs.
The Law on State Language (1995) regulates the use of the state language in public life of Lithuania, protection and control of the state language, and the responsibility for violations of the Law on State Language. According to the Law, Laws of the Republic of Lithuania and other legal acts shall be adopted and promulgated in the state language; all institutions, establishments, enterprises and organisations which function in the Republic of Lithuania shall manage filing work, accounting, reporting, financial and technical documents in the state language; legal proceedings in the Republic of Lithuania shall be conducted in the state language; the State shall guarantee the residents of the Republic of Lithuania the right to acquire general, vocational, higher post-school and university education in the state language. The Law does not regulate unofficial communication of the population and the language of events of religious communities as well as persons, belonging to ethnic communities.
The policy of state language is shaped by the State Language Commission. The tasks of the Commissions are to decide issues concerning the implementation of the Law on the State Language; submit to Seimas, President of the Republic and Government proposals on language policy and implementation of the Law on State Language, submit to Seimas conclusions regarding the language of legal acts; establish the directions of regulating the Lithuanian language; decide the issues of standardisation and codification of Lithuanian language; appraise and approve the most important standardising language works (dictionaries, reference books, guidebooks and textbooks); etc.
The State Language Inspectorate is a policy implementation body whose objectives, functions, organisation and procedure of work are regulated by the Law on the State Language Inspectorate (2001). The main function of the Inspectorate is to control whether the activities of state, municipal and other institutions, companies and organisations operating in the Republic of Lithuania comply with the Law on State Language, resolutions of the State Commission of the Lithuanian Language and other legal acts establishing requirements for the use and correctness of the State language the activity.
In 2018, the Seimas approved State Language Policy Guidelines for 2018–2022. The guidelines are mostly concerned with factors that exert a negative impact on the current condition of the State language, such as a competition between the Lithuanian language and other languages in the spheres of public life; inefficient linguistic education of society and its insufficiently active involvement (participation) in the initiatives on supporting and strengthening the Lithuanian language; insufficiently rapid codification of the norms of the standard language due to the fragmentation of research into the usage and supervision and a lack of research into the linguistic principles of society; a too slow localisation of computer programmes which does not always meet the society’s needs; insufficient response of the institutions related to teaching the state language to intensified emigration, immigration and remigration processes and the increased need for teaching (learning) the Lithuanian language.
The Plan of the Implementation Measures of State Language Policy Guidelines for 2018–2022, adopted in 2019 by the Lithuanian Government, includes the following tasks: to ensure the flexibility and dynamics of language policy; strengthen the status of Lithuanian language in the context of multilingual Europe; ensure the modernity, renewal and increase of the resources of the standard language to meet the needs of the society; strengthen the prestige of the Lithuanian language; improve the quality of standard language in all areas of public use; promote the teaching and learning of the Lithuanian language abroad.
In 2019, the State Language Commission approved the Strengthening Program of Lithuanian Language Prestige. The aim of the programme is to strengthen the prestige of the Lithuanian language in Lithuania and the Lithuanian-speaking emigrants, develop the linguistic awareness of the society, its activity and confidence in language capacity. For the implementation of the programme in 2020–2024, it is planned to allocate 1 143 000 EUR from the state budget appropriations assigned to the Commission.
Several language promotion measures are funded by the Lithuanian Ministry of Education, Science and Sport. The most popular of them is the annual National Dictation Competition that has been organised 12 times. Every year the State Language Inspectorate organises a Competition of the Most Beautiful Name of a Company. The State Language Commission gives awards for significant works in the field of Lithuanian terminology, promotion of the language of science and linguistic education of the public. The Society of Lithuanian Language organises the elections of the Word of the Year and the Saying of the Year that are also very popular among the residents of Lithuania.
In recent years, the main debate in the field of language policy has dealt with the “names spelling issue”. The Article 7 of the Lithuanian Law on State Language provides that personal names of the citizens of the Republic of Lithuania in official documents (e.g. passports) shall have the forms prescribed by laws, i.e. have to be written in Lithuanian alphabet. Lithuanian alphabet is based on Latin and consists of 32 letters: the Latin characters with extra nasal letters (ą, ę, į, ų) and letters with diacritics (č, š, ž, ė, ū). The alphabet does not contain the Latin letters “w”, “q” and “x” and this causes problems to the national minority group representatives willing to name their children in accordance with their culture, tradition or language. It also poses a difficulty for the Lithuanian women marrying foreigners and wishing for their surnames to be written in the same way as the surnames of their husbands on documents issued in Lithuania. According to the data, this problem concerns a substantial number of people annually, as many as 16% of marriages are of a mixed character. Further, within ten years, the number of children born beyond the borders of the country has increased from 1% to 16% (2011). Such marriages and the resulting offspring want their family name to be written in its unchanged form in all documents issued within Lithuanian borders.
Two alternative name-spelling laws have been tabled to the parliament. One of the two bills proposed to allow using the letters “x”, “w” and “q”, which do not exist in the Lithuanian alphabet, on the main page of an identity document, and the other calls for such names to be spelt in their original form on an additional page of one’s passport. Neither were adopted.
Politicians of the Polish community in Lithuania and their supporters in Poland have long been asking to allow Polish letters in the last names of Polish speakers, an issue that has been emerging in the bilateral Lithuanian-Polish relations. Critics say that non-Lithuanian characters would undermine the status of the Lithuanian language as the official language and, furthermore, can cause trouble in reading non-Lithuanian last names.
Meanwhile, the State Commission of the Lithuanian Language holds the position that the letters q, w and x could only be used for the spelling of names of Lithuanian citizens married to foreigners, their children and foreigners who gained Lithuanian citizenship.