Ė! Come back!

letter ė

The Lithuanian alphabet consists of 32 characters, but not one of them is as unique as the letter ė. It is the only character that has no match in any other language.

Technologies of the modern world have swallowed up Lithuanian letters – extra dots, macrons, ogoneks, and carons. People are either too lazy or see no particular reason to install special keyboards in order to use the language properly.

Latin alphabet was not sufficient to mark these sounds. Therefore somebody needed to create extra symbols. One of the oldest representatives of such symbols is the dotted letter ė (pronunciation).

History of Ė

Ė was created in 1653 by Daniel Klein (1609–1666). He was a Lutheran pastor and grammarian in Tilsit (Tilžė).  Yes, it is the same town of Prussian Lithuania that produced the famous Tilsit cheese. Klein was the author of the first Lithuanian grammar. The letter ė appeared in the common Lithuanian language only in the 19th century. Since then, it is a part of the official alphabet. It reflects our ancestors’ resolution to preserve and nurture the native tongue.

Ė in Diaspora

The uniqueness of this character can be illustrated by a mostly unknown story told by Giedrius Subačius, a professor at the University of Illinois. Long before the age of computers, shortly after the WWI, Lithuanian papers in the United States were published using a similar symbol – ē, e with a macron, commonly used in transliteration of the long e in other alphabets. The reason was simple. At the time, ė was not considered to be a real character, but a rarely appearing symbol. Printers needed a specific form that would cost twice as much. Clemente Dedele, who worked in various printing houses of Chicago, actively corresponded with moulding factories and convinced them that ė is a real, even if a rare character of the Lithuanian alphabet. Persistence paid off. American moulders gave in and charged for the form the same as for any other letter.

Initiatives for Preservation of Lithuanian Language

In order to preserve Lithuanian, one of the oldest languages in the world, special initiatives intend to bring back these unique symbols of the alphabet into the everyday writing of the people.

The idea resonated with some Graphics Department students of Vilnius Arts Academy, who represented Lithuania in Leipzig Book Fair of 2017. The students created an Ė workshop with live collage, artistic calligraphy, and text-reading using the interactive glasses. This year, Kaunas municipality and a private company UAB ACC Distribution decided to build a monument to the character, which sets the Lithuanian language apart in the rest of the world. It will be an appropriate gift to this ancient and unique Language of Europe.

Aitvaras – Baltic Home Spirit


In the old Lithuanian village homes, there used to be unusual magic creatures – spirits aitvarai (sngl. aitvaras – ite’-vahr-as). When the spirit is at the homestead, he looks like a black rooster. If he flees outside, he flies like a fire stick, reminding of a serpent.

Aitvaras lives on the attic of the homestead and brings his master fortunes – grain, curd, and even money. Too bad that he steals them from the neighbours. As one builds a new storehouse, it is helpful to dig a hole in the ground near the entrance steps and hide a coper item there.

Aitvaras is a capricious creature. Every day he needs to be appeased with some delicious baked eggs. If he is offended, he can burn the house down.

Want Your Own Aitvaras?

He can be hatched from an egg of a seven-year-old rooster.  For seven weeks, the master has to keep it warm in his armpit. It is possible to lure one with a candle dedicated to the sky-god Perkūnas. The candle is to be burned during storms, lest the house catches fire from lightning. One has to burn the candle on the attic in a clay pitcher. We can only wonder if people used to adorn their attic windows in order to attract aitvarai. However, the simplest way to acquire an aitvaras is to travel to Riga’s market and obtain a special black stone. Once you bring it home, it releases an aitvaras.

Farmer’s Aitvaras

Here is a story about a farmer. One rainy autumn day, he was riding in his carriage next to his fields and suddenly heard a sorrowful sob under a tree. He found a little rooster there. The farmer brought the rooster home and took good care of him. The rooster grew to be a very loyal aitvaras.

This story calls for a choice – does one want to prosper at the toil of one’s hands or depend on an unreliable spirit, who steals from others.

From Klimka, Libertas. “The Chest of Lithuanian Traditions” (Lith. Lietuviškų tradicijų skrynelė). Didakta, 2013, p. 341.

Aitvaras usually takes care of poor, abused, ungreedy people.

Lithuanian aitvaras is closely related to the Latvian budzis or pūķis. Also, take note of the general characteristics of dragons – think of The Hobbit.

For Lithuanian audiences, here is another interesting and a more comprehencive article about aitvaras »