Lettic Race, a northwestern subdivision of the Letto-Slavic or Slavo-Lettic group of the Aryan or Indo-European family, embracing the Lithuanians, Old Prussians, and Letts. The Lithuanians, the inhabitants of the ancient grand principality of Lithuania, are distinguished as Lithuanians proper, who occupy the eastern portion of the Russian governments of Kovno, Wilna, Courland, and Grodno, and number about 750,000; Samogitians or Shamaites, who inhabit ancient Samogitia, now mainly comprised in the government of Kovno, numbering about 500,000; and Prussian Lithuanians, of the N. E. portion of East Prussia, numbering about 150,000. The Old Prussians have been Germanized, and their language has been extinct since the 17th century; they inhabited the Baltic region between the Vistula and the Niemen. The Letts inhabit principally Courland, Vitebsk, and Kovno; a few hundreds are found also in the governments of Pskov and St. Petersburg; their number is estimated at about 1,000,000. - The Lithuanian language has several dialects, of which the principal are the Lithuanian proper, or High Lithuanian, the Samogitian, and the Prussian Lithuanian. It is of great interest to the students of the Aryan languages on account of the large number of archaic forms which it has preserved.
Though several religious books, as translations of the Bible, hymn books, and catechisms, have been printed in it, the Lithuanian language has no literature proper. The Lithuanians possess a large mass of songs (dainos), proverbs, and riddles, which have lately been gathered and published by Rhesa, Nesselmann, Schleicher, and others. In the last century a Lithuanian clergyman, Christian Donaleitis, composed several charming little poems. The Lettish language is of a more modern origin. It is heard in the purest form near Mitau, where recently several books have been published in it. The first printed Lettish book was a Lutheran catechism, which appeared in 1586. Several religious works have since appeared, and during the last 50 years an attempt has been made to translate into Lettish several popular German idyls and fairy tales. A national Lettish literature is not entirely wanting. There have been composed in it several lyrical poems and plays by native authors, and several periodicals, mostly written by clergymen, are issued. The Old Prussian language is but little known.
Nesselmann has made a collection of the last remains of it. (See Lithuania, and Slavic Races and Languages.)