Latvian belongs to the Baltic
branch of the Indo-European
language family. It is one of two living Baltic languages with an official status (the other being Lithuanian
). The Latvian and Lithuanian languages have retained many features of the nominal morphology of the proto-language, though, in matters of phonology and verbal morphology, they show many innovations,[clarification needed]
with Latvian being considerably more innovative than Lithuanian.
Distribution of the Baltic tribes, circa 1200 (boundaries are approximate).
According to some glottochronological
speculations, the Eastern Baltic languages split from Western Baltic
(or, perhaps, from the hypothetical proto-Baltic
language) between 400 and 600 CE.
The differentiation between Lithuanian
and Latvian started after 800 CE, with a long period of being one language but different dialects.
At a minimum, transitional dialects existed until the 14th century or 15th century, and perhaps as late as the 17th century.
Latvian as a distinct language emerged over several centuries from the language spoken by the ancient Latgalian tribe assimilating the languages of other neighbouring Baltic tribes—Curonian
—which resulted in these languages gradually losing their most distinct characteristics. This process of consolidation started in the 13th century after the Livonian Crusade
and forced christianization
. These tribes came under Livonian
rule thus forming a unified political, economic and religious space.
The oldest known examples of written Latvian are from a 1530 translation of a hymn made by Nikolaus Ramm, a German pastor in Riga
The oldest preserved book in Latvian is a 1585 Catholic catechism of Petrus Canisius
currently located at the Uppsala University Library
Until the 19th century, the Latvian written language was influenced by German Lutheran
pastors and the German language
, because the upper class of local society was formed by Baltic Germans
In the middle of the 19th century the First Latvian National Awakening
was started, led by “Young Latvians
” who popularized the use of Latvian language. Participants in this movement laid the foundations for standard Latvian and also popularized the Latvianization of loan words. However, in the 1880s, when Czar Alexander III came into power, Russification
started. During this period, some Latvian scholars[who?]
suggested adopting Cyrillic
for use in Latvian.
After the czar's death, around the start of the 20th century, nationalist movements re-emerged. In 1908, Latvian linguists Kārlis Mīlenbahs
and Jānis Endzelīns
elaborated the modern Latvian alphabet, which slowly replaced the old orthography used before. Another feature of the language, in common with its sister language Lithuanian, that was developed at that time is that proper names from other countries and languages are altered phonetically
to fit the phonological system of Latvian, even if the original language also uses the Latin alphabet. Moreover, the names are modified to ensure that they have noun declension endings, declining like all other nouns. For example, a place such as Lecropt
(a Scottish parish) is likely to become Lekropta; the Scottish village of Tillicoultry
During the Soviet time
(1940–1991), the policy of Russification
greatly affected the Latvian language. Throughout this period, many Latvians and Latvia's other ethnicities faced deportation and persecution. Massive immigration from the Soviet republics of Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and others followed, largely as a result of Stalin's plan to integrate Latvia and the other Baltic republics into the Soviet Union by means of Russian colonization. As a result, the proportion of the ethnic Latvian population within the total population was reduced from 80% in 1935 to 52% in 1989. In Soviet Latvia, most of the immigrants who settled in the country did not learn Latvian. According to the 2011 census
Latvian was the language spoken at home by 62% of the country's population.
After the re-establishment of independence in 1991, a new policy of language education was introduced. The primary declared goal was the integration of all inhabitants into the environment of the official state language while protecting the languages of Latvia's ethnic minorities.
Government-funded bilingual education was available in primary schools for ethnic minorities until 2019 when Parliament decided on educating only in Latvian. Minority schools are available for Russian
schools. Latvian is taught as a second language in the initial stages too, as is officially declared, to encourage proficiency in that language, aiming at avoiding alienation from the Latvian-speaking linguistic majority and for the sake of facilitating academic and professional achievements. Since the mid-1990s, the government may pay a student's tuition in public universities only provided that the instruction is in Latvian. Since 2004, the state mandates Latvian as the language of instruction in public secondary schools (Form 10–12) for at least 60% of class work (previously, a broad system of education in Russian existed).
The Official Language Law was adopted on 9 December 1999.
Several regulatory acts associated with this law have been adopted. Observance of the law is monitored by the State Language Centre run by the Ministry of Justice.
To counter the influence of Russian
, government organizations (namely the Terminology Commission of the Latvian Academy of Science and the State Language Center) popularize the use of Latvian terms. A debate arose over the Latvian term for euro
. The Terminology Commission suggested eira
, with their Latvianized and declinable ending, would be a better term for euro
than the widely used eiro
, while European Central Bank
insisted that the original name euro
be used in all languages.
New terms are Latvian derivatives, calques
or new loanwords. For example, Latvian has two words for "telephone"—tālrunis
, the former being a direct translation into Latvian of the latter international term. Still, others are older or more euphonic loanwords rather than Latvian words. For example, "computer" can be either dators
. Both are loanwords; the native Latvian word for "computer" is skaitļotājs
, which is also an official term. However, now dators
has been considered an appropriate translation, skaitļotājs
is also used.
There are several contests held annually to promote the correct use of Latvian. One of them is "Word of the year" (Gada vārds
) organized by the Riga Latvian Society
It features categories such as the "Best word", "Worst word", "Best saying" and "Word salad
". In 2018 the word zibmaksājums
) won the category of "Best word" and influenceris
) won the category of "Worst word".
The word pair of straumēt
) and straumēšana
(streaming) were named the best words of 2017, while transporti
as an unnecessary plural of the name for transport
was chosen as the worst word of 2017.
There are three dialects
in Latvian: the Livonian dialect, High Latvian and the Middle dialect. Latvian dialects and their varieties should not be confused with the Livonian
Map showing geographical distribution of the dialects in Latvia. Varieties of the Livonian dialect (Lībiskais dialekts) are in blue, the Middle dialect (Vidus dialekts) in green, the Upper dialect (Augšzemnieku dialekts) in yellow.
The Livonian dialect of Latvian was more affected by the Livonian language substratum
than Latvian in other parts of Latvia. It is divided into the Vidzeme variety
and the Courland
variety (also called tāmnieku
). There are two syllable intonations
in the Livonian dialect, extended and broken. In the Livonian dialect, short vowels in the endings of words are discarded, while long vowels are shortened. In all genders and numbers, only one form of the verb
is used. Personal names
in both genders are derived with endings – els, -ans. In prefixes ie
is changed to e
. Due to migration and the introduction of a standardised language this dialect has declined. It arose from assimilated Livonians
, who started to speak in Latvian and assimilated Livonian grammar into Latvian.
The Middle dialect spoken in central and Southwestern Latvia is the basis of standard Latvian. The dialect is divided into the Vidzeme variety, the Curonian variety and the Semigallian variety. The Vidzeme variety and the Semigallian variety are closer to each other than to the Curonian variety, which is more archaic than the other two. There are three syllable intonations in some parts of Vidzeme variety of the Middle dialect, extended, broken and falling. The Curonian and Semigallian varieties have two syllable intonations, extended and broken, but some parts of the Vidzeme variety has extended and falling intonations. In the Curonian variety, ŗ
is still used. The Kursenieki language
, which used to be spoken along Curonian Spit
, is closely related to the varieties of the Middle dialect spoken in Courland
Upper Latvian dialect
Upper Latvian dialect is spoken in Eastern Latvia. It is set apart from the rest of the Latvian by a number of phonetic differences. The dialect has two main varieties – Selonian (two syllable intonations, falling and rising) and Non-Selonian (falling and broken syllable intonations). There is a standard language
, the Latgalian language
, which is based on deep non-Selonian varieties spoken in the south of Latgale
. The term "Latgalian" is sometimes also applied to all non-Selonian varieties or even the whole dialect. However, it is unclear if it is accurate to use the term for any varieties besides the standard language. While the term may refer to varieties spoken in Latgale
or by Latgalians
, not all speakers identify as speaking Latgalian, for example, speakers of deep Non-Selonian varieties in Vidzeme
explicitly deny speaking Latgalian.
The history of the Latvian language (see below) has placed it in a peculiar position for a language of its size whereby it is spoken by a large number of non-native speakers as compared to native speakers. The immigrant and minority population in Latvia is 700,000 people: Russians
, and others. The majority of immigrants came to Latvia between 1940 and 1991; supplementing pre-existing ethnic minority communities (Latvian Germans
, Latvian Jews
The trends show that the proficiency of Latvian among its non-native speakers is gradually increasing. In a 2009 survey by Latvian Language Agency
56% percent of respondents with Russian as their native language described having a good knowledge of Latvian, whereas for the younger generation (from 17 to 25 years) the number was 64%.
The increased adoption of Latvian by minorities was brought about by its status as the only official language of the country and other changes in the society after the fall of the Soviet Union
that mostly shifted linguistic focus away from Russian
. As an example, in 2007, universities and colleges for the first time received applications from prospective students who had a bilingual secondary education in schools for minorities. Fluency in Latvian is expected in a variety of professions and careers.
Latvian grammar represents a classic Indo-European (Baltic) system with well-developed inflection and derivation. Primary word stress, with some exceptions in derivation and inflection, is on the first syllable
. There are no articles in Latvian; definiteness is expressed by an inflection of adjectives. Basic word order in Latvian is subject–verb–object
; however, word order is relatively free.
There are three conjugation classes in Latvian. Verbs are conjugated for person, tense, mood and voice.
Latvian in Latin script
was first based upon the German alphabet
, while the alphabet of the Latgalian dialect was based on the Polish alphabet
. At the beginning of the 20th century, this was replaced by a more phonetically appropriate alphabet.
Today, the Latvian standard alphabet consists of 33 letters:
The modern standard Latvian alphabet uses 22 unmodified letters of the Latin alphabet (all except Q
). It adds a further eleven letters by modification. The vowel letters A
can take a macron
to show length, unmodified letters being short; these letters are not differentiated while sorting (e.g. in dictionaries). The letters C
, that in unmodified form are pronounced [ts], [s] and [z] respectively, can be marked with a caron
. These marked letters, Č
are pronounced [tʃ], [ʃ] and [ʒ] respectively. The letters Ģ
are written with a cedilla
or little 'comma' placed below (or above the lowercase g
). They are modified (palatalized
) versions of G
and represent the sounds [ɟ], [c], [ʎ] and [ɲ]. Non-standard varieties of Latvian add extra letters to this standard set.
Latvian spelling has almost perfect correspondence between graphemes and phonemes. Every phoneme
has its letter so that a reader doesn't need to learn how a word is pronounced and a writer doesn't need to learn how a word is written. There are only two exceptions to this, which could cause mispronunciation. The first problem is that the letters E
represent two different sounds: [ɛ]/[ɛː] and [æ]/[æː]. The second problem is that letter O
indicates both the short and long [ɔ], and the diphthong
[uɔ]. These three sounds are written as O
, and some Latvians campaign for the adoption of this system in standard Latvian. However, the majority of Latvian linguists argue that o
are found only in loanwords, with the Uo
sound being the only native Latvian phoneme. The digraph Uo
was discarded in 1914, and the letter Ō
has not been used in the official Latvian language since 1946. Likewise, the letters Ŗ
were discarded in 1957, although they are still used in some varieties and by many Latvians living beyond the borders of Latvia. The letter Y
is used only in the standard Latgalian written language, where it is used to represent /ɨ
/, which is not used in other dialects. Latvian orthography allows nine digraphs, which are written Ai
The old orthography was based on that of German and did not represent the Latvian language phonemically. At the beginning, it was used to write religious texts for German priests to help them in their work with Latvians. The first writings in Latvian were chaotic: there were twelve variations of writing Š
. In 1631 the German priest Georg Mancelius
tried to systematize the writing. He wrote long vowels according to their position in the word – a short vowel followed by h
for a radical vowel, a short vowel in the suffix and vowel with a diacritic
mark in the ending indicating two accents. Consonants were written following the example of German with multiple letters. The old orthography was used until the 20th century when it was slowly replaced by the modern orthography.
Latvian on computers
The rarely used Latvian ergonomic keyboard layout
In late 1992 the official Latvian computing standard LVS 8-92 took effect. It was followed by LVS 24-93 (Latvian language support for computers) that also specified the way Latvian language (alphabet, numbers, currency, punctuation marks, date and time) should be represented on computers. A Latvian ergonomic keyboard standard LVS 23-93 was also announced several months later, but it didn't gain popularity due to its need for a custom-built keyboard.
Nowadays standard QWERTY
or the US keyboards are used for writing in Latvian; diacritics are entered by using a dead key
(usually ', occasionally ~).
Some keyboard layouts use the modifier key AltGr
(most notably the Windows 2000 and XP built-in layout (Latvian QWERTY), it is also default modifier in X11R6, thus a default in most Linux distributions).
In the 1990s, lack of software support of diacritics caused an unofficial style of orthography, often called translits
, to emerge for use in situations when the user is unable to access Latvian diacritic marks (e-mail, newsgroups, web user forums, chat, SMS
etc.). It uses the basic Modern Latin alphabet
only, and letters that are not used in standard orthography are usually omitted. In this style, diacritics are replaced by digraphs – a doubled letter indicates a long vowel (as in Finnish and Estonian); a following j
indicates palatalisation of consonants, i.e., a cedilla; and the postalveolars Š
are written with h
replacing the háček
, as in English. Sometimes the second letter, the one used instead of a diacritic, is changed to one of two other diacritic letters (e.g. š is written as ss or sj, not sh), and since many people may find it difficult to use these unusual methods, they write without any indication of missing diacritic marks, or they use digraphing only if the diacritic mark in question would make a semantic difference.
Sometimes an apostrophe is used before or after the character that would properly need to be diacriticised. Also, digraph diacritics are often used and sometimes even mixed with diacritical letters of standard orthography. Although today there is software support available, diacritic-less writing is still sometimes used for financial and social reasons. As š
are part of the Windows-1252
coding, it is possible to input those two letters using a numerical keypad
. Latvian language code for cmd and .bat files - 1257
For example, the Lord's Prayer
in Latvian written in different styles:
Consonants can be long (written as double consonants) mamma [ˈmamːa], or short. Plosives and fricatives occurring between two short vowels are lengthened: upe [ˈupːe]. Same with 'zs' that is pronounced as /sː/, šs and žs as /ʃː/.
Latvian has six vowels, with length
as distinctive feature:
/ɔ ɔː/, and the diphthongs involving it other than /uɔ/, are confined to loanwords.
Latvian also has 10 diphthongs
, four of which are only found in loanwords (/ai ui ɛi au iɛ uɔ iu (ɔi) ɛu (ɔu)/), although some diphthongs are mostly limited to proper names and interjections.
Standard Latvian and, with some exceptions in derivation and inflection, all of the Latvian dialects have fixed initial stress. Long vowels and diphthongs have a tone, regardless of their position in the word. This includes the so-called "mixed diphthongs", composed of a short vowel followed by a sonorant
Loanwords from other Baltic language include ķermenis
(body) from Old Prussian
, as well as veikals
(store) and paģiras
(hangover) from Lithuanian
History of the study
The first grammar of the Latvian language is a short “Manual on the Latvian language” (Latin
: Manuductio ad linguam lettonicam
) by lv:Johans Georgs Rehehūzens
, published in 1644 in Riga.
- Bielenstein, Die lettische Sprache (Berlin, 1863–64)
- Bielenstein, Lettische Grammatik (Mitau, 1863)
- Bielenstein, Die Elemente der lettischen Sprache (Mitau, 1866), popular in treatment
- Ulmann and Brasche, Lettisches Wörterbuch (Riga, 1872–80)
- Bielenstein, Tausend lettische Räthsel, übersetzt und erklärt (Mitau, 1881)
- Bezzenberger, Lettische Dialekt-Studien (Göttingen, 1885)
- Bezzenberger, Ueber die Sprach der preussischen Letten;; (Göttingen, 1888)
- Thomsen, Beröringer melem de Finske og de Baltiske Sprog (Copenhagen, 1890)
- Bielenstein, Grenzen des lettischen Volksstammes und der lettischen Sprache (St. Petersburg, 1892)
- Baron and Wissendorff, Latwju dainas (Latvian Folksongs, Mitau, 1894)
- Andreianov, Lettische Volkslieder und Mythen (Halle, 1896 )
- Bielenstein, Ein glückliches Leben (Riga, 1904)
- Brentano, Lehrbuch der lettischen Sprache (Vienna, c. 1907)
- Holst, Lettische Grammatik (Hamburg, 2001)
- Wolter, "Die lettische Literatur," in Die ost-europäische Literaturen (Berlin, 1908)
- Kalning, Kurzer Lettischer Sprachführer (Riga, 1910)
Literary histories in Latvian
- Klaushush, Latweeschu rakstneezibas wehsture (Riga, 1907)
- Pludons, Latwiju literaturas vēsture (Jelgava, 1908–09)
- Lehgolnis, Latweeschu literaturas wehsture (Riga, 1908)
- Prande, Latviešu Rakstniecība Portrejās (Rīga, 1923)
- ^ "Lettish". TheFreeDictionary.com. Retrieved 2007-07-28.
- ^ Latvian at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
Standard Latvian language at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
Latgalian language at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
- ^ Prauliņš (2012), p. 1
- ^ "Dažādu tautu valodu prasme". vvk.lv (in Latvian).
- ^ a b "At Home Latvian Is Spoken by 62% of Latvian Population; the Majority – in Vidzeme and Lubāna County". Central Statistical Bureau of Latvia. 26 September 2013. Retrieved 30 October 2014.
- ^ a b "Latvian Language Is Spoken by 62% of the Population". Baltic News Network. 26 September 2013. Retrieved 30 October 2014.
- ^ a b Dahl, Östen; Koptjevskaja-Tamm, Maria, eds. (2001). The Circum-Baltic Languages. John Benjamins Publishing. ISBN 9027230579. OCLC 872451315.
- ^ "Latgalian Language in Latvia: Between Politics, Linguistics and Law". International Centre for Ethnic and Linguistic Diversity. 30 March 2018. Retrieved 6 August 2018.
- ^ International Business Publications, Usa. (2008). Lithuania taxation laws and regulations handbook. Intl Business Pubns Usa. p. 28. ISBN 978-1433080289. OCLC 946497138.
- ^ Ramat, Anna Giacalone; Ramat, Paolo (1998). "The Baltic Languages". The Indo-European Languages. Routledge. pp. 454–479. ISBN 9781134921867. OCLC 908192063.
- ^ Livonia. 13th-16th Century
- ^ Vīksniņš, Nicholas (1973). "The Early History of Latvian Books". Lituanus. 19 (3). Retrieved 3 September 2019.
- ^ "National treasure: The oldest Latvian-language book in Rīga". Public Broadcasting of Latvia. 25 August 2016. Retrieved 27 October 2017.
- ^ Rozenberga, Māra; Sprēde, Antra (24 August 2016). "National treasure: The first Bible in Latvian". Public Broadcasting of Latvia. Retrieved 27 October 2017.
- ^ "The First General Census of the Russian Empire of 1897 – Courland governorate". Demoscope Weekly. Retrieved December 31, 2018.
- ^ "The First General Census of the Russian Empire of 1897 – Governorate of Livonia". Demoscope Weekly. Retrieved December 31, 2018.
- ^ Minority Protection in Latvia (PDF). Open Society Institute. 2001. Retrieved 3 September 2019.
- ^ Latvian Centre for Human Rights and Ethnic Studies (2004). Analytical Report PHARE RAXEN_CC - Minority Education (PDF). Vienna: Minority Education in Latvia. Retrieved 3 September 2019.
- ^ "Official Language Law". likumi.lv. Retrieved 9 January 2018.
- ^ "No 'eira' - but 'eiro' will do". The Baltic Times. 6 October 2004. Retrieved 28 July 2007.
- ^ "'Glābējsilīte' is word of the year". Latvians Online. 18 January 2010. Retrieved 14 February 2010.
- ^ "Best and worst words of 2018 underlined". Public Broadcasting of Latvia. 28 January 2019. Retrieved 28 January 2019.
- ^ "Best and worst words of 2017 underlined". Public Broadcasting of Latvia. 31 January 2018. Retrieved 28 January 2019.
- ^ Markus, Dace (2012). "The deep Latgalian variants of the High Latvian dialect in North-East Vidzeme (so-called Malenia)". Baltistica (in Latvian). Vilnius University (8 priedas): 99–110. doi:10.15388/baltistica.0.8.2114.
- ^ Language situation in Latvia: 2004–2010(PDF). Latvian Language Agency. 2012. pp. 18–20. ISBN 978-9984-815-81-7.
- ^ a b Gross, Arnis (July 4, 2015). "The Next Challenge for the Latvian Language". Latvians Online. Retrieved October 27, 2017.
- ^ Veinberga, Linda (2001). "Latviešu valodas izmaiņas un funkcijas interneta vidē". politika.lv (in Latvian). Archived from the original on 2012-05-24. Retrieved 2007-07-28.
- ^ BIBLIA, published Riga, 1848 (reprint), original edition 1739; "modern" old orthographies published into the 20th century do not double consonants
- ^ a b Veips, Lauris (13 May 2017). "From the Language of Serfs to Official EU Communication – the Journey of Latvian". LSM.lv. Retrieved 27 October 2017.
- ^ "Baltic languages – Loanwords in Baltic". britannica.com.
- ^ Viiding, Kristi (2004). "Das Porträt eines liv- und kurländischen orthodoxen Theologen (Georg Mancelius), anhand der ihm gewidmeten Geleit und Begrüßungsgedichte". In Sträter, Udo (ed.). Orthodoxie und Poesie (in German). Leipzig: Evangelische Verlagsanstalt. ISBN 3-374-01997-8.
- ^ Kabelka, J. (1982). Baltų filologijos įvadas: Vadovėlis respublikos aukštųjų mokyklų filologijos specialybės studentams [Introduction to Baltic Philology: A Textbook for Philology Students of Higher Education in the Republic] (in Latvian). Vilnius: Mokslas. p. 101.
Wikivoyage has a phrasebook for Latvian
Last edited on 7 June 2021, at 15:56
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