Latvian language

From Academic Kids

Latvian (Latviešu)
Spoken in: Latvia
Region: Northern Europe
Total speakers: 1.4 million
Ranking: Not in top 100
Genetic classification: Indo-European languages
 Baltic languages
  Eastern Baltic
Official status
Official language of: Latvia, European Union
Regulated by: -
Language codes
ISO 639-1lv
ISO 639-2lav
See also: LanguageList of languages

The Latvian language (latvieu valoda), sometimes also referred to as Lettish, is the official state language of the Republic of Latvia. There are about 1.4 million native Latvian speakers in Latvia and about 150,000 abroad.

The Latvian language belongs to the Eastern Baltic sub-group of the Baltic language group in the Indo-European language family, and it is neither Germanic, nor Slavic. Its closest and only living relative is the Lithuanian language. However, while related, the Latvian and Lithuanian vocabularies vary greatly from each other and are not mutually intelligible.

Latvian is an inflective language with several analytical forms, three dialects, and German syntactical influence. There are two grammatical genders in Latvian. Each noun is declined in seven cases: nominative, genitive, dative, accusative, instrumental, locative, and vocative.



Latvian emerged as a distinct language in the 16th century, having evolved from Latgalian and assimilating Curonian, Semigallian and Selonian on the way. All of these belong to the Baltic language group.

The oldest known examples of written Latvian are from a 1530 translation of a number of hymns made by Nicholas Ramm, a German pastor in Riga.


Latvian is one of two living Baltic languages (with the other one being Lithuanian), a group of its own within the Indo-European language family. The Latvian and Lithuanian languages are considered to be the most archaic (the closest to the proto Indo-European language) of all the living Indo-European languages. The closest ties the Baltic languages have with are the Slavic and Germanic languages.


Historically, Latvian was written using a system based upon German phonetic principles. At the beginning of the 20th century, this was replaced by a more phonetically appropriate system, using a modified Latin alphabet consisting of 33 letters. Latvian spelling has become one of the most perfect Latin script-based spelling systems in the world: Latvian graphemes correspond almost perfectly to the phonemes while observing the morphemic structure of the word.

The Latvian alphabet lacks the letters q, w, x, y, but uses letters modified by a number of diacritic marks:

  • A macron over the vowels a, e, i, u, signifying a long vowel (ā, ē, ī, ū, and historically also ō);
  • A caron over c, s and z, signifying palatalization (č, š, ž);
  • A comma under or over some consonants signifying a "palatal" variant (ģ, ķ, ļ, ņ, and historically also ŗ);

is only used in the Letgallian dialect. It has not been used in the official Latvian language since the 1940s.

The diphthongs (ai, au, ei, ia, iu, ui, ua, oi) are written (ai, au, ei, ie, iu, ui, o, oj).

Every phoneme has its own letter (with the exception of dz and dž, which are nevertheless uniquely identifiable, and the two sounds written as e), so that you don't have to guess how to pronounce a word when you read it. The stress, with a few exceptions, is on the first syllable.

Language and politics

Latvia has had tumultous relationship with Germany, Sweden, Russia and Poland throughout history, and has always been a multicultural country. However during the years of Soviet occupation (1940-1941; 1945-1991) the policy of russification greatly impacted the Latvian language. Through these two periods around 340,000 Latvians---approximately one-third of the population---were deported and otherwise persecuted. Followed by a massive imigration from Soviet republics of Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and others, the ethnic Latvian population was reduced from about 80% in 1935 to 52% in 1989. Most immigrants settled in the country without ever learning Latvian. Today Latvian is the mother tongue for only a little more than 60% of the country's population.

After re-establishment of independence in 1991 a new policy of language education was introduced. The primary goals now include integration of all inhabitants against the background of the official state language while protecting and developing the languages of Latvia's minorities. Some scholars believe that these programs may be contributing to the overall decline of the Latvian language.

A number of minorities in Latvia enjoy bilingual education at government expense. These include Russian, Jewish, Polish, Lithuanian, Ukrainian, Belarusian, Estonian, and Roma schools where Latvian is taught as a second language in the initial stages so as to encourage the attainment of competence in Latvian and ensure each resident of Latvia integration into the life of the society and not be hindered by lack of proficiency in Latvian.

The Law on State Language was adopted on December 9, 1999. Several regulatory acts that refer to this Law have been adopted. The observance of the Law is monitored by the Ministry of Justice State Language Centre.

External links


ca:Let de:Lettische Sprache et:Lti keel es:Idioma letn eo:Latva lingvo fr:Letton id:Bahasa Latvia it:Lingua lettone la:Lingua Latviana lv:Latviešu valoda li:Lets hu:Lett nyelv nl:Lets ja:ラトビア語 pl:Język łotewski ro:Limba letonă ru:Латышский язык fi:Latvian kieli sv:Lettiska


Academic Kids Menu

  • Art and Cultures
    • Art (
    • Architecture (
    • Cultures (
    • Music (
    • Musical Instruments (
  • Biographies (
  • Clipart (
  • Geography (
    • Countries of the World (
    • Maps (
    • Flags (
    • Continents (
  • History (
    • Ancient Civilizations (
    • Industrial Revolution (
    • Middle Ages (
    • Prehistory (
    • Renaissance (
    • Timelines (
    • United States (
    • Wars (
    • World History (
  • Human Body (
  • Mathematics (
  • Reference (
  • Science (
    • Animals (
    • Aviation (
    • Dinosaurs (
    • Earth (
    • Inventions (
    • Physical Science (
    • Plants (
    • Scientists (
  • Social Studies (
    • Anthropology (
    • Economics (
    • Government (
    • Religion (
    • Holidays (
  • Space and Astronomy
    • Solar System (
    • Planets (
  • Sports (
  • Timelines (
  • Weather (
  • US States (


  • Home Page (
  • Contact Us (

  • Clip Art (
Personal tools