Language Facts

Facts

The Latvian language is spoken by 1.5 million people primarily by the Latvian population in Latvia, where it is the official language, and secondarily by the non-Latvian population in the same country.

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.

History

Latvian language formed until 16th century on the basis of Latgalian accumulating Curonian, Semigallian and Selonian languages (all are Baltic languages).

The oldest known examples of written Latvian are from a 1585 catechism.

Classification

Latvian is one of two extant Baltic languages, a group of its own within the family of Indo-European languages. Both Latvian and particularly Lithuanian languages are considered to be the most archaic of still-spoken Indo-European languages. The closest ties they have are to Slavic and Germanic families.

Writing system

Like most of the Indo-European languages, Latvian employs modified Roman script including 33 letters. The alphabet lacks the letters q, w, x, y, but contains the letters â, è, ç, ì, î, í, ï, ò, ð, û, þ. Ö is only used in the Latgalic dialect, its use in the official Latvian language has been cancelled in the 1940s. Every phoneme has its own letter, so you can always guess how to pronounce a word when you read it. The stress with some exceptions is on the first syllable.

Language and politics

Latvia is a country with long historic ties with Germany, Poland, Sweden and Russia. Both during tsarist times (when Latvia was a part of the Russian Empire) and during Soviet occupation in the latter half of the 20th century, many Russians have immigrated into the country without learning Latvian. Today, Latvian is the mother tongue of only some 60% of the country's population (under 50% in major cities). As part of the independence process in the early 1990s, Latvia (as well as Estonia) introduced language laws to protect the language from extinction.