Friday, January 6, 2017

Language facts: Latvian

Latvian is the official state language of Latvia and an official EU language. There are about 1.5 million native Latvian speakers in Latvia and about 150,000 abroad.

Riga, Latvia.
Source: AdobeStock.com

Latvian is one of the two living languages of the Balts (the other being Lithuanian), a group of its own within the Indo-European language family. Latvian is an inflective language with several analytical forms, three dialects, and German syntactical influence (as the ruling class in the Baltic region were Germans until the 19th century). In German, the language is actually called Lettish, which is also an older English term for Latvian. 

Language as a living relic

It is still a bit of a mystery how the Baltic languages really developed in early stages when evolving from the Proto-Indo-European language, the common ancestor of the largest language family in the world (the Indo-European). Both Latvian and Lithuanian contain linguistic features supposedly characteristic of the early stages of the proto-language, which makes the Baltic branch particularly interesting to academics. In fact, Latvian and Lithuanian used to be just dialects of one common language in the Baltics and started to differentiate more only after the 8th century AD. Mutually intelligible dialects still existed in modern history (estimates go back as late as to the 17th century). 

Apart from German, also the Russian language had its say in modern Latvian language evolution. (It's actually very interesting to observe the outlines of historical conflicts and battles for influence zones mainly on minor languages of Central and Eastern Europe, based on the German and Russian linguistic impact). The first wave of Russification in the late 19th century, followed by almost 50 years of Soviet occupation (from 1941 to 1990) as well as Stalin's intent for Russia to colonize the Baltic region diminished the ethnic Latvian population (from 80% before World War II to only 52% in 1989). After massive deportations of Latvians, the area was populated by immigrants who kept Russian as their mother tongue. After the Soviet union collapsed in 1991, Latvia introduced policies to strengthen the use as well as education of the Latvian language and the number of native Latvian speakers increased to more than 60% in Latvia accordingly.

Alphabet

The modern standard Latvian alphabet uses 22 unmodified letters of the Latin alphabet (all except Q, W, X and Y). It adds a further eleven letters by modification. Latvian spelling has almost perfect correspondence between graphemes and phonemes. Every phoneme has its own letter so that a reader need not learn how a word is pronounced, but simply pronounce it. 

A, Ā, B, C, Č, D, E, Ē, F, G, Ģ, H, I, Ī, J, K, Ķ, L, Ļ, M, N, Ņ, O, P, R, S, Š, T, U, Ū, V, Z, Ž 
a b c d e f g h i k l m n o p q r s t v x y z

No comments:

Post a Comment