Latvian - interesting facts


The Latvian language, known as Latviešu valoda in its native form, is spoken by approximately 1.5 million people, accounting for about 0.02% of the global population. It falls outside the top hundred languages worldwide regarding the number of native speakers.

Latvian is the official language of Latvia, with over 80% of its population using it as their primary mode of communication. Interestingly, Latvia is also home to a significant Russian-speaking minority.

Belonging to the eastern Baltic language group, Latvian emerged as a separate language around the 6th and 7th centuries AD. By the 9th century, significant differences began appearing between Latvian and Lithuanian, initially regarded as dialectical variances. However, the disparities between the two languages are now so considerable that Latvians and Lithuanians cannot freely understand each other. The earliest known piece of Latvian literature is a prayer text from 1544, published in Cosmographia. The Latvian alphabet, which evolved based on German language orthography, underwent numerous changes and was finally standardized in the 20th century. Today, the Latvian State Language Centre, headquartered in Riga, regulates the norms of the Latvian language.

Compared to Lithuanian, Latvian retains fewer features characteristic of the Proto-Indo-European language, largely due to the strong influence of other languages, primarily Germanic but Slavic and Finno-Ugric. This external impact resulted in substantial grammatical and lexical modifications. Contemporary Latvian comprises three main dialects: Livonian, Central (the basis of the standard variety), and Latgalian.

Latvian is a highly inflectional language, with nouns and adjectives inflected for cases (seven, like Polish), numbers, and gender (masculine and feminine, as there is no neuter gender). Interestingly, Latvian adjectives have both long and short forms.

Latvian features long and short vowels, which sometimes differentiate the meanings of words. In writing, long vowels are marked with a macron (a line over the vowel), such as ā, ē, ī, ū.

The longest word in the Latvian language is the 27-letter "pretpulksteņrādītājvirziens," which translates to "in a direction against the clock." Among the most challenging words to pronounce is the adjective "trīsšķautņains" (triangular). Another fascinating term is "ieeja" (entrance), composed almost entirely of vowels.

Latvian is one of the official languages of the European Union.


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Close ties with the Lithuanian language

Latvian, the second largest Baltic language, belongs to the Baltic language family, part of the Indo-European language group. He is a close relative of the Lithuanian language. Polish and Latvian share some similarities, resulting from the fact that both languages come from the same language group. Despite their common origin, their differences are significant in terms of grammar and vocabulary. For people who speak Polish, understanding the Latvian language can be difficult but at the same time fascinating due to its unique features.

Dialects of Latvian 

Latvian has two main dialects: Eastern and Western. The Eastern dialect also called the Eastern Lutevian dialect, is mainly used in eastern Latvia. The Western dialect, also called the West-Lutheran dialect, is used in the country's west. The standard language is based on the Western dialect. Although the differences between these dialects are not huge, they can be seen in pronunciation, vocabulary or some grammatical elements. It is worth paying attention to these differences for a person learning Latvian.

Unique phonemes and rich vowel systems

The Latvian language has several unique phonemes that do not appear in Polish, such as the sounds 'š 'and 'ž'. In addition, this language has rich vowel systems, with 12 short and 12 long vowels. For people learning Latvian with Polish as their native language, mastering these sounds can be extremely difficult but also fascinating due to their uniqueness and diversity.

The phenomenon of the length of vowels

In Latvian, a vowel length phenomenon plays a key role in word structure and grammar. The length of the vowel can affect the meaning of the word and its grammatical cases. For Latvian language learners, especially those for whom Polish is the native language, mastering this phenomenon can be extremely difficult but also fascinating due to its impact on the structure and meaning of words.

Protection and promotion of the Latvian language

During the Soviet Union, the Latvian language was exposed to the influence and dominance of the Russian language. After regaining independence in 1991, Latvia took measures to protect and promote the Latvian language as the state language. For example, a bilingual teaching system was introduced, in which some lessons are taught in Latvian and some in a minority language. Thanks to these activities, Latvian has regained its place as the country's primary language of communication and culture.

Tautology in Latvian

An interesting feature of the Latvian language is numerous tautologies, i.e. repetitions of words or phrases with the same meaning. Many of these repetitions have their roots in ancient forms of language that were more complex and served rhythmic, stylistic, or emotional functions. Examples of such tautologies are the phrases "kalns augstums" (high mountain) or "maza mazīte" (little girl). Although tautologies are common in many languages, they are particularly common in Latvian, which makes the language even more interesting for learners.


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