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(lĕt`ĭsh), a language belonging to the Baltic subfamily of the Indo-European family of languages (see Baltic languagesBaltic languages,
a subfamily of the Indo-European family of languages. The Indo-European subfamily to which the Baltic languages appear to be closest is the Slavic. Because of this, some linguists regard Baltic and Slavic as branches of a single Balto-Slavic division of the
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). The mother tongue of close to 3 million persons living chiefly in Latvia, Latvian first became that country's official language in 1918, the year in which Latvian independence was won. In the pronunciation of Latvian, stress is placed on the first syllable of a word. Grammatically, both nouns and verbs are highly inflected. Since 1922, Latvian has used the Roman alphabet (supplemented by several diacritical signs) for writing. The oldest surviving texts in Latvian date from the late 16th cent.


See T. G. Fennel and H. A. Gelsen, Grammar of Modern Latvian (1980).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



the language of the Latvians; spoken mainly in the Latvian SSR. It belongs to the Baltic group of Indo-European languages. According to the 1970 census, there were about 1,360,000 speakers of Latvian in the USSR. There are three dialects: Central Latvian, which is spoken in central Latvia and is the basis of the literary language; Livonian, which is found in northern Kurzeme and northwestern Vidzeme, with a substrate of Liv; and Upper Latvian, which is found in eastern Latvia.

Latvian is characterized by a great number of innovations (phenomena or patterns of change in comparison with the more ancient Lithuanian language). Stress is fixed, falling on the first syllable. There is a great variety of syllabic intonations, as well as positional and historical sound alternations. Long vowels are shortened in word-final syllables, and diphthongs are monophthongized. The morphology of Latvian is characterized by a variegated system of declension and conjugation, the loss of dual forms, and the existence of a debitive mood and a mood of indirect speech. Written Latvian, based on the Latin alphabet, first appeared in the 16th century.


Grabis, R. “Latyshskii iazyk.” In Iazyki narodov SSSR, vol. 1. Moscow, 1966.
Endzeliņš, J. Lettische Grammatik Riga, 1922.
Endzeliņš, J. Latviešu valodas gramatika. Riga, 1951.
Masdienu latviešu literārās valodas gramatika, vols. 1–2. Riga, 1959–62.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


the official language of Latvia: closely related to Lithuanian and belonging to the Baltic branch of the Indo-European family
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
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