Much like the other Baltic language, Lithuanian, Latvian is an old language that has been able to retain many of the archaic aspects that other, newer Indo-European languages have lost. Moreover, though possessing many traits of a Germanic, European language, thanks to the influence of the Baltic Germans, Latvian also contains a number of words which are similar to Sanskrit or Latin, making it different from the Slavic languages that surround it.
The first known work to use Latvian in the Latin script was the Lord’s Prayer, found in Sebastian Münster’s 1544 work, Cosmographia Universalis.
Is “Latvian” 3 dialects or 3 separate languages? While every language has distinct dialects, they are usually recognised as being part of the same language; however, this is not necessarily true with Latvian. Though all 3 languages, Latvian, New Curonian, and Latgalian are, for the most part, mutually intelligible, the distinction between them is what causes classification problems, with Latgalian using the Polish alphabet, and New Curonian using the local Samogitian dialect and borrowing more heavily from German.
While it may seem a basic assumption that Latvians speaks Latvian, it is not always true. In addition to the aforementioned debates about New Curonian and Latgalian, Latvia also protects the Livonian language and an estimated 34% of people in Latvia (mostly ethnic Russians) speak Russian at home, meaning that, all told, only about 56% of Latvians use only the Latvian language.
All languages share certain aspects for proper communication, such as verb moods. English, for example, has 4 – indicative, imperative, subjunctive and infinitive – Latvian, however, aside from these, has 2 particular moods that are rare in other languages: the debitive mood, to express obligation or duty, and quotative mood, for reported and/or uncertain speech, like gossip or hearsay.
Lacking the English letters Q, W, X, and Y, Latvian uses 22 main letters; however, there are 11 more letters added due to differing pronunciations, making 33 total letters. Additionally, if you see the letters F or H in Latvian, you can be sure that the word is from another language.
All said, the specifics of the Latvian language, and the fact it retained many of the features of the earliest Proto-Indo-European languages, along with its significant differences from the nowadays lingua franca, make Latvian a quite difficult language to master, and an interesting challenge for our Latvian translators. To learn more, -> click here to contact our Latvian translation department.