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Main article: "Latvian grammar

Latvian is an "inflecting language with many analytical forms. Primary word stress, with a few exceptions, is on the first "syllable. There are no articles in Latvian, however definiteness is expressed by inflection of adjectives. Basic word order in Latvian is "subject–verb–object; however, word order is relatively free.


Latvian declension

There are two "grammatical genders in Latvian (masculine and feminine) and two "numbers, singular and plural. Nouns and adjectives "decline into seven cases: "nominative, "genitive, "dative, "accusative, "instrumental, "locative, and "vocative. There are six declensions and no articles.


Latvian grammar § Verb conjugation

There are three conjugation classes in Latvian. Verbs are conjugated for person, tense, mood and voice.


Latvian alphabet, "Latvian Braille, and "Latvian orthography

Latvian in "Latin script was first based upon the "German alphabet, while the alphabet of the Latgalian dialect was based on the "Polish alphabet. At the beginning of the 20th century, this was replaced by a more phonetically appropriate alphabet.

Standard orthography[edit]

Today, the Latvian standard alphabet consists of 33 letters:

"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 "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

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. The vowel letters "A, "E, "I and "U can take a "macron to show length, unmodified letters being short; these letters are not differentiated while sorting (e.g. in dictionaries). The letters "C, "S and "Z, that in unmodified form are pronounced [ts], [s] and [z] respectively, can be marked with a "caron. These marked letters, Č, Š and Ž are pronounced [tʃ], [ʃ] and [ʒ] respectively. The letters "Ģ, "Ķ, "Ļ and "Ņ are written with a "cedilla or little 'comma' placed below (or above the lowercase g). They are modified ("palatalized) versions of G, K, L and N and represent the sounds [ɟ], [c], [ʎ] and [ɲ]. Non-standard varieties of Latvian add extra letters to this standard set.

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. There are only two exceptions to this, which could cause mispronunciation. The first problem is that the letters E/Ē represent two different sounds: [ɛ]/[ɛː] and [æ]/[æː]. The second problem is that letter O indicates both the short and long [ɔ], and the "diphthong [uɔ]. These three sounds are written as O, Ō and Uo in Latgalian, and some Latvians campaign for the adoption of this system in standard Latvian. However, the majority of Latvian linguists argue that o and ō are found only in loanwords, with the Uo sound being the only native Latvian phoneme. The digraph Uo was discarded in 1914, and the letter Ō has not been used in the official Latvian language since 1946. Likewise, the letters Ŗ and Ch were discarded in 1957, although they are still used in some varieties and by many Latvians living beyond the borders of Latvia. The letter Y is used only in the standard Latgalian written language, where it is used to represent /"ɨ/, which is not used in other dialects. Latvian orthography allows nine digraphs, which are written Ai, Au, Ei, Ie, Iu, Ui, Oi, Dz and .

Old orthography[edit]

Latvian "Lutheran songbook ("hymnal) in old orthography.

The old orthography was based on that of German and did not represent the Latvian language phonemically. At the beginning it was used to write religious texts for German priests to help them in their work with Latvians. The first writings in Latvian were chaotic: there were twelve variations of writing Š. In 1631 the German priest Georgs (Juris) Mancelis tried to systematize the writing. He wrote long vowels according to their position in the word – a short vowel followed by h for a radical vowel, a short vowel in the suffix and vowel with a "diacritic mark in the ending indicating two accents. Consonants were written following the example of German with multiple letters. The old orthography was used until the 20th century when it was slowly replaced by the modern orthography.

Latvian on computers[edit]

The rarely used Latvian ergonomic keyboard layout

Standard "QWERTY keyboards are used for writing in Latvian; diacritics are entered by using a "dead key (usually ', occasionally ~). Some keyboard layouts use the "modifier key "AltGr (most notably the Windows 2000 and XP built-in layout (Latvian QWERTY), it is also default modifier in X11R6, thus a default in most Linux distributions). In the early 1990s, the Latvian ergonomic "keyboard layout was developed. Although this layout may be available with language support software, it has not become popular because of a lack of keyboards with this layout.

In the 1990s, lack of software support of diacritics caused an unofficial style of orthography, often called "translits, to emerge for use in situations when the user is unable to access Latvian diacritic marks (e-mail, newsgroups, web user forums, chat, "SMS etc.). It uses the "basic Modern Latin alphabet only, and letters that are not used in standard orthography are usually omitted. In this style, diacritics are replaced by digraphs – a doubled letter indicates a long vowel (as in Finnish and Estonian); a following j indicates palatalisation of consonants, i.e., a cedilla; and the postalveolars Š, Č and Ž are written with h replacing the "háček, as in English. Sometimes the second letter, the one used instead of a diacritic, is changed to one of two other diacritic letters (e.g. š is written as ss or sj, not sh), and since many people may find it difficult to use these unusual methods, they write without any indication of missing diacritic marks, or they use digraphing only if the diacritic mark in question would make a semantic difference.[10] Sometimes an apostrophe is used before or after the character that would properly need to be diacriticised. Also, digraph diacritics are often used and sometimes even mixed with diacritical letters of standard orthography. Although today there is software support available, diacritic-less writing is still sometimes used for financial and social reasons. As š and ž are part of the "Windows-1252 coding, it is possible to input those two letters using a "numerical keypad.

Comparative orthography[edit]

For example, the "Lord's Prayer in Latvian written in different styles:

First orthography
(Cosmographia Universalis, 1544)
Old orthography, 1739[11] Modern orthography Internet style
Muuſze Thews exkan tho Debbes Muhſu Tehvs debbeſîs Mūsu tēvs debesīs Muusu teevs debesiis
Sweetyttz thope totws waerdtcz Swehtits lai top taws wahrds Svētīts lai top tavs vārds Sveetiits lai top tavs vaards
Enaka mums touwe walſtibe. Lai nahk tawa walſtiba Lai nāk tava valstība Lai naak tava valstiiba
Tows praetcz noteſe Taws prahts lai noteek Tavs prāts lai notiek Tavs praats lai notiek
ka exkan Debbes tha arridtczan wuerſſon ſemmes kà debbeſîs tà arirdſan zemes wirsû kā debesīs, tā arī virs zemes kaa debesiis taa arii virs zemes
Muſze beniſke mayſe bobe mums ſdjoben. Muhsu deeniſchtu maizi dod mums ſchodeen Mūsu dienišķo maizi dod mums šodien Muusu dienishkjo maizi dod mums shodien
Vnbe pammet mums muſſe parrabe Un pametti mums muhſu parradus [later parahdus] Un piedod mums mūsu parādus Un piedod mums muusu paraadus
ka mehs pammettam muſſims parabenekims kà arri mehs pamettam ſaweem parrahdneekeem kā arī mēs piedodam saviem parādniekiem kaa arii mees piedodam saviem paraadniekiem
Vnbe nhe wedde mums exkan kaerbenaſchenne Un ne eeweddi muhs eekſch kahrdinaſchanas Un neieved mūs kārdināšanā Un neieved muus kaardinaashanaa
Seth atpeſthmums no to loune bet atpeſti muhs no ta launa [later łauna] bet atpestī mūs no ļauna bet atpestii muus no ljauna
Aefto thouwa gir ta walſtibe Jo tew peederr ta walſtiba Jo tev pieder valstība Jo tev pieder valstiiba.
vnbe tas ſpeez vnb tas Goobtcz tur muſſige un tas ſpehks un tas gods muhſchigi [later muhzigi] spēks un gods mūžīgi speeks un gods muuzhiigi
Amen Amen Āmen Aamen


Latvian phonology


  "Labial "Dental/"Alveolar "Post-alveolar/"Palatal "Velar
"Nasal m n ɲ [ŋ]
"Stop p  b t  d c  ɟ k  ɡ
"Affricate   t͡s  d͡z t͡ʃ  d͡ʒ  
"Fricative (f)  v s  z ʃ  ʒ (x)
"Central approximant/"Trill   r j  
"Lateral approximant   l ʎ  

Voiced and unvoiced consonants "assimilate to the next-standing consonant, e.g. apgabals [ˈabɡabals] or labs [ˈlaps]. Latvian does not feature "final-obstruent devoicing.

Doubled consonants are pronounced longer: mamma [ˈmamːa]. Same with plosives and fricatives located between two short vowels: upe [ˈupːe]. Same with 'zs' that is pronounced as /sː/, šs and žs as /ʃː/.


Latvian has six vowels, with "length as distinctive feature:

Latvian vowels
  "Front "Central "Back
short long short long short long
"Close i   u
"Mid ɛ ɛː   (ɔ) (ɔː)
"Open æ æː a  

/ɔ ɔː/, and the diphthongs involving it other than /uɔ/, are confined to loanwords.

Latvian also has 10 "diphthongs, four of which are only found in loanwords (/ai ui ɛi au iɛ uɔ iu (ɔi) ɛu (ɔu)/), although some diphthongs are mostly limited to proper names and interjections.

Pitch accent[edit]

Standard Latvian and, with a few minor exceptions, all of the Latvian dialects have fixed initial stress. Long vowels and diphthongs have a tone, regardless of their position in the word. This includes the so-called "mixed diphthongs", composed of a short vowel followed by a "sonorant.


  • Bielenstein, Die lettische Sprache (Berlin, 1863–64)
  • Bielenstein, Lettische Grammatik (Mitau, 1863)
  • Bielenstein, Die Elemente der lettischen Sprache (Mitau, 1866), popular in treatment
  • Ulmann and Brasche, Lettisches Wörterbuch (Riga, 1872–80)
  • Bielenstein, Tausend lettische Räthsel, übersetzt und erklärt (Mitau, 1881)
  • "Bezzenberger, Lettische Dialekt-Studien (Göttingen, 1885)
  • Bezzenberger, Ueber die Sprache der preussischen Letten;; (Göttingen, 1888)
  • Thomsen, Beröringer melem de Finske og de Baltiske Sprog (Copenhagen, 1890)
  • Bielenstein, Grenzen des lettischen Volksstammes und der lettischen Sprache (St. Petersburg, 1892)
  • Baron and Wissendorff, Latwju dainas (Latvian Folksongs, Mitau, 1894)
  • Andreianov, Lettische Volkslieder und Mythen (Halle, 1896 )
  • Bielenstein, Ein glückliches Leben (Riga, 1904)
  • Brentano, Lehrbuch der lettischen Sprache (Vienna, c. 1907)
  • Holst, Lettische Grammatik (Hamburg, 2001)
  • Wolter, "Die lettische Literatur," in Die ost-europäische Literaturen (Berlin, 1908)
  • Kalning, Kurzer Lettischer Sprachführer (Riga, 1910)

Literary histories in Latvian[edit]

  • Klaushush, Latweeschu rakstneezibas wehsture (Riga, 1907)
  • Pludons, Latwiju literaturas vēsture (Jelgava, 1908–09)
  • Lehgolnis, Latweeschu literaturas wehsture (Riga, 1908)
  • Prande, Latviešu Rakstniecība Portrejās (Rīga, 1923)


  1. ^ Latvian at "Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
    "Standard Latvian language at "Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
    "Latgalian language at "Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "Latvian". "Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History. 
  3. ^ Dažādu tautu valodu prasme(Latvian)
  5. ^ Krievvalodīgie arvien vairāk runā latviski
  6. ^ "2006. gada vārds – "draugoties", nevārds – "hendlings"" (in Latvian). Apollo. 2007-01-22. Retrieved 2007-07-28. 
  7. ^ BNS (2006-03-30). "Akcijā pret valodas kropļošanu aicina nofilmēt 'gimalajiešu lāci'" (in Latvian). DELFI. Retrieved 2007-07-28. 
  8. ^ Markus, Dace (2012). "THE DEEP LATGALIAN VARIANTS OF THE HIGH LATVIAN DIALECT IN NORTH-EAST VIDZEME (SO-CALLED MALENIA)". Baltistica (in Latvian). Vilnius University (8 priedas). 
  9. ^ Krievvalodīgie arvien vairāk runā latviski (Latvian)
  10. ^ Veinberga, Linda (2001). "Latviešu valodas izmaiņas un funkcijas interneta vidē". (in Latvian). Retrieved 2007-07-28. 
  11. ^ BIBLIA, published Riga, 1848 (reprint), original edition 1739; "modern" old orthographies published into the 20th century do not double consonants

Further reading[edit]

  • "Derksen, Rick (1996). "Metatony in Baltic". Amsterdam: Rodopi. 

External links[edit]

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