Latvian language – another interesting story in world culture

The Latvian language, along with Lithuanian, is considered one of the oldest among the Indo-European languages in Europe, forming the Baltic language branch. Out of the approximately 6,700 languages spoken worldwide, Latvian constitutes one of the smaller segments, with a speaker population more than 1 million. Despite the small number of language users and various historical movements, the Latvian language has maintained its vitality and retained many ancient Indo-European elements in vocabulary and grammar, including the culturally significant word “saule” (sun) in Latvian.

To add further intrigue to the Latvian language, it’s worth noting that Latvian has three traditional dialects: Middle, Livonianized dialect  and Upper Latvian dialects. Upper Latvian may initially appear to be the most challenging to understand. However, most Latvians can understand all dialects to varying degrees. Spending time in Kurzeme or Latgale could gradually influence you to start speaking like the locals, which can be quite entertaining.

It’s worth mentioning that since 1918 to 1940, and since 1991, Latvian has been the official language of the Republic of Latvia. The Latvian language stands as a vital element in shaping our national identity. While the majority of Latvian speakers live in Latvia, the language has also found its place in various foreign cultures, including countries like Australia, the USA, Brazil, and Canada. In these and many other countries, thanks to strong family ties, traditions, a strong Latvian identity, and the help of Latvian diasporas in upholding the values of Latvian traditions, Latvian is a living and viable language.

Language is linked to memories and acquiring new knowledge. Perhaps you have a word that reminds you of Latvia, or maybe there’s a word you’re curious about and want to know its Latvian translation. For someone who is far away, the word “mājas” (home) reminds Latvia – a homeland. For some, the first Latvian word to learn is “saldējums” (ice cream), owing to Latvia’s reputation for delicious ice cream. Others may first encounter the greeting “Čau!” (Hello!), similar to the Italian “Ciao!”, which is embraced as a gesture of friendship and loyalty. Or consider using “Labdien!” (Good afternoon!), as it is a more polite form of greeting! And for many, expressions of love, such as “Es tevi mīlu!” (I love you), hold significant importance. So better write it down! In Latvian culture, it’s customary to say “Paldies!” (Thank you!) and “Lūdzu!” (Please) as gestures of politeness and gratitude, often with a smile. If a Latvian hasn’t said these phrases, they may have simply missed it while lost in thought. A gentle reminder or smile can help prompt them.

If you’re new to the Latvian language or haven’t heard it in a while, watch and listen to dialogues from Latvian film classics. The National Film Centre offers a great list. Some of the most impressive dialogues are in this comedy “A Limousine the Colour of Midsummer’s Eve” (1981). These dialogues are quite funny, and “smieklīgi” (funny) is another word that might come in handy. Latvians enjoy jokes, and our culture appreciates a good sense of humor.


Source: Nacionālā enciklopēdija
📸 Jānis Romanovskis