The Latvian (or Lettish) language (Germ. Lettische
Sprache;) is related to the majority
of European languages. It belongs to the Baltic group of
languages which also includes Lithuanian and Old Prussian
(now extinct). Baltic group is one of the distinct branches
of the Indo-European languages, others being Slavonic,
Teutonic (Germanic), Greek, Latin, Celtic, etc.
Owing to their long association with their Slav neighbours
the language of the Balts has more affinities with the
Slavonic languages than with the others in the lexical,
morphological and syntactical fields. Latvian and Lithu-
anian have changed less than other languages and modern
Latvian and Lithuanian present philologists with an early
stage in the development of Indo-European languages.
Latvian is spoken by about I,5oo,ooo Latvians in Latvia,
where it was the official language of the state during the
Independence (1918-45), Since 1945, when Latvia was
incorporated in the Soviet Union, Latvian has been used
besides Russian in offices, schools, university, radio and
television. It is spoken also by several hundred thousand
Latvians in other Soviet Republics and by several hundred
thousand refugees scattered all over the world, largely as a
consequence of the Second World War. Outside Latvia
the language is preserved not only within the family, but
also in Latvian-speaking congregations, and it is taught in
Latvian Sunday and week-end schools. Latvian newspapers
and books are published by Latvian publishers in Great
Britain, Sweden, Denmark, Canada, U.S.A., and Australia.
Latvian is also included in the curricula of some universities
(e.g. in Sweden and the U.S.A.), sometimes in connection
with Slavonic or Comparative Linguistics.
The earliest surviving documents and books date from the
sixteenth century, written in Gothic script. In the twentieth
century the Latin alphabet was adopted, with changes
in some letters. The new Latin alphabet is based on
phonetic principles to a greater extent than the old Gothic
one was. It also introduced diacritic symbols ( ā, č).
During the years of Independence under the guidance of
the distinguished philologist, Professor Jānis Endzelīns, un-
necessary loanwords and foreign influence on the language
generally were eliminated. It was largely enriched by many
new and partly forgotten ancient Latvian words, and
grammatical syntactical rules of the modern literary
language were established. Some further changes in the
language have occurred in the last decades in Soviet Latvia
where following the natural development of the colloquial
speech alternative and dialectic forms have been accepted
in the literary language.
Latvian, Terēza Budiņa Lazdiņa, 1966