The number of works on modern Latvian grammar available
speaking students is very small. Even if one were to add to this the works
which have appeared in French, German and Russian, the total is still far
from large. If one further considers only those to have appeared since 1945,
since earlier works are now largely out of date as a result of revisions to the
orthography and quite considerable changes in lexicon, then to the best of our
knowledge there are in existence only three grammars for the foreign student,
one each in English, Russian and German. There are, of course, works in
Latvian, but these, by definition, can be of little help to the English-speaking
On the historical side, much work has been done by Latvian
investigators, but the relevance of this to synchronic description is limited. The
present work was envisaged in an attempt to fi11 the need for a comprehensive
synchronic description, which as far as possible would leave aside questions
of historical evolution.
We believe that such a description can serve a dual purpose,
and the aim of
this work is thus two-fold. We are concerned with the description per se, which
we trust will be of interest not only to linguists in the Baltic and Slavic fields,
but also to a wider spectrum of investigators within the Indo-European frame-
work, for which the significance of the Baltic languages needs no exposition
here. On the other hand, such a description is of obvious practical significance
to those who merely wish to learn the language or to elucidate problems in a
language they already possess.
We could see no valid reasons for separating these functions,
endeavoured to make our description at once of interest to the linguist and
appropriate to the requirements of an instruction manual and reference gram-
mar. While in some cases conflicts naturally arise between these aims, particu-
larly regarding the inclusion of more esoteric material, we have regularly
resolved these by giving preference to the need for comprehensiveness. Under
the guidance of a competent teacher appropriate deletions and shifts of empha-
sis can be easily effected for those whose purposes are practical rather than
Nonetheless it is clearly impossible to be exhaustive
in any treatment of
language, and we have been forced to give less coverage to some areas than to
others. We have, for example, limited our treatment of phonetics to the bare
minimum compatible with serious exposition, when this topic could rightly
claim a complete volume in its own right. This curtailment was made because
we felt morphology and syntax to be of more immediate relevance to our aims,
and because the scientific study of Latvian phonetics is, in many respects,
insufficiently advanced for us to be able to offer any treatment of it which
would stand serious comparison with the work already carried out for other
languages. It is to be hoped that a comprehensive work in this area will not
be long in appearing.2
On the other hand, we have endeavoured to be comprehensive
and particularly so in morphology.
Very little emphasis has been placed on punctuation. The status of punctua-
tion within the field of grammar can be seriously questioned, since it exist;
only in the written form of the language, but not in the spoken form. We
attempt to give some elementary guidance, without any attempt at exhausti-
We have endeavoured throughout to present the material
in a rational
progression. Thus in the early stages the syntax is kept as simple as possible,
until the accumulation of morphological material is sufficient to allow more
syntactic variation. Within the morphology, the three verbal conjugations are
introduced separately as far as the simple finite forms are concerned; the
compound and participial forms are left until their formation rules can be made
to apply to a wider base; this has also been done with the reflexive forms. No
doubt many other arrangements of the material are possible: we have chosen
one which we believe to be not unworkable after extensive testing in practice,
but would welcome suggestions as to how it could be improved.
Anyone familiar with traditional grammars of Latvian will undoubtedly find
much in the following pages that breaks with previous practice. Some innova-
tions are of a very minor nature, while others are more far-reaching.
Among the smaller departures from traditional practice is the question of
terminology. The traditional First, Second and Third conjugations are referred
to throughout as the Short, Long and Mixed conjugations, depending on the
presence or absence of a syllabic infix in the present and imperfect forms.
We have adopted a similar principle of directly descriptive terminology with
participial forms and noun declensions.
Among the major departures are matters of orthography, descriptive techni-
que and morphological classification.
In the present state of uncertainty in the spelling of foreign words, we
recognize that it will be impossible to please everybody with the standards we
have adopted. In an attempt to escape the utterly arbitrary spelling used by
many authors we have followed throughout the recommendations of the
Svešvārdu vārdnīca of Ozoliņš and Endzelīns.3 On the question of h and ch
we have retained the older conventions, while in the case of r and º we have
adopted the more modern practice of writing only r. Those who prefer to drop
ch or retain º will not find it difficult to re-instate the form of their choice; we
ourselves have by and large retained the symbol º in those literary texts where
authors have used it. Suppression of this symbol has morphological implica-
tions, particularly in the classification of verbs, and phonetic implications in
the predictability of the quality of a preceding e, but these do not seem to us
to be at all serious, and are easily accommodated.
In the matter of descriptive technique, it will be observed
that nowhere in
the text, with the exception of certain remarks on r have we had recourse to
historical explanations. Thus, when we define and categorize, we do so, not on
the basis of older forms or earlier patterns, but on the basis of currently
observable systematic configurations, which may, of course, not always tally
with what would have been arrived at by the use of other criteria.
This standpoint, of course, has implications for our morphological classifica-
tions in particular. The obvious case is that of verbs of the Short conjugation.
Our assortment of these verbs into categories or types is different from that
hitherto employed: we employ twelve basic groups instead of five, based upon
contemporary similarities rather than historical development. This in turn
necessitates the restatement of rules for the occurrence of the second person
singular present and imperative ending -i. Not that we challenge the usefulness
of the older classification for its own purposes; the two approaches are comple-
mentary rather than opposed.
Similarly with the instrumental case, which we do not
in this work, having incorporated it into the accusative in the singular, and the
dative in the plural. Thus we have preferred the five case analysis (leaving aside
here the vocative) used by such predecessors as Prince, Lautenbach, Dravnieks,
Blese and Brentano. We prefer their analysis to the traditional six case formula-
tion on the grounds of economy. Certainly nothing appears to be lost by
dropping the instrumental, which is of dubious value for a purely synchronic
Non-historical rules have been formulated for describing the relationship
between definite and indefinite adjectival endings, and between active and
reflexive verbal terminations. There is an obvious similarity between the two
sets of correspondences when observed on a purely synchronic basis, and
whatever the historical reasons may be, it is interesting to observe that while
active participles formally distinguish definite from indefinite forms, reflexive
participles do not. Reflexiveness and definiteness, phonetically similar, seem
also to be morphologically incompatible, the former excluding the latter. The
description adopted, i. e., lengthening of open vowels and diphthongization of
closed vowels, is not without parallel in other types of morphological derivation.
One finds it, for example, in vocalic alternations in some verbal stems, and in
certain noun-verb relationships.
This grammar is not intended as normative; thus in places
be found to constructions not traditionally regarded as 'correct'. Notes have
normally been appended where traditional opinion on a given point is condem-
natory, but the authors are not in general concerned to take sides in what is
after all a purely arbitrary argument. Some recommendations will however be
found: these bear not upon the grammaticality or otherwise of the point at
issue, but upon the extent of its acceptance, in spite of the purists, into ordinary
But we would not wish to claim that this grammar was descriptive
strictest sense of the term. Speech varies so much from one individual to
another that what is an accurate description of the speech of one person may
be quite inadequate or inaccurate as a description of the speech of another
person. A thorough-going descriptive grammar cannot hope to describe more
than the speech of one person. For our purposes, this is blatantly insufficient,
and one is obliged to try and seek some kind of more generalized statement
which will represent some kind of meaningful average of many speakers. But
at this point a grammar ceases to be rigorously descriptive, although it does
not necessarily become normative. It becomes synthetic, selective, approximate
and perhaps artificial, but one must hope that it does not become partisan,
exclusive or unreal, to all of which dangers normative grammars are especialy
prone when viewed from the descriptive standpoint.
By and large we have preferred to try and approximate
to a meaningful
average rather than follow the primrose path to the normativists' Utopia. Our
attempted approximation may fall wide of the mark, and we look forward to
receiving criticisms and suggestions which may have the effect of improving
that approximation, bearing in mind what we are trying to approximate to.
In the later sections of the work, unabridged texts from Latvian authors are
included. In general the grammar of such passages is such as has aiready been
dealt with; where new points occur in the texts, appropriate notes are provided.
The texts are as far as possible authentic; it has not always been possible to
gain access to original editions, and a few passages from older authors may
well reflect the good intentions of an anonymous intervening editor. For our
own part, we have taken the texts as we found them, emending only where
access to a more a authoratative version pointed to editorial changes, and further,
where the spelling of foreign words was not in conformity with the recommen-
dations of the Svešvārdu vārdnīca of Ozoliņš and Endzelīns.
The authors of a book of this kind necessarily face a
great many problems.
The lack of extensive, modern Latvian-English dictionaries leads to difficulties
in defining accurately the meaning of some culture-specific words; the lack of
collocation studies makes it difficult to offer extensive guidance on word
combination restrictions; the influence of comparatively recent superstrata, as
indeed of earlier superstrata, complicates the choice of a meaningful average,
and so on. We are extremely conscious of the gaps we have left unfilled, but
trust that a sympathetic public will treat our shortcomings not as indications
that our aims and methods were inappropriate, but rather as focal points for
further investigation, in the hope of achieving further elucidation.
In that sense, this book can be only a beginning: if it is necessary to make
mistakes in order to realize that a problem exists and to catalyze efforts to-
wards a solution, then whatever the shortcomings and inadequacies of this
work, both they and it will have served a purpose.
In general the grammatical exposition and exemplary material
the concern of Fennell and Gelsen respectively. Nonetheless all sections of the
work have been subject to the joint scrutiny of both authors, who must collec-
tively accept responsibility for any shortcomings, inadequacies or errors.
T.G. Fennell H. Gelsen, A Grammar of Modern Latvian,