In studying the processes determining the future of the
language, we need to deal with those processes that are already taking
place in the languages of our neighbors and processes that are already
taking place in our own Latvian language.
Several linguists from Nordic countries have made conjectures
about the processes which will determine the future of Nordic lan-
guages, where the main elements, they believe, will be the following:
1 ) Europeanization,
2) influence of the media,
3) influence of computerization.
Europeanization, i. e., integration into the European Union will
make English the dominant language at the European level. National
languages will lose some of their essential functions in society, but will
probably live on as languages of intimate relations and national
The influence of the media will continue to increase. This influence
can be characterized in several ways:
( 1 ) words yield to pictures;
(2) analysis yields to narration;
(3) writing yields to more or less colloquial speech;
(4) national languages yield to American English.
All these tendencies tend to erode the position of the traditional
standardized written languages.
The influence of computerization manifests itself:
( 1 ) in using many spelling checkers as computer dictionaries and
having extensive and accurate standardization that is necessary fo
searching in registers and databases;
(2) in strengthening the domination of English over the national
It means that computerization tends to strengthen standardization
of language usage.
Taking into account that Latvia is trying to approach institution
of the European Union, one could suppose that the Latvian language
is to some extent on its way to a situation similar to what is happening
currently in the Nordic languages; therefore the processes mentioned
above will become topical also in Latvia.
Yet, there could be some differences because of the fact that the
above-mentioned processes would occur against a background of sev
eral processes that are already taking place in the Latvian language:
1 ) the earlier (from World War II up to the 1990s) linguistic
influence of Russian is gradually being replaced by the influence o
2) informal public usage has to a high degree restrained both local
dialects and traditional stylistic norms of the standard (spoken and
If restraining local dialects can be considered as a normal process,,
because the motivation to use local dialects is decreasing particularly
in the younger generation, then holding back from traditional stylistic
norms of the literary spoken and written language cannot be regarded
as normal. Public usage has grown much more intimate without any
motivation. For example, there are no perceptible stylistic differences
whether a private conversation about youthful escapades is taking
place between two playmates over a cup of tea at home or a deputy is
making a speech to parliament. This kind of considerable weakening
of the authority of the traditional stylistic (often even also grammati-
cal) norms is eroding the quality of the Latvian language. Thus, in my
opinion, the processes determining the future of the Latvian language
could possibly be the following.
1 ) Voluntary increasing "acceptance" of the English language, on
the one hand, and increasing pressure from the English language as a
result of Europeanization, on the other hand.
Voluntary increasing "acceptance" of English already started a few
years ago, and now it is sometimes hard to differentiate these aspects
one from another. For example, the Latvian Research Council de-
mands to receive certain types of information in English. But the main
thing is that while both aspects exist, influence of English on Latvian
is very dynamic. Already institutions of higher education with English
as the language of instruction have been established in Riga. The next
step probably will be the selection of English as the in-house language
in business enterprises, particularly in international business organiza-
tions and major banks. The first signs are already emerging that English
is gradually starting to fulfill the functions not only of international
communication but also intranational communication.
The tendency of the increasing domination of English will cause
another process, namely, 2) the gradual repression of Latvian to the
level of informal relations and national culture. The development of
this tendency could be similar to what happened during the Soviet
period when Russian predominated and Latvian was not much more
than folkloristic decor. This is not an exaggeration, if we take into
account the rather incomplete and inconsistent status of Latvian as the
Due to the weakening position of the state language, another
tendency will become relevant, i.e., 3) minority languages will be
strengthened as a result of decreasing pressure from the state, and
Russian, which is still being used as an international language in
Latvia, will in particular become stronger
The most characteristic feature of the influence of our media causes
one more process - 4) the yielding of the stylistics of writing to more
or less colloquial speech. One could call this process "language democ-
ratization", yet it actually is eroding one of (out of several) the essential
features of literary language, namely, a diverse and relevant stylistic
system. And if we take into account that the tendency towards
colloquial speech will continue to strengthen the process of rejecting
traditional stylistic norms of literary spoken and written language
then, in my opinion, the influence of our media is endangering our
In addition, one more manifestation of the influence of the media
causes a process determining the future of Latvian - 5 ) yielding of the
Latvian language to English. In order to confirm this existing tendency
one has merely to open, for example, any issue of the newspaper Dienas
Bizness ("Daily Business") to see the peppering of text with English
terms (using Latvian spelling, of course):
"Izstādē SWEDISH-EXPO 95 Rig ERICSSON
demonstrēs jaunākos sasniegumus biznesa komunikāciju
jomā Tas palīdz paaugstināt produktivitāti biznesā,
samazināt izmaksas, uzlabot pircēju servisu, pilnveidot
savu imidžu un galu galā uzlabot menedžmenta funkcijas."
(DB, 2 Oct. 95, p. 29).
"BNN darbība saistīta ar brokeru un dīleru pakalpojumiem
vērtspapiru tirgū, trasta pakalpojumiem un investiciju
rekomendāciju sniegšanu." (DB, 2 Oct. 95, p. 37).
Besides, many of our newspapers publish advertisements only in
foreign languages, mostly English.
As far as the influence of computerization, it seems to me that there
is no considerable danger to the Latvian language coming from the
expansion of English, because Latvia has good experts in computer
science, who in close collaboration with our linguists will be able to
manage problems that may arise.
Yet, danger to the Latvian language is expected from another
corner, i.e., developed, individual style and competence in standard-
ized language usage could be weakened. Thus, a more impersonal style
of writing may become dominant because of the extensive use of ready-
made formulas, and Latvian will become weaker and less developed.
But an essential question arises: how will the above-mentioned
linguistic processes affect Latvia's society? The process of Europeaniza-
tion generates the need to be bilingual. People who want to pursue a
career, especially the younger generation, have to increasingly know
one international language, primarily English, in addition to their
mother tongue (advertisements in newspapers show this clearly).
There is a demand also for specialists proficient in other languages as
well, mostly German and sometimes Russian. Of course, there is supply
- a certain pool of linguists, but unfortunately the number is not large
in comparison with the number of people of working age. Judging from
the results of the sociolinguistic research study, "The Language Situa-
tion in Latvia" (1995), approximately 18% of respondents answered
that they could communicate in English and about 11 % of respondents
could communicate in German. However, taking into account the
increasing interest in studying foreign languages and the continuously
increasing demand for teachers of foreign languages, it is obvious that
the number of people proficient in languages is on the rise.
Differences in linguistic proficiency are gradually stratifying Latvia's
society into three linguistic layers:
1) persons proficient in both the state language and English (or in
English and some other languages as well, usually German or Russian);
2) persons who can use only the state language to communicate (at
least the spoken language, and at a satisfactory level);
3 ) immigrants and unskilled indigenous persons for whom even the
state language is an obstacle in performing their working duties and
participating in social life.
Here, we should remember that the number of people for whom the
state language (even in form of everyday speech) is an obstacle to the
performance of their working duties is very large, i.e., approximately
63% of the people, for whom Latvian is not the native tongue. In
addition, it must be pointed out that precisely this layer of monolingual
people will feel threatened by the increasing need for a second lan-
guage, as these people might face restricted opportunities in the job
market and thus be faced with a lower standard of life. Unfortunately,
such a large social layer whose livelihodd is under threat could be a
dangerous force in society.
Therefore we are getting to the crucial question of "What to do?" A
better state of social affairs could be achieved through a balanced
language policy. It seems to me that education policy (as a part of the
language policy) should be changed, because in reality it usually acts to
One of the most important planks of education policy should be the
principle of language education, particularly taking into account
Latvia's siuation where a large number of people are monolingual and
also taking into account that the only language they can use is neither
English nor some other commonly used language. In order to enable
individuals to exercise effectively their essential human rights, it is
essential first of all to facilitate the right to people's freedom of
movement and the right of residency for European Community nation-
als in any European country.
Two aspects need to be distinguished in language education:
1 ) education in the state language and
2) education in a foreign language.
Foreign language education is seen as an essential element of the
building of greater European unity. Therefore, judging by the docu-
ments produced, problems concerning the teaching of foreign lan-
guages have probably received more attention than any other lan-
guage-related problem in the European Union.
It seems that education in a foreign language relates to at least a few
( 1 ) whether to teach one or several languages;
(2) which language or languages are to be taught;
(3) if several languages, then what is the order of
priority in teaching them..
In order to answer these questions, each country, including Latvia,
should have its own individual approach. The evidence is that the
resolutions and policy statements of the European Union usually refer
to foreign languages in general and avoid any specification regarding
which languages should be taught with what priorities. The answer to
the first question as a strategic question is a matter of principle,
therefore this question has to be discussed among linguists, politicians,
and sociologists. Undoubtedly, English is likely to become the Euro-
pean lmgua franca, because none of the other languages has functions
analogous to that of English. The other three or four most extensively
used European languages fall far behind in influence. This is an
objective observation. As for Latvia, English is the most popular among
the intelligentsia. The ability to communicate in English is considered
good social style nowadays. This may possibly be explained by remem-
bering that in the recent past, during the Soviet regime, the main
English-speaking countries, Britain and the United States of America,
symbolized liberal democracy and the free market.
But this trend might result in the unavoidable restriction
of Latvian and repressing Latvian to the level of informal relations
and national culture. Therefore, if we do not want the Latvian
language to become mere folkloristic decor in the end, (because in
reality English would become dominant in official matters), then we
should develop a strategic course for mastering several foreign
languages. In this case, a probable model would call for a maximum
number of graduates to acquire, before completing their compulsory
schooling, practical knowledge of two languages in addition to their
mother tongue. If we accept the above stated strategic course, the
question arises as to which languages are to be taught. In my opinion,
this should not be imposed administratively, but there should be a
choice. Of course it is quite impossible to provide a wide range of
choices in each school, yet choices from among several languages
could be guaranteed on a city-wide scale. The choice of languages to
be offered in schools has to correlate with national and local needs
as well as historical traditions. One of the possibilities which seems
sensible to me could be as follows: a school offers the choice to learn
one of the nine European Community languages, most likely English
or German (taking into account our various kinds of contacts with
Germany and historical tradition as well), and one of the languages
of our region. Here could be mentioned one of the Scandinavian
languages or the language of one of our nearest neighbors: Estonian,
Lithuanian, or Russian. The question as to what priority in which
they have to be taught still remains open.
In order to improve and be able to guarantee effective
training, there are necessary at least four activities.
( 1 ) Intensified and continued training of foreign language teachers,
i.e., a number of practical measures need to be adopted to further the
training of language teachers according to the latest teaching methods
and techniques, in order to raise the professional level of an average
teacher to the standard of the best teachers of foreign languages in Latvia.
(2) Establishing a requirement that, before qualifying
as a foreign
language teacher, a graduate student should have spent a period of time
in the country where the language he is to teach is the official one.
(3) Developing further and wider the recently started
language teacher training aimed at language courses for people in
business by possibly carrying out educational exchanges for young
people within the European Union. There is, of course, one additional
condition, namely, that young people have to be competent enough to
be able to perform job requirements in a foreign country.
(4) The last but not least is the matter of cost, because
policy, as it is generally known, requires decisions about the necessary
and economically feasible cost. Currently Latvia has serious problems in
this respect. Thus, one needs to point out that the cost must be
considered in terms of availability of both financial and human resources.
Regarding the other earlier mentioned aspect of language educa-
tion, i.e., teacher training to teach the state language, it should be
pointed out that both studying of the state language ( 1 ) as a second
language and (2) as a first language are not without their problems.
If the main obstacle to mastering the state language as a second
language is of a subjective character, i.e., due to some psychological
reasons, then, paradoxically, there are several obstacles to learn it as a
native language. In my opinion, the main reason is that there is
something wrong with the subject matter of primary school textbooks,
which makes them inadequate for their job in the primary schools ( i.e.,
schools for children betwen 7-16 years old). There is a lot of linguis-
tics, but very little of the language itself. The basic problem is that the
native language does not adequately fit into the school curriculum.
"The Language Situation in Latvia: Sociolinguistic Survey -Part 1", Lan-
guage Use and Attitudes among Minorities in Latvia, (Riga: Latvian Language
Palsson, H., "Homo loquens-homo laborans",
Sprak i Norden,1992, pp.
Teleman, U. , De nordiska spraken i dag och i morgan,
( [Stockholm] I Nordisk
spraksekretariat (ed.),1991, pp.128-143.
Humanities and Social Sciences Latvia, Latvian Language and Literature, 1995. 4 (9), Janis, Valdmanis
Vikor, L. S. , The Nordic Languages: Their Status and
Humanities and Socciaal Sciences Latvia, 1995, Nr 4 (9), Janis Valdmanis