Latvian is a Baltic language related to Lithuanian and Old Prussian with about 2 million speakers mainly in Latvia. It is a Statutory national language in Latvia and is spoken as a native language by 1.3 million people. There are another 462,000 people who speak it as a second language.
There are also Latvian speakers in Germany (40,500), the UK (32,700), the Russian Federation (30,100), the USA (16,000), Norway (12,900), and several other countries.
The first known example of written Latvian dates from 1530 and was a translation of a hymn by Nikolaus Ramm, a German pastor. The first publication to be printed in Latvian was a catechism which appeared in 1585. The first Latvian dictionary, Lettus, was compiled by Georg Mancelius in 1638. The German monks who wrote these texts used a version of the the Fractur alphabet adapted from German which was ill suited to the Latvian language.
A modified version of the Latin alphabet was devised by the linguists Kārlis Mīlenbahs and Jānis Endzelīns in 1908, and gradually replaced the older version.
Hear the Latvian alphabet:
Visi cilvēki piedzimst brīvi un vienlīdzīgi savā pašcieņā un tiesībās. Viņi ir apveltīti ar saprātu un sirdsapziņu, un viņiem jāizturas citam pret citu brālības garā.
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
(Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights)
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Page last modified: 13.06.22
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