What Languages Are Spoken In Latvia?

Riga, the capital city of Latvia.
Riga, the capital city of Latvia.

Latvian is the dominant language as well as the official language of Latvia. Latgalian, Ukrainian, Belarusian and Russian are also spoken.

Official Language Of Latvia

Latvian is the dominant language in Latvia with an estimated 1.75 million native speakers in the country. Latvian is also recognized as the official language of Latvia since 1989 as is provided for by Article 4 of the Constitution of Latvia. Latvian was originally known in English as Lettish. Latvia is an Eastern Baltic language and is a member of the Indo-European language family which is closely related to the Lithuanian language. The earliest documents written in Latvian were hymns written in 1530 by a German pastor known as Nikolaus Ramm as well as the translation of the Lord’s Prayer written in 1544. Latvian linguists began to establish the modern Latvian alphabet in the turn of the 20th century, replacing the outdated old orthography. An interesting characteristic of Latvian language, which was also established at the beginning of the twentieth century, is the phonetically altering of proper names from other languages to be in line with the Latvian phonological system.

For most of the 20th century, Latvia was under Soviet occupation which brought the Russification policy where other languages apart from Russian were repressed. During this period (1940-1990), millions of immigrants from Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine settled in the country and in so doing caused the decline of the use of Latvian in the country. By 1989, about 56% of the Latvian population identified as native Latvian speakers, down from 80% of the population in 1935. Currently, native Latvia speakers account for 60% of the country’s total population. The government of Latvia encourages the use of Latvian language in the country by incorporating the language into the country’s educational curriculum. In 1999, the Law on State Language was adopted, and most of its provisions are geared towards the growth of the usage of Latvian language by the public. The government also established the Latvian State Language Center which is mandated to regulate the use of Latvian language in the country. Linguists have established three main dialects which make up the Latvian language which are the Middle dialect, the Livonian Dialect, and High Latvian. These dialects are geographically defined.

Minority Languages Of Latvia


Latgalian is a language spoken in Latvia in the Latgale region. The language is closely related to Latvian with some linguists terming it as a dialect of the Latvian language. Latgalian has 164,500 native speakers in Latvia with 97,600 of them residing in Latgale. The Latgalian language is an Eastern Baltic language and a member of the Indo-European language family. Latgalian was established as the official language in Latgale by the local government in the early 20th century and is currently protected by the Constitution of Latvia. There are three distinct and geographically-defined dialects that make up Latgale, and these are Northern Latgalian, Central Latgalian, and Southern Latgalian.

Russian, Ukrainian, And Belarusian

Other languages used in Latvia are Russian, Ukrainian and Belarusian. These languages were introduced into the country by immigrants from Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine during the period when the country was under Soviet occupation between 1940 and 1990.


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