Latgalian language

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Eastern Latvian
latgalīšu volūda
Native toLatvia, Russia
RegionLatgalia, Selonia, Vidzeme, Siberia, Bashkiriya
Native speakers
150,000–200,000 (2009)[1]
Latin script (Latgalian alphabet)[2]
Language codes
ISO 639-3ltg
Linguasphere54-AAB-ad Latgale
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Latgalian (latgalīšu volūda, Latvian: latgaliešu valoda) is an Eastern Baltic language often spoken in Latgale, the eastern part of Latvia. It is debated whether it is a separate language with heavy Latvian influence, due to historical mutual exposure, or an eastern dialect of Latvian.[4] Nevertheless, its standardized form is recognized and protected as a "historical variety of the Latvian language" (vēsturisks latviešu valodas paveids) under national law.[5] The 2011 Latvian census established that 8.8% of Latvia's inhabitants, or 164,500 people, speak Latgalian daily. 97,600 of them live in Latgale, 29,400 in Riga and 14,400 in the Riga region.[6]


Distribution of the Baltic tribes, circa AD 1200 (boundaries are approximate).

Originally Latgalians were a tribe living in modern Vidzeme and Latgale. It is thought that they spoke the Latvian language, which later spread through the rest of modern Latvia, absorbing features of the Old Curonian, Semigallian, Selonian and Livonian languages. The Latgale area became politically separated during the Polish–Swedish wars, remaining part of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth as the Inflanty Voivodeship, while the rest of Latvians lived in lands dominated by Baltic German nobility. Both centuries of separate development and the influence of different prestige languages likely contributed to the development of modern Latgalian as distinct from the language spoken in Vidzeme and other parts of Latvia.

The modern Latgalian literary tradition started to develop in the 18th century from vernaculars spoken by Latvians in the eastern part of Latvia. The first surviving book published in Latgalian is "Evangelia toto anno" (Gospels for the whole year) in 1753. The first systems of orthography were borrowed from Polish and used Antiqua letters. It was very different from the German-influenced orthography, usually written in Blackletter or Gothic script, used for the Latvian language in the rest of Latvia. Many Latgalian books in late 18th and early 19th century were authored by Jesuit priests, who came from various European countries to Latgale as the north-eastern outpost of the Roman Catholic religion; their writings included religious literature, calendars and poetry.

Publishing books in the Latgalian language along with the Lithuanian was forbidden from 1865 to 1904. The ban on using Latin letters in this part of the Russian Empire followed immediately after the January Uprising, where Polish insurgents in Poland, and also in Lithuania and Latgale, challenged the czarist rule. During the ban, only a limited number of smuggled Catholic religious texts and some hand-written literature was available, e.g. calendars written by the self-educated peasant Andryvs Jūrdžys.

After the repeal of the ban in 1904 there was a quick rebirth of the Latgalian literary tradition; first newspapers, textbooks and grammars appeared. In 1918 Latgale became part of the newly created Latvian state. From 1920 to 1934 the two literary traditions of Latvians developed in parallel. A notable achievement during this period was the original translation of the New Testament into Latgalian by the priest and scholar Aloizijs Broks, published in Aglona in 1933. After the coup staged by Kārlis Ulmanis in 1934, the subject of the Latgalian dialect was removed from the school curriculum and was invalidated for use in state institutions; this was as part of an effort to standardize Latvian language usage. Latgalian survived as a spoken language during the Soviet annexation of Latvia (1940–1991) while printed literature in Latgalian virtually ceased between 1959 and 1989. Some Latgalian intellectuals in emigration continued to publish books and studies of the Latgalian language, most notably Mikeļs Bukšs, see bibliography.

Since the restoration of Latvian independence there has been a noticeable increase of interest in the Latgalian language and cultural heritage. It is taught as an optional subject in some universities; in Rēzekne the Publishing House of Latgalian Culture Centre (Latgales kultūras centra izdevniecība) led by Jānis Elksnis, prints both old and new books in Latgalian.

In 1992, Juris Cibuļs together with Lidija Leikuma published one of the first Latgalian Alphabet books after the restoration of the language.

In the 21st century the Latgalian language has become more visible in Latvia's cultural life. Apart from its preservation movements, Latgalian can be more often heard in different interviews on the national TV channels, and there are modern rock groups such as Borowa MC and Dabasu Durovys singing in Latgalian who have had moderate success also throughout the country. Today, Latgalian is also found in written form in public signs, such as some street names and shop signs,[7] evidences of growing use in the linguistic landscape.


Latgalian is a member of the Eastern Baltic branch of the Baltic group of languages included in the family of Indo-European languages. The branch also includes Latvian, Samogitian and Lithuanian. Latgalian is a moderately inflected language; the number of verb and noun forms is characteristic of many other Baltic and Slavic languages (see Inflection in Baltic Languages).

Geographic distribution[edit]

Use of Latgalian in everyday communication in Latvia (2011)

Latgalian is spoken by about 150,000 people,[8] mainly in Latgale, Latvia; there are small Latgalian-speaking communities in Russia, Siberia.

Official status[edit]

Between 1920 and 1934 Latgalian was used in local government and education in Latgale. Now Latgalian is not used as an official language anywhere in Latvia. It is formally protected by the Latvian Language Law stating that "The Latvian State ensures the preservation, protection and development of the Latgalian literary language as a historical variant of the Latvian language" (§3.4).[5] There is a state-supported orthography commission of the Latgalian language. Whether the Latgalian language is a separate language or a dialect of Latvian has been a matter of heated debate throughout the 20th century. Proponents of Latgalian such as linguists Antons Breidaks and Lidija Leikuma have suggested Latgalian has the characteristics of an independent language. Officially Latgalian is considered a variety of Latvian, meaning that Latvian language has two different written standards - Latvian and Latgalian.


Latgalian speakers can be classified into three main groups – Northern, Central and Southern. These three groups of local accents are entirely mutually intelligible and characterized only by minor changes in vowels, diphthongs and some inflexion endings. The regional accents of central Latgale (such as those spoken in the towns and rural municipalities of Juosmuiža, Vuorkova, Vydsmuiža, Viļāni, Sakstygols, Ūzulaine, Makašāni, Drycāni, Gaigalova, Bierži, Tiļža and Nautrāni) form the phonetical basis of the modern standard Latgalian language. The literature of the 18th century was more influenced by the Southern accents of Latgalian.


The Latgalian language uses an alphabet with 35 letters. Its orthography is similar to Latvian orthography, but has two additional letters: ⟨y⟩ represents [ɨ]), an allophone of /i/ which is absent in standard Latvian. The letter ⟨ō⟩ survives from the pre-1957 Latvian orthography.

Upper case Lower case Pronunciation
A a /a/
Ā ā /aː/
B b /b/
C c /t͡s/
Č č /t͡ʃ/
D d /d/
E e /ɛ/
Ē ē /ɛː/
F f /f/
G g /ɡ/
Ģ ģ /ɡʲ/
H h /x/
I i /i/
Y y /ɨ/
Ī ī /iː/
J j /j/
K k /k/
Ķ ķ /kʲ/
L l /l/
Ļ ļ /lʲ/
M m /m/
N n /n/
Ņ ņ /nʲ/
O o /ɔ/
Ō ō /ɔː/
P p /p/
R r /r/
S s /s/
Š š /ʃ/
T t /t/
U u /u/
Ū ū /uː/
V v /v/
Z z /z/
Ž ž /ʒ/

Language examples[edit]

Poem of Armands Kūceņš[edit]

Tik skrytuļam ruodīs: iz vītys jis grīžās,
A brauciejam breinums, kai tuoli ceļš aizvess,
Tai vuorpsteite cīši pret sprāduoju paušās,
Jei naatteik – vacei gi dzejis gols zvaigznēs.

Pruots naguorbej ramu, juos lepneibu grūžoj,
Vys jamās pa sovam ļauds pasauli puormeit,
Bet nak jau sevkuram vīns kuorsynoj myužu
I ramaņu jumtus līk īguodu kuormim.

Na vysim tai sadar kai kuošam ar speini,
Sirds narymst i nabeidz par sātmalim tēmēt,
A pruots rauga skaitejs pa rokstaudža zeimem,
Kai riedeits, kod saulei vēļ vaiņuku jēme.

Lord's Prayer[edit]

Tāvs myusu, kas esi debesīs,
svēteits lai tūp Tovs vōrds.
Lai atnōk Tova vaļsteiba.
Tova vaļa lai nūteik, kai debesīs,
tai ari vērs zemes.
Myusu ikdīneiškū maizi dūd mums šudiņ.
Un atlaid mums myusu porōdus,
kai ari mes atlaižam sovim porōdnīkim.
Un naīved myusu kārdynōšonā,
bet izglōb myusus nu ļauna Amen.


Latgalian Latvian Meaning
Vasals! Sveiks! Hi! (literally, "Hale and Hearty!", "Sveiks" is more common as "Hi" in Latvian but has a different meaning)
Loba dīna! Labdien! Hello, Good day!
Muns vuords Eugeņs. Mans vārds ir Eugeņs. My name is Eugene.
Šudiņ breineiga dīna! Šodien ir brīnišķīga diena! Today is a wonderful/beautiful day!
Vīns, div, treis, niu tu breivs! Viens, divi, trīs, nu tu esi brīvs! One, two, three, now you are free! (Counting game for children)
Asu aizjimts itamā šaļtī! Esmu aizņemts šobrīd! I am busy at the moment!
Es tevi mīļoju! Es tevi mīlu! I love you!
Asu nu Latgolys. Esmu no Latgales. I am from Latgalia.
As īšu iz sātu. Es iešu mājās. I will go home. (Note, "sēta" in Latvian means the courtyard to a homestead, also homestead; so a more rural/agrarian sense of "home" in the Latgalian than in the Latvian "mājās", which is more evocative of a house.)
Maņ pateik vuiceitīs. (moceitīs). Man patīk mācīties. I like to learn. (Note, this marked difference between Latgalian and Latvian is quite typical. The set of examples here are quite similar because they relate to basic concepts.)

Common words in Latgalian and Lithuanian, different from Latvian[edit]

Note the impact of foreign influences on Latvian (German in Kurzeme and Vidzeme, Polish, Lithuanian in Latgale).

English Latvian Latgalian Lithuanian Comments
around apkārt apleik aplink aplinkus in Latvian means "indirectly"
always vienmēr vysod visad(a)
everyday- ikdienas- kasdīnys- kasdienis
he viņš, šis jis jis
urgent steidzams skubeigs skubus skubīgs has the same meaning in Latvian, but is rarely used
to interrogate, to ask taujāt, izjautāt klaust klausti, klausinėti klausīties in Latvian is "to listen"; klau! means "hey!"; klaušināt means to ask several people
girl, maid meita, meitene mārga mergina, merga meita in Latvian is used more often as "daughter" while meitene means "girl" exclusively
kerchief lakatiņš skareņa skarelė
dress, frock kleita sukne suknelė kleita in Latvian is adapted from the German das Kleid, any native term has been lost. Latgalian and Lithuanian - comp. Polish suknia.
top, apical galotne, virsotne viersyune viršūnė
pillar, column stabs stulps stulpas stulpiņi (diminutive, plural for "stulps") in Latvian is preserved as "leggings"
to read lasīt skaiteit skaityti skaitīt in Latvian means to count, noskaitīt is to recite
to come nākt atīt ateiti atiet in Latvian means to depart (the root word "iet" means "to go")
row, range, line rinda aiļa eilė aile in Latvian means row in very narrow sense - it refers to space between two lines
to sit down apsēsties atsasēst atsisėsti
to answer atbildēt atsaceit atsakyti atsacīt in Latvian means to reject, refuse (and to do it quickly and sharply), atsakyti can be used with this meaning in Lithuanian too
to torture mocīt komuot kamuoti
to die (about animals) nosprāgt nūgaist nugaišti
to squeeze maidzīt maidzeit maigyti
to catch a cold saaukstēties puorsaļt peršalti pārsalt in Latvian means to freeze overly (near death)
cold auksts solts šaltis auksts is more common in Latvian for "cold" than "salts" which is a chilling cold
mistake kļūda klaida klaida
page lappuse puslopa puslapis compound word, in Latvian the order is "leaf"+"side", reverse of the order in Latgalian and Lithuanian
down, downward lejup zamyn žemyn zemu in Latvian means "low"
and, also un i ir un and arī are common usage in Latvian, "i" is archaic found mainly in folk songs and poetry
to settle in iekārtoties īsataiseit įsikurti
family ģimene saime šeima "ģimene" is used in Latvian for the core family, saime denotes extended family and household, for example, saimnieks, saimniece are master and mistress, respectively, of the household while in Lithuanian it is giminė which is used for extended family
homeland tēvzeme tāvaine tėvynė
east austrumi reiti rytai "rīti" is less common, poetic form in Latvian
west rietumi vokori vakarai "vakari" is less common, poetic form in Latvian
to stand up piecelties atsastuot atsistoti
to sore sūrstēt pierkšēt perštėti
scissors šķēres zirklis žirklės šķēres in Latvian is adapted from the German die Schere, dzirkles refers to shears
to forgive piedot atlaist atleisti
owl pūce palāda pelėda
toad krupis rupucs rupūžė
fear bailes baime baimė
last name, surname uzvārds pavuorde pavardė
smith kalējs kaļvs kalvis
to clatter rībēt, skrabēt brazdēt brazdėti
to perish iet bojā propuļt prapulti
on horseback jāšus raitu raitas
inside iekšā vydā viduj
to notice ievērot ītiemēt įsidėmėti
a little mazliet drupeiti truputį
to bore, to become boring apnikt atbuost, atsabuost atsibosti
to undress noģērbties nūsaviļkt nusirengti
swamp dumbrājs, muklājs liuņs liūnas
kidney niere eiksts inkstas
to poke bakstīt badeit badyti
to hover plivināties apkārt laksteit lakstyti
to bathe peldēties mauduotīs maudytis
clover āboliņš duobuls dobilas
first of all vispirms pyrma visų pirma
suddenly pēkšņi ūmai ūmai
to stretch (oneself) staipīties, gorīties rūzeitīs rąžytis
to detect uziet, konstatēt aptikt aptikti
to snatch pakampt sačupt sučiupti
to grope taustīties čupinētīs čiupinėtis
church holiday baznīcas svētki atlaidys atlaidai
variable (dates) mainīgi (datumi) cylojamuos (dīnys) kilnojamos (dienos)
remotely attālu atostai atstu
to make faces vaikstīties šaipeitīs vaipytis
to shell lobīt gaļdeit gliaudyti
to thresh (by beating) kult (dauzot) bluokšt blokšti
to break (about glass) plīst (par stiklu) dyuzt dūžti


  1. ^ Request for New Language Code Element in ISO 639-3
  2. ^ Latgalian language at Ethnologue (21st ed., 2018)
  3. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "East Latvian". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  4. ^ Druviete, Ina (22 July 2001). "Recenzija par pētījumu "Valodas loma reģiona attīstībā"" (in Latvian). Retrieved 20 August 2013.
  5. ^ a b "Official Language Law". Retrieved 15 August 2013.
  6. ^ Tautas skaitīšana: Latgalē trešā daļa iedzīvotāju ikdienā lieto latgaliešu valodu
  7. ^ Sanita Lazdina. 2013. A transitions from spontaneity to planning? Economic values and educational policies in the process of revitalizing the regional language of Latgalian (Latvia). Current Issues in Language Planning 14:382-402.
  8. ^ UNESCO Interactive Atlas of the World's Languages in Danger (Select "Latvia" in the drop-down Country or area menu and then "Latgalian language" from the drop-down suggestion list in the Language field.).

External links[edit]