Latvian, or Lettish, is an Eastern Baltic language spoken in the Baltic region. It serves as the national language of Latvians and the official and dominant language of Latvia. With an estimated 1.75 million native speakers in the country, Latvian has been recognized as the official language of Latvia since 1989. Latvian is part of the Indo-European family of languages and is closely related to the Lithuanian language. Latvia was under Soviet occupation for most of the 20th century which brought the Russification policy where other languages apart from Russian were repressed. From 1940 to 1990, millions of immigrants from Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus came into the country which resulted in a decline of the use of Latvian in the country. Currently, native Latvian speakers comprise about 60% of the country’s total population, down from 80% in 1935.

The use of Latvian language in the country is encouraged by the government through the incorporation of the language into the country’s educational curriculum. The Latvian State Language Center was also established by the government, with the purpose of regulating the use of Latvian in the country. There are three main dialects of Latvian, which are geographically defined and include the Middle dialect, the Livonian dialect, and High Latvian. Kursenieki language or Curonian language of Curonian isthmus  is another dialect of the Latvian language, which is mutually intelligible with Latvian. Due to this, there is some debate regarding whether it is a separate language or indeed a dialect of the Latvian language.

The minority languages spoken in Latvia include Latgalian, Russian, Ukrainian, and Belarusian. The Latgalian language is spoken in the easternmost region of Latgale, and is closely related to Latvian with some linguists referring to it as a dialect of the Latvian language. At 164,500 native speakers of Latgalian in Latvia, 97,600 of them reside in Latgale. Latgalian is an Eastern Baltic language and part of the Indo-European family of languages. In the early 20th century, Latgalian was established as the official language in the Latgale region, and is currently protected by the Constitution of Latvia. Three distinct, geographically defined dialects of Latgalian include Northern Latgalian, Southern Latgalian, and Central Latgalian. As with Kursenieki, there is also some disagreement regarding whether or not Latgalian should be considered a dialect or a separate language, due to its mutual intelligibility with Latvian.

Russian, Ukrainian, and Belarusian are the other foreign languages which can be heard in Latvia and which were brought into the country by immigrants from Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus during the years when Latvia was under Soviet occupation, from 1940 until 1990.


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