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Latvia: Language and Culture
Country Study > Chapter 3 > Society > Language and Culture


The Latvian language, like Lithuanian, belongs to the Baltic branch of the Indo-European family of languages. Latvian is an inflective language, written in the Latin script and influenced syntactically by German. The oldest known examples of written Latvian are from catechisms published in 1585. Because of the heavy influx of ethnic Russians and other Slavs after World War II, nearly one-half of the country's population does not speak Latvian.

Latvian culture is strongly influenced by folklore and by the people's attachment to their land. Christian rituals often are intermingled with ancient customs, and pagan geometric symbols remain evident in the applied arts. Ancient folksongs, or dainas, that were first collected and published in the mid-nineteenth century, most notably by Krisjanis Barons, are a cultural treasure. In 1888 the great epic poem Lacplesis (Bear Slayer) by Andrejs Pumpurs was published, marking the dawn of modern Latvian literature. Janis Rainis (1865-1929) usually tops the list of Latvia's greatest writers. One of the most prominent figures in Latvian literature today is the poet Imants Ziedonis, who also has established a fund to promote the development of Latvian culture.

Latvia has a number of theaters (mostly in Riga), an opera, a symphony orchestra, and a permanent circus. Riga's Dome Cathedral houses one of the largest and most famous organs in the world. The works of many prominent Latvian artists are displayed at the National Fine Arts Museum and at the many art galleries in Riga. Other museums include the Museum of History and Navigation and the Museum of Natural History. There are 168 public libraries in the capital. Books and periodicals are published in Latvian and in other languages.

Last Updated: January 1995

Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for Latvia was first published in 1995. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on

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