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Latvia/ 4.2 Specific policy issues and recent debates  

4.2.5 Language issues and policies

The Official Language Law (2000) names Latvian as the official state language.

Special status is given to the Livonian language spoken by the original inhabitants of Latvia to keep it from dying out. The population census of 2011, carried out by the Central Statistics Bureau, shows that the population in Latvia consists of more than 160 nationalities. The prevailing spoken languages are Latvian and Russian (see chapter 4.2.4).

The Ministry of Education and Science is responsible for the general management of implementation of the policy of the state language. Major tasks of the Ministry are to develop the state language policy with the objective to strengthen the status of the Latvian language and ensure sustainable development of the language; and to organise the implementation of the state language policy, including provision for learning the state language, availability of international documents in the state language, by means of coordination of the implementation of the state language policy and encouraging multilingualism of the citizens of Latvia.

Since 1996, a state programme for learning Latvian has been in effect and is carried out with governmental and donor funding. Since 2009, the Latvian Language Agency (supervised by Minister of Education and Science) implements the state language policy, which is formulated in the Guidelines of the State Language Policy for 2005 – 2014.

The Official Language Law determines that information in posters, banners, signs etc. have to be in Latvian. Where other languages are used, the text in the state language must be given priority placement and cannot be smaller than the text in other languages. See chapter 4.2.6 about the requirements of the use of the official language in the media according to the Electronic Mass Media Law (2010). See also chapter 5.3.7 about legislation.

The State Cultural Policy Guidelines 2006-2015 also support activities sustaining the Livonian language (see also chapter 4.2.4) and the Latgalian language (the dialect used in the Eastern part of Latvia).

At the initiative of the ex-President Valdis Zatlers, an international language technology project Language Shore has been launched. The project is aimed at establishing a centre that will be a cluster for innovative technologies related to small languages and their content at international level. This will bring together national and international professionals from the fields of education, academic and the business sector. The project will design and manufacture products so as to allow people who speak less often used languages, including Latvians, to make everyday use of various IT and communications technologies, translation and information search services on the Internet, mechanised translation services, and other opportunities in their own language. Currently it involves partners from the Latvian National Library, Microsoft Corporation and Tilde, a leader in the market of Baltic language software products.

See Fact Sheet on State Language.

Chapter published: 08-10-2014

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