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About the story
What’s with this “Wren” thing?
   The oldest extant version of the fable we are presenting here appeared in 1913 in the first volume of a two-volume anthology of Low Saxon folktales (Plattdeutsche Volksmärchen “Low German Folktales”) collected by Wilhelm Wisser (1843–1935). Read more ...



A magnificent example of historical Lowlands trading guild architecture on the Townhall Square (Rātslaukums) in the heart of Old Riga (Vecrīga), the well-preserved Old Town of Riga (Rīga), Latvia’s capital city: the House of the Blackheads (Melngalvju nams, on the right) next to the 19th-century Schwabe House. In front of them is an artesian well with a statue of Knight Roland.

Language information: Latvian is one of the surviving members of Baltic language branch that in the distant past parted ways with the Slavic branch of the Indo-European family of languages. Many would argue that it is one of only two surviving members, the other one being Lithuanian. However, some argue that Latgalian and now virtually extinct New Curonian ought to be considered separate languages rather than Latvian dialect groups. Also, there are those that consider Samogitian a separate language rather than a Lithuanian dialect group. All of these language varieties belong to the East Baltic group, while all West Baltic languages, among them Old Prussian, have been extinct for quite some time.
     Latvian has a fair degree of dialectical diversity. The main dialect groups are nowadays presented as follows: the Upper Latvian dialect group (Augšzemnieku dialekts) in the southeast, the Central Latvian dialect group (Vidus dialekts) west of it, and the Livonian dialect group (Lībiskais dialekts) in the northwest. The Livonian dialects have substrata of Livonian, a Finnic language; in other words, these are dialects that are colored by the Livonian language that used to be spoken in that area. (The Livonian language itself survives only in a few coastal communities and is now highly endangered.)
     Due to centuries of foreign rule, Baltic communities of what is now Latvia have been sharing their lands with large numbers of people with roots elsewhere. What is often referred to as the “German period” was primarily a Saxon period, between 1207 and 1561, in which the Hanseatic Trading League dominated Latvia and other areas around the Baltic Sea. However, there were Germans as well, also Germanic speakers from other parts of Europe, especially members of the German Order which began with crusaders that had been driven out of the Near East. At that time as well as later, numerous Middle Saxon and also German words came to be adopted by Latvian and other Baltic languages. Between 1561 and 1918, Latvia was under a succession of Lithuanian-Polish, Swedish and Russian domination, and the Latvian language absorbed numerous words from those languages as well. After a short-lived period of independence, Latvia came to be occupied by the Soviet Union in 1940, with an interrupting period of German occupation during World War II, and ended up as a Soviet State until fully restored independence in 1991. Soviet rule sought to simplify the rather complex linguistic landscape of Latvia, essentially excluding all languages other than Russian and Latvian, and making Russian and Latvian officially dominant in complementary distribution, namely Russian in some areas and Latvian in other areas. Many Latvians left their homeland and established new Latvian communities in other countries, especially in the Nordic Countries, in the Americas and in Australia. Others ended up scattered throughout the Soviet Union. Most of the speakers of New Curonian, primarily of Eastern Prussia (now Kalinigrad and adjoining parts of Poland) ended up displaced, either voluntarily or by force, by virtue of their close association with “Germans” and their fluency in Low Saxon and/or German. The last speakers of the New Curonian language (or Latvian dialect) live(d) in Germany (much as in the case of the now extinct Slavic Slovincian language of Northern Poland).
     Latvian self-determination at the end of the 20th century brought with it new language policies. Only Latvian and the now endangered Finnic Livonian languages came to be officially recognized as autochtonous, or native to Latvia, and Latgalian is also officially protected as a native variant of Latvian. Latvian is the only official national language and all inhabitants of the country must have a certain level of Latvian language proficiency. This policy is clearly directed at Latvia’s Russians and other ethnic groups of the former Soviet Union that dominate some parts of Latvia. (Russians, Belarusians and Ukrainians together make up about one third of Latvia’s population.) Especially native and second-language speakers of Russian have a history of not bothering to learn Latvian (or other languages of former Soviet states). This seemingly drastic Latvian policy remains controversial to this day and has given rise to horror stories in the media of Latvian “language police” and supposedly oppressed Russian speakers. At any rate, this policy enabled the previously demographically disadvantaged Latvian language to reassert itself in short order. Virtually all citizens and permanent residents of Latvia now have at least some working knowledge of Latvian, though apparently a few individuals remain defiant.
     Latvian has a long-standing literary history despite the mostly subordinate role of the language throughout most of Latvia’s history. The language has always been written with Roman letters, though there have been several changes in spelling. An East-European-based spelling system made Germanic-based ones obsolete long ago. The latest development is spelling Latvian without diacritic symbols in e-mail communication.
     Like Lithuanian, Latvian is a tonal language. Modern Standard Latvian has three tones, which are assigned to stressed syllables, in most cases word-initial syllables. In this regard, Latvian and Lithuanian are similar to other European languages, such as Norwegian, Swedish, Slovenian, Serbo-Croatian and Classical Greek, and like these other languages, except Classical Greek, Latvian does not normally represent tones orthographically.

Genealogy: Indo-European > Balto-Slavic > Baltic > Eastern

Historical Lowlands language contacts: Low Saxon, possibly also Dutch

    Click to open the translation: [Latvian]Click here for different versions. >

Author: Reinhard F. Hahn

© 2011, Lowlands-L · ISSN 189-5582 · LCSN 96-4226 · All international rights reserved.
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