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 (see table 22, Appendix). Most ethnic Latvians speak Russian, however, and many also know German (see table 23, Appendix).
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.
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