A small national language and its multilingual challenges: the case of Latvian

Uldis Ozolins, Universitat La Trobe, Austràlia | 5 novembre, 2009

Uldis Ozolins (Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology University) presents the second case of post-Soviet MSLC, Latvian. As in the case of Estonian, most of its discussion of the challenges for the language revolves around the position of Russian and Russian speakers in the country.

After reviewing the process whereby Russian became a widespread language in Latvia during the Soviet period, Ozolins offers a panoramic view of current language use in all domains which show a predominance of Latvian in most sectors except for the private sector – namely in businesses owned by non-citizens – where Russian is prevalent, and in science and international affairs, where English is the most frequent language. Ozolins shows also that since independence, some domains such as the Latvian language publication industry have expanded substantially. But the author places special emphasis on the demolinguistic evolution, using a ranee of surveys which show that in contrast to the Soviet times, bilingualism is no longer reserved to Latvian L1 speakers; rather, a new generation of Russians who know Latvian is emerging. Nevertheless, the habit of Latvian speakers of addressing Russian speakers in Russian, even if the latter can also speak Latvian, remains quite widespread, and a reason for concern with regard to the future. In Ozolins’ view, the future of Latvian remains uncertain and depends on a number of internal factors – recruitment of more L2 speakers, interplay between linguistic tolerance and insistence on the use of Latvian in critical sectors, refinement of the language in view of new demands – and external factors – basically, being able to operate between Russia and Europe.



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