The Latvian Alphabet

Capital and Small Letters:

A Ā B C Č D E Ē F G Ģ H I Ī J K Ķ L Ļ M N Ņ O P R S Š T U Ū V Z Ž

a ā b c č d e ē f g ģ h i ī j k ķ l ļ m n o p r s š t u ū v z ž

Pronunciation

The following table shows how each letter is pronounced. The English example words illustrate pronunciations which are as close as possible to the Latvian sounds, but the match is not perfect. That is why I have added examples from other languages.

In addition, each Latvian example word (in the right-most column) has a linked *pronunciation. Click on the Latvian example word, wait a few seconds (it takes a little while) and you will hear how the word is pronounced.

*Note: the pronunciations are stored as MP3 audio files

Letter English French Spanish Italian Other lang. Phonetic symbol Latvian eg.
a up mal 'badly' [ ʌ ] aka 'well'
ā art âge 'age' padre 'father' casa 'house' [ ɑ: ] ātri 'quickly'
b bad [ b ] balss 'voice'
c mats pizza 'pizza' Russ. tsar 'czar' [ t̪s̪ ] cena 'price'
č chin ciao 'so long' [ ʧ ] či 'bears'
d day donna 'woman' [ d̪ ] diena 'day'
Even though the spelling does not distinguish between them, in Latvian the letter e has two pronunciations: as in English bet or English bat. For details on where the two pronunciations occur, see: Two Latvian e's. This also explains the two pronunciations of the Latvian long ē.
e nest tête 'head' perro 'dog' festa 'festivity' [ ɛ ] celt 'to lift'
e cat [ æ ] desa 'sausage'
ē air été 'summer' canté 'I sang' me 'me' [ e: ] ēst 'to eat'
ē add [ æ: ] ēdam 'we eat'
The letter f occurs exclusively in foreign words borrowed into Latvian: fakss 'fax', kafija 'coffee', fotogrāfija 'photograph', fizika 'physics', šifons 'chiffon', etc.
f fun feu 'fire' [ f ] filma 'movie'
g get gamba 'leg' [ g ] gulta 'bed'
The letter ģ stands for a very unusual consonant sound. To learn more about it see: Latvian Palatal Stops: ģ and ķ.
ģ Hung. egy 'one' [ ɟ ] ģimene 'family'
h tee-hee! Germ. ich 'I' [ ç ] hirurgs 'surgeon'
h aha! Germ. ach 'oh!' [ x ] humors 'humor'
i it Germ. ist 'is' [ ɪ ] pile 'drop'
ī ear dix 'ten' pide 'it requests' libri 'books' [ i: ] pīle 'duck'
j yet voyage 'voyage' Germ. ja 'yes' [ j ] jāt 'to ride'
k scum casa 'house' [ k ] kas 'who'
The letter ķ stands for a very unusual consonant sound. To learn more about it see: Latvian Palatal Stops: ģ and ķ.
ķ Hung. tyúk 'hen' [ c ] kaķis 'cat'
l lily lune 'moon' luna 'moon' luna 'moon' [ l̪ ] lidot 'to fly'
ļ million figli 'sons' [ ʎ ] ļoti 'very'
m met flamme 'flame' mano 'hand' maglia 'mesh' [ m ] mati 'hair'
n net né 'born' mano 'hand' [ n̪ ] nakts 'night'
ņ canyon agneau 'lamb' año 'year' bagno 'bath' [ ɲ ] ņemt 'to take'
The Latvian letter o can stand for three different pronunciations. For more detail on this, see: Latvian o.
o [ ʊʌ̯ ] ozols 'oak tree'
o boy bottes 'boots' amor 'love' posta 'mail' [ ɔ ] hotelis 'hotel'
o oar rôle 'role' cantó 'it sang' nome 'name' [ o: ] opera 'opera'
p spin père 'father' pane 'bread' [ p ] pats 'self'
r verra (Scot. 'very') carro 'car' tenore 'tenor' [ r̪ ] rags 'horn'
s sing paso 'step' testa 'head' [ s̪ ] salds 'sweet'
š shell chaud 'warm' tasche 'pockets' [ ʃ ] šeit 'here'
t stand tarte 'pie' tomar 'to take' testa 'head' [ t̪ ] tumšs 'dark'
u book culpa 'it blames' [ ʊ ] muša 'a fly'
ū tourist nous 'we' puro 'pure' luna 'moon' [ u: ] dūmi 'smoke'
The letter v has two different pronunciations. Normally it is pronounced [ v ] (like the first sound in English very). However, it can also be pronounced [ w ] (as in English went). It typically has this [ w ] pronunciation when it occurs at the end of a word (eg. Latvian tev (phonetically [ tɛw ]) 'to you'), or when a consonant sound follows it, as in Latvian tēvs (phonetically [ tæ:ws ]) 'father'.
v van voir 'to see' [ v ] vest 'to bring'
v cow oui 'yes' [ w ] tev 'to you'
z zebra rosa 'rose' [ z̪ ] ziedi 'blossoms'
ž measure manger 'to eat' [ ʒ ] žurka 'rat'

(Note: in most cases the closest equivalents to the Latvian pronunciations are to be found in Italian, Spanish, and French. Thus, the letters p t c ķ k stand for unaspirated voiceless consonants in Latvian (unlike English which primarily has aspirated voiceless consonants).

Likewise the letters t d c dz s z n l r stand for dental consonants (unlike English, in which such consonsnts are normally alveolar).

Finally, note that the letters which represent long vowels - ā ē ī ū (and some pronunciations of o) - stand for pure vowels, whereas long vowels in English are normally diphthongs.)

Consonant sequences

Here are some additional consonant combinations to take heed of:

Letter combo English French Spanish Italian Other lang. Phonetic symbol Latvian eg.
dz ads [ dz ] dadzis 'a thorn'
jet [ ʤ ] dai 'thorns'

Vowel sequences

The following sequences of vowels are all pronounced as dipthongs, as the example words below illustrate:

Letter combo English French Spanish Italian Other lang. Phonetic symbol Latvian eg.
ai pine travail 'work' [ ai̯ ] aita 'sheep'
au now [ au ̯ ] tauta 'people, folk, nationality'
ei prey soleil 'son' [ ei̯ ] meita 'daughter, girl'
ui Germ. pfui 'bah!' [ ʊi̯ ] puika 'boy, lad'
The following is a rather unusual centering diphthong. For more information on this, see the discussion of diphthongs here. The ie diphthong appears in a large number of very common words in Latvian (eg. iela 'street', lieta 'thing', etc.)
ie British R.P fear [ ɪʌ̯ ] iet 'to go'
Occasionally other diphthongs will occur in Latvian. I have illustrated a them in the table below. However, they are very rare and (almost always) occur in foreign words borrowed from other languages.
eu Welsh tew 'thick, fat' [ ɛu ̯ ] pseudo 'pseudo'
ou sew [ ɔu̯ ] sovhozs 'state farm'
oi toy [ ɔi̯ ] boikots 'boycot'
iu [ ɪu̯ ] pliukšķēt 'to smack'


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This page created and maintained by
A. Steinbergs

Last revised January 9, 2010