Latvian Pronunciation: Hints and Rules

(Note that in the following I have emphasized the stressed syllables (where necessary) by putting them in bold print.)

Introduction to Stress (or Accent)

The following English words are stressed (i.e. accented) on the first syllable of the word: sister, after. fiction, sofa, under, vitamin.

However, these English words are stressed (i.e. accented) on the last syllable of the word: unleash, about, deter, understand, around.

In English it isn't really possible to predict which syllable of a word should be stressed. It is something you must memorize about the word when you are learning it.

It is even possible for the position of stress to distinguish between two different types of words. For example, the words present and present can have two different meanings, as you can see from the following example sentences:

  1. She gave me a very nice present.
  2. I hereby present you with the order of the Green Dragon.
In the first sentence, the word "present" is a noun which means "a gift", while in the second it is a verb meaning "to award, to bestow".

Russian works in much the same way. The following two Russian words are spelled in exactly the same way (i.e. using Cyrillic letters: мука), but one is pronounced with stress on the first syllable, while the other has it on the last syllable:

muka 'torture'
muka 'flour'

Clearly you have to be careful what you ask for in Russian!

Latvian Stress/Accent

Latvian stress is quite different. In 98% (I just made up that percent, but it's a good guess!) of cases, words are stressed on the first syllable. Here are some examples:

sa 'sister', fikcija 'fiction', vāns 'sofa', vitamīns 'vitamin', atraisīt 'unleash', saprast 'understand', aizraidīt 'deter'

(If a word only has one syllable, you (of course!) stress that syllable: pēc 'after', zem 'under', par 'about', ap 'around')

This makes it very easy when you are confronted with a new Latvian word. Where do you put the stress? On the first syllable, of course.

Nevertheless, there are a handful of words which are not stressed on the first syllable, but rather on the second syllable. They are:

te'pat, tur'pat, ar'vien,

  1. Greetings and farewells: labrīt 'Good morning!', labdien 'Good day!', labvakar 'Good evening!', a 'Bye'
  2. Thanks: paldies 'thank you!'
  3. Superlatives (prefixed by vis- 'most'): visvecākais 'oldest', vismazākais 'smallest', visresnākais 'fattest', etc.
  4. Pronouns with prefix ik- 'each, every': ikviens 'each one', ikkatrs 'every one', ikkurš 'every one (who)'
  5. Pronouns, adjectives, or adverbs with prefix jeb- 'any, if, or': jebkas 'anything, anyone', jebkāds 'any', jebkad 'ever', jebkur 'anywhere', etc.
  6. Adjectives with prefix pus- 'half': pusotrs 'one-and-a-half', puspieci 'half-past four', etc.
  7. Adverbs with prefix ne- 'not': nekad 'never', nekur 'no where', ne 'no way', nedi 'in no way'
  8. This adjective: nekāds 'no, none'
  9. These pronouns: nekas 'nothing', neviens 'no one'
(All other adjectives and nouns with the prefix ne- 'not' are stressed on the first syllable, just as you would normally expect: nekārtns 'irregular', neizsakāms 'unspeakable, inexpressible', neglīts 'ugly, unhandsome', nedalamība 'indivisibility, inseparability', nekārtīgums 'untidiness, disorderliness', nepacietība 'impatience', etc.)

There are more pronunciation hints here:

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This page created and maintained by
A. Steinbergs

Last revised September 19, 2008