Volume 33, No.3 - Fall 1987
Editor of this issue: Vilius L. Dundzila
ISSN 0024-5089
Copyright 1987 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.


University of Wisconsin, Madison

The erosion and death of immigrant languages, as well as the decline and disappearance of numerically minor nationalities, is a commonplace occurrence and does not have to be rehearsed here in detail. The circumstances and the consequences of the decline differ from case to case. Thus, the assimilation of Italian speakers to Spanish in Argentina has nothing to do with the viability of Italian as a language fully sufficient for all cultural, scientific, and practical needs of its speakers. Nor is the loss of these speakers a blow to the homeland - the future of Italian is not in danger. And the death of Pochekwan (an imaginery American Indian language) is doubly inevitable for two interrelated reasons Pochekwan is now spoken by no more than 500, most over 50 years of age; it is not learned by the young, nor can it offer a full range of expression to the young - there is no way to say "late night show host" in Pochekwan; nor can one place a phone call in Pochekwan and expect the operator to help. No amount of government intervention or self-initiative is likely to defer the death of Pochekwan within a generation.

Emigr Latvian is in a situation that bears some similarity to the circumstances just described, but also some differences from them. No, you cannot expect a US telephone operator to speak to you in Latvian, nor is there a Latvian expression for "late night show host." A number of children of Latvian ancestry speak Latvian poorly, or not at all. Still, Latvian is and can continue to be the vehicle for the social, aesthetic, scientific, and practical needs of the emigr population it serves, and the embattled status of Latvian in the homeland makes it doubly important that the emigrs retain an active command of the language.

The perceptions of what ails emigr Latvian and what to do about it vary widely. One predictable reaction is to return to the language of independent Latvia, brushing off all subsequent developments at home and abroad as irrelevant. This attitude has been particularly devastating in the teaching of Latvian literature in Saturday schools. Forty years of emigr Latvian literature - some of it brilliant - never did make its way into the schoolbooks, and thus rests condemned to future obscurity - a condition created by the writers' compatriots, who bought, read and loved their works, but entrusted the young to the classics instead.

Persons of Latvian ancestry in their teens and twenties often do not perceive themselves as Latvian-Americans or Latvian-Canadians, but think of themselves as Latvians outright. They are typically fluent in Latvian in all situations that call for the use of Latvian - at home, school, camp, church, parties, outings, fraternity meetings, political gatherings, etc. It is commonly conceded that they cannot be expected to conduct a conversation in Latvian about personal computers, American football, TV fare, and retirement benefits (nor can their elders). While the domain of emigr Latvian, especially as learned by the young, is circumscribed, it is a domain worth preserving and expanding. A substantial proportion of Latvian emigr society perceives this and is actively engaged in pursuing just these goals.

My own contention over the last decade or two has been that even this circumscribed use of Latvianthough still fully vigorous and worthwhileis in danger from unsuspected quarters, namely the failure of colloquial Latvian to keep pace with new developments in technology and consumer goods (hard disc, update, self-basting, chicken nuggets), i.e., it is the non-glamorous, everyday vocabulary that is failing us, and not our lack of ability to talk about God and country.

With that in mind, I have conducted several surveys among younger Latvians, to ascertain their level of acquaintance with ordinary household words that may not be high frequency words, but whose knowledge is essential for active use of Latvian at home. My point is roughly the following: one can go for weeks without ever once mentioning fuses; but when the light goes out one has to be able to say "Go, check the fuses." If this won't be said in Latvian, it will be said in English.

My surveys were haphazardly designed and administered as the occasion arose. Here I report on two of themone with 50 respondents in 1970 in Toronto, and another with 20 respondents in 1982 in Kalamazoo, mostly in their teens and twenties. In spite of the lack of proper experimental design and controls, I would be surprised if the data elicited turned out to be unrepresentative.

For a while, let allow the data tol speak for themselves. Each questionnaire entry is preceded by a stimulus word in English, and followed by the answers elicited. Glosses (where needed), comments and recommendations for future use are mine.

English stimulus: ALUMINUM FOIL. Responses (written): alumnija paprs (or similar) 'aluminum paper' by 27 respondents; sudrabpaprs 'silver paper,' spodrpaprs & spdgais paprs 'shiny paper' and alumnja ietinamais 'aluminum wrap' by one respondent each. Even though staniols 'tinfoil' would seem to be the logical choice for the product, there is no point in fighting established usage. We recommend: alumnija paprs.

ANTIFREEZE: atsaldtjs (2 x) 'de-freezer,' pretsaldtjs 'counter-freezer,' abis 'liquor,' pretsala idrums 'anti-frost liquid.' Recommendation: dzeses idrums 'coolant.'

APPRECIATE (HELP): bt pateicgam par (or similar) 'to be grateful for' (21 x), oti patikami, ka... 'how nice of you to ...' Recommendation: bt pateicgam par, pateikties par 'to thank for.'

APPRECIATE (MUSIC): baudt 'enjoy' (12 x), patikt 'like' (11 x), novertet 'to esteem, value' (4). Recommendation: prast cienit 'to know how to esteem,' prast novrtt 'to be a good judge of,' labprt baudt 'to (gladly) enjoy.'

BABY SITTER: brnu auklis (or similar) 'child nurse, (b) nanny' (10 x), 6, raudztjs 'fermenter (undoubtedly a mistake for raudztjs 'checker'),' b. sdtjs 'sitter,' b. uzraugs 'monitor' (5 x), b. vcjs 'caretaker' (2 x), b. vkttajs 'watcher.' Recommendation: brnu auklis/aukle, as the initial resistance to this word, established as "(permanent) nursery maid, nanny," is fading.

BALL POINT PEN: spalva 'pen' (10 x), tintes zmulis 'indelible pencil' (4), rakstmais (4) & rakstklis (2) 'writing implement,' lodene 'ball (pen),' (2), kgelis (2); from German Kugelschreiber 'ball point,' bumbizmulis 'ball pencil,' irbulis 'stylus,' boligrafs '?,' and kli (2), biro, stilobrand names. Recommended: lodene or simply spalva.

BATHROBE: rta mtelis (or similar) 'morning (over)coat' (18), rta kleita 'morning dress' (12), rta svrki 'morning jacket' (4), peldu mtelis 'beach robe' (7), apmklis '?,' mjas kleita 'house dress,' itelis 'smock, lab coat,' halts 'dressing gown,' nelietoju 'I don't use one.' ALV has peldmtelis; I leaned toward rta mtelis. At any rate, peldu mtelis must also be acceptable.

BLEACH: balintjs (and similar) 'whitener' (27), klors 'chlorine' (2). Apparently the problem does not exist. Recommendation: balintjs.

CARBON PAPER: kopjamais paprs (or similar) 'copy paper,' koppaprs (6), karbon paprs (5), melnpaprs 'black paper,' zilais novelkamais paprs 'blue duplicating paper,' dubultpaprs 'double paper,' ogu paprs 'coal paper.' We recommend (along with the ALV)1 kopjamais paprs, but also allow koppaprs.

CARTRIDGE: patron (or sim.) 'bullet shell' (8), kasete (3), aula 'shell' (2), muncija, pildtjs 'filler,' pacia 'packet.' Here the stimulus word misfired (if you pardon the pun). I was looking for a Latvian counterpart for "stylus cartridge" for record players and "ink cartridge" for a certain kind of pen. Responses kasete, pildtjs & pacia clearly respond to this meaning, but they are too few to evaluate. The military meaning is not at issue.

CEREAL: prslas (or similar) 'flakes' (10), graudi (2) & graudii (3) 'grain, kernels,' graudu barba 'grain food,' brokastu labba 'breakfast cereal grain,' putra &putria 'porridge,' brokastdiens 'breakfast food,' krikumi (2), amii, kriki, krauki, kraukuiall nonce creations, roughly: "crunchies." For lack of better, we recommend prslas. ALV gives graudaugu barba 'cereal food,' but I don't think they have breakfast in mind.

CLASP, CLIP: no usable responses. We recommend *skava in many meanings, such as: skavas dltis 'clip board,' and kravates skava 'tie clasp.' At the same time, there are meanings for which skava will not do, among them "clasp on a piece of jewelry" which is sprdze, and "paper clip" which may be saspraude (in my speech: spraudte).

(BUILT IN) CLOSET: skapis 'wardrobe' (13), sienas skapis 'wal closet' (6), iebvts skapis 'built in closet' (8), iebvts drbju skapis 'built in clothes closet,' garderobe 'wardrobe (clothes), check-room.'

Recommendation: skapis, for US and Canada; this, however, leaves a free-standing European- (or army-) style wardrobe without a name.

(AUTO) CLUTCH: sajgs 'clutch!' (16), sajga pedlis 'clutch pedal,' gjiens 'drive,' manas grbstekslis 'machine-grabber.' No problem: sajgs is obviously alive and well in emigration.

TO COMMUTE: braukt 'drive, ride' (5), braukt 'to drive around' (2), ceot 'to travel,' komut (2), braukt ar auto 'to drive by car' (2), prceot 'to travel across,' publiskus satiksmes ldzekus lietot 'to use public transportation,' ceot starp A un B 'to travel between A and B,' braukt katr dienu uz darbu ar auto 'to drive every day to work,' braukana 'driving, riding,' braukt uz darbu 'to drive to work,' braukt turp un atpaka 'to drive back and forth,' izbraukt 'to leave (by vehicle),' braukt ar vilcienu 'to travel by train,' jbrauk 'have to drive around,' sarunties 'to converse (mistake for "to communicate"?).'

There is nothing more useful here. AVL offer of regulri braukt 'to regularly drive back and forth' is clearly an explanatory translation, and nothing that a Latvian would say. I have no recommendation to make, except a warning that Latvian terms for commuter, and commuter train should fit with the verb.

CONFRONTATION: konfrontcija (10), sadursme 'clash, encounter,' (5), satikans 'meeting' (3), sadurans '(sudden) conflict' (2), sazinties 'to communicate,' uzstsans 'making an issue of it,' saskrsme 'contact,' nesaskaa 'difference of opinion,' izaicint 'to challenge,' saskarans 'contact.' ALV admits konfrontcija only as a legal term; we, nevertheless, recommend it for the whole range of the English term.

CONSUMER: patrtjs 'consumer' (15), trtjs 'waster,' piercjs 'buyer' (11), prcjs, lietotjs 'user' (2). No problem exists; patrtjs is the only possible word.

CONTACT LENSES: kontakt lcas 'c. lenses' (4), kontakti (3), kontakt lenzes, lcas 'lenses' (3), redzes lcas 'sight lenses,' acu lcas 'pupils,' actes (acte 'black-jack'), lieks acis 'false eyes,' stikl acis 'glass eyes.' Recommended: kontakt lcas, colloq. kontakti.

COUNTER (SALES): lete (22), prdevju lete 'salespersons' counter' galds 'table,' prdevu 'of sales,' skaittjs 'counter (enumerator).' Recommendation: lete, as well established and known. I have tried to extend the use of this word to cover "kitchen counter, counter-top," without much success, although I see no reason why virtuves lete should be objectionable.

DEFROSTER: atsaldtjs 'de-freezer' (12), (logu) atkaustjs (window) 'un-thawer,' (3), kaustjs 'thawer,' dzesintjs 'cooler,' atledotjs 'de-icer,', atsarmotjs 'defroster (sarma 'hoarfrost'), logu pts 'window blower,' pamais 'blower.' In spite of its popularity, I do not like atsaldtjs since aizsaldt to me means 'to freeze shut'; atledotjs is better, matching aizledot 'to ice over.' My personal preference atsarmotjs probably has no chance against the majority choice.

DEODORANT: atsmacinis (2), atsmakotjs 'de-smeller,' atsmarotjs 'de-fragrancer,' smara 'fragrance,' padusu smaraj 'armpit fragrance,' padusu smrs 'armpit cream.' ALV has dezodorants. The latter is reminiscent of dezinformcija. All preceding are dismal failures. I recommend the positive approach and a neologism *svaidze, from the adj, svaigs 'fresh.' This would allow for a telpa,s svaidze 'room freshener,' and padusu svaidze 'underarm freshener.' It would even make a good feminine first name: Ms. Svaidze Bergmane.

DEPARTMENT STORE: veikals 'store' (15), lielais veikals 'big store' (5), departmentu veikals (8), paapkalpoans veikals 'self-service store,' lielais preu nams 'big merchandise house,' bode 'general store,' universlveikals (4). ALV: universlveikals. In spite of the available alternatives, I suggest that it is still worth while to hang on to universlveikals. I am tempted by a shorter univeikls, but that may sound too much like "unicycle" and "unisex."

DIAPER LINER: autiu iekljs 'diaper inlay, (2), autiu laineris (2), autiu mala 'diaper border,' autiu ievalks 'diaper insert,' (2), autiu odere 'diaper lining' (2), autiu prvalks 'diaper cover,' autiu aizsargs 'diaper guard,' autiu prsedzis 'diaper covering.' Recommendation neologism *ievalks. Ievalks can serve also as iveres ievalks 'helmet liner' and in many other capacities.

DISCOUNT STORE: diskont veikals (8), atlaides veikals (5), du veikals 'Jew store,' ltais veikals 'cheap store,' nolaides veikals 'letdown store,' izprdoanas veikals 'sale store,' veikals ar pazemintm cenm 'store with lowered prices,' bode 'general store.' I have no quarrel with the front-runners: diskont veikals & atlaides veikals.

ESCALATOR: sldos trepes 'sliding stairs' (7), s. kpnes 'id.' (4), braucams t. 'riding stairs,' elektrisks t. kustos t. 'moving s.' (2), cos t. 'crawling s.,' trepes (2), skrejkpnes 'running s.,' eskalators, lifts, pacljs 'lifter,' elevators, uzmudintors 'encourager.' ALV has eskalators. Recommended: sldos kpnes, conceivably eskalators; skrejkpnes sounds better, but has no popular base.

EXPRESSWAY: lielce 'highway' (13), trais ce 'fast road (speedway)' (3), trce (7), oseja 'paved (blacktop) highway' (8), dice 'grand highway,' autoce 'autoway.' ALV has trgaitas automagistrle 'highspeed autothroughway,' probably a technical designation, unusable in conversation. I am not sure that standardization is called for. All attested forms probably work in context.

(MOVIE) FAN: pieldzjs 'admirer' (5), jsmotjs 'enthusiast' (3), apmekltjs 'patron,' cientjs 'appreciator,' filmu zvaigzne 'movie star,' patrons, entziasts, mlotjs 'fancier,' kino zvaigu dievintjs 'movie star worshiper,' apsstais 'obsessed person,' klaustjs 'member of audience,' filmu proekotora atdzesintjs 'projector cooler,' vsintjs 'cooler.' Clearly fan is not a simple concept, and the translations reflect thisare you a patron or an enthusiast? do you appreciate stars or worship them? I have no recommendation.

(ROTARY) FAN: vdintjs 'ventilator,' gaisa vdintjs 'air v.,' ventilators (3), vsintjs 'cooler' (5), atvsintjs, propellers, propellers, kas p vsu gaisu 'propeller that blows cool air,' vdeklis 'fan (hand held)' (4), ptjs 'blower' (4), gaisa aidtjs 'air splasher.' Again, this is not a well thought through question, and the answers reflect it. Only ptjs is appropriate for hair dryers and fans that circulate air inside of a car; an exhaust fan installed in a wall or ceiling is clearly a ventilators. I would opt for vdintjs for a ceiling fan, a window fan, and a portable oscillating fan. For the latter, the Anglicism fns is also widespread.

FREEZER: saldtjs 'freezer' (23), saldtava (3), saldjuma dala 'ice cream compartment' (2), frzeris, ledusskapis 'refrigerator' (5). The obvious choice is saldtjs. ALV has dzesintjs 'cooler,' which can't refer to the same appliance.

FRUSTRATED: frustrts (6), izmisis 'despaired' (2), apjucis 'confused' (2), sdt uz naa 'to sit on a knife,' nokrenkjis 'worried sick,' pikts 'irate,' sagribjies 'full of desire,' pievilans 'disappointment,' aggrivats. Recommendation: frustrts.

FUSE: koris 'cork, stopper, fuse' (18), aizsargs 'protector' (5), drointjs 'safety' (2), elektriskais nodrointjs, kontakts 'contact' (3), dzirkste 'spark,' deglis '(detonating) fuse,' saliedt 'to weld.' Even though aizsargs and drointjs: are well established as alternatives to koris, the latter seems to be a survivor. I vote for koris.

GARBAGE CAN: atkritumu kanna 'garbage can' (9), atkritumu tvertne 'g. container' (8), a. bunda 'g. can (tin)' (4), a. kaste 'g. box' (5), a. muca 'trash barrel' (3), a. kurvis 'trashbasket,' a. krba '(small) trash box,' a. spainis 'garbage bucket,' a. trauks 'garbage vessel,' a. grozs 'trash basket,' mslu kaste 'trash box' (3), m. bunda, m. kanna, miskaste (from Germ. Mist 'trash') (3), mizkast bunja, uz garbidu. We recommend the vague but non-controversial atkritumu tvertne; at the same time, we suspect that atkritumu kanna will be making contact gains in the US and Canada. There are vociferous objectors to kanna, since the latter word is current in rather different senses in Latvian: alus kanna 'beer mug,' tjkanna 'teakettle,' lejkanna 'wateringcan,' and piena kanna 'milk can.'

GASOLINE: bencns (28), benzns (15), spkviela 'fuel?,' gaze (3), gazolns, petrol. Recommendation: benzns, to match the standard in Latvia; there is little point, however, to oppose the majority pronunciation.

GAS STATION: bencna/benzna stacija (26), benecna pildtava 'gas filling (station)' (3), b. pirktuve 'gas buying (place),' gzes stacija (8), gazoln stacija, spkvielu stacija 'fuel(?) station,' gar, tanktelle (from German), telle. Recommendation: benzna/bencna stacija, with gzes stacija as a tolerable option. It should be noted, however, that in Latvia a degvielas iepildes stacija 'fuel filling station' is a major distribution center; an operation of the size of a US filling station would more nearly be called a punkts 'point.'

TO HIGHJACK: nolaupt 'to rob' (6), laupt (2), prkomandt uz 'to command a change of course to,' premt 'to take over,' vadbas premana ar varu 'forcible takeover of control,' aizvest 'to take away,' Kuba Si, gaisa pirtisms 'air piracy,' nozagt 'to steal,' zagana 'theft' person zagana 'theft of persons.' In the press, piratrija and gaisa piratrija are well established, but no verb is handy. Prkomandt has possibilities.

HUMIDIFIER: (gaisa) mitrintjs 'air moistener' (17), mitrum radtjs 'moisture creator,' smidzintjs 'fogger.' Obviously no contestit's mitrintjs.

INSECTICIDE: kukaiu inde 'bug poison' (7), kukaiu "stuffs," k. izncintjs 'bug destoyer,' k. price 'bug spray,' k. nveklis 'bug killer,' insekticds, muu inde 'fly poison,' insektu pulvris 'insect powder,' kniu p. 'gnat powder,' pretkniu price 'anti-gnat spray,' odu gaitjs 'mosquito chaser,' odu atbaidtjs 'm. repellant,' pret odiem 'against mosquitos,' miglotjs 'fogger.' We recommend insekticds for a precise translation, but kukaiu inde should do just as well. Miglotjs is a fine name for a fogger; for spray, however, we prefer the existing smidzintjs 'sprayer, atomizer.'

INSTANT COFFEE: kafija (4), tr kaftja 'fast coffee' (9), a kafija 'quick c.' (2), fiks k. 'id.' instantk., pderk, 'powder c.' (2), pulvea kafija/pulvekafija 'powder c.' (9), t slikt kafija 'lousy coffee,' kafijas pulveris 'coffee powder.' In Latvia: sto kafija 'dissolving coffee.' There is something wrong with every single one of these designations. Kafija clearly won't dowe haven't come to that point yet. tra kafija is at the slow end of the progression: tr k. 'fast,' a 'quick,' frisk 'jiffy,' and pkn 'sudden,' and there are products (oatmeal) that come in three "speeds"regular, quick, and instant. Fikss has been dropped from standard Latvian, and could be prompted only if there was strong popular support (which there isn't). And pk 'sudden' is not only instant, but also unexpected. The difficulty with pderis and pulveris is that they focus on the substance of the preparation. If we allow powder coffee, then we have to allow flake potatoes, but we should be able to have a word for "instant" to fit all products of the type. And sto k. won't do on two countsone already mentionedwe cannot have dissolving potatoes. The other difficulty is that st means not only to dissolve but also to splatter (like in "Here's mud in your eye!" For lack of better, let us stick with tr kafija, since it at least can be paralleled by trie kartupei 'fast (i.e. instant) potatoes.2

We promised you instant coffee and you got fast coffee instead. That's life. Has anything else been learned? Yes. First and foremost, Latvianlike other languageshas enormous adaptive and recuperative powers (like liver). The sheer mass of efforts to rise to the challenge of lexical problems is impressive in its own right. Many of these efforts have been successful, even in the absence of school instruction or media publicity. The successes include acceptable loans (frustrate), translations (freezer, humidifier), blends (aluminum foil), adaptations of old words to new uses (babysitter). Some words were clearly transmitted within the family (bleach, fuses). Others survive without clear transmission lines (clutch, consumer, counter). Neologisms have fared least well, most probably for lack of dissemination. Where English words correspond to many concepts, a one-to-one equivalence between English and Latvian has typically not been achieved (appreciate, fan). A constant difficulty resides in the fact that Latvian does not form verbs from nouns with the sort of facility as English, hence while we can meet the challenge of "hijacking" "to hijack" is another matter.

I am notoriously poor at graceful exists. Let me close by noting that if one wants to advocate solutions to the problems, it is nice to know what the problems are.


1 J. Rakevis, M. Sosre & . Timenika. Angu-latvieu vrdnca. Rga, 1976.
2 The rest of the questionnaire, recommendations only: interactionmijiedirbe, jet (plane)lidmasna (if necessary: dets or strklu lidmasna), key punch-perforators (obsolescent), mop*slopata, morgage hipotka, networktkls, pantyhosezees, paperback brota grmata, to parknovietot, parkot/noparkot, parking ramprampa, plastic wrap*plastpaprs, play penstia, plywoodfinieris, saplksnis, porch-veranda, portableprnesams, power toolsspka rki, to promoteveicint, safety beltdrobas josta, screen (movie)ekrns, skreen (window)siets, soft drink limonde, vieglais dzriens, toastgrauzdta maize, waterproofdensdros.