The vocative case: Arnis! or Arni!

Ever since living in Latvia I was puzzled about why the vocative was constantly being misused. No wonder, as many of the Latvian grammar texts only briefly touch on the topic and it rarely appears in the declension tables. It seems that even in daily emails and other digital communications the vocative case is either avoided altogether or just plain wrong. But that is about to change!

In the Latvian language the vocative case is used to address a person or object: Mārtiņ! māt! skolotāj! Ieva! It is usually formed from the nominative case minus the last letter and there are declension groups where it is identical to the nominative. Its origins come from the Sanskrit language, but many modern Indo-European languages have lost the vocative case entirely. It is still very relevant for the Baltic and also most Slavic languages.

An interesting survey was conducted several years ago from various regions in Latvia which revealed that the nominative form was used for the vocative, especially amongst the male population. Is this the influence of the Russian language which has rid itself of the vocative case? Would a survey addressing the émigré Latvians in other parts of the world show different results?

The screenshots that appear in the top of this article were collected over the last six months. Recently I nearly fell off my chair when I received an email from a major telco (telecommunications company) and staring at me was Sveiks, Arni!, but this is extremely rare. Others skirt around the issue by using a general address form such as, E-pakalpojumu lietotāj! God. LMT klient! Sveiki! or even changing the case and inserting the recipient’s name in quotes. Marketing and Communication specialists will tell you that a personalised address is much more effective.

So why the interest in the vocative? Many years ago, while studying Latvian grammar in school, rather than follow the cue of my classmates and gaze into the air, I was inspired to put my basic programming skills to the test and create a prototype to decline nouns and further digitalise the Latvian language. Deklinators was born and made available for Windows and Macintosh computer users. The same, but much improved algorithm was used years later in the Latvian Nouns app for iPhones, iPads and Android smartphones. 

About a year ago, together with professional developer Pāvils Jurjāns we embarked on an open-source project to release the Deklinators algorithm to the general developer community. Several days ago, on the 18th of November we released the first version:    

For developers: GitHub

For users: Demo website

Now there should be no reason not to use the Latvian vocative case correctly.

Latvian Verbs App redesigned

What comes to mind when you hear the words “Latvian verbs”? For most, it’s plain and boring grammatical tables you needed to memorise at Latvian school.

As a 16-year-old, attending Latvian school in Melbourne, and having to look at these tables every week, I was convinced that this challenging part of Latvian grammar could be digitalised to run on computers. That was thirty years ago when personal desktop computers first began to appear in schools, and I longed for the day to try out my new idea – even if it meant sneaking into the computer room after classes.

Fast forward to April, 2021 and the latest version of Latvian Verbs for iPhones and iPads is now available. It is a major upgrade after a 5-year hiatus – completely redesigned and redeveloped! The valuable feedback received from our users worldwide means that it is now even easier and friendlier to use.

Overview of the new Latvian Verbs App (30 secs)

To help illustrate how Latvian Verbs works, let’s look at the verb nopirkt (to buy) in the past tense:

The prefix is no, the verb stem is pirk with the suffix t. Depending upon the person (es, tu, viņš.. viņas) the suffix changes quite predictably and is shown highlighted in red.

Changing to the future tense, we can see a similar pattern: prefix, stem and endings highlighted in red.

In the present tense, it becomes trickier. In our example, the verb stem has changed from pirk to pērk, in the 2nd person singular, the stem ending changes from k -> c and there is no longer a vowel suffix.

If you tap on nopirkt you will get additional useful information about this verb. The classification provides hints on which conjugation rules to apply. The 1st conjugation refers to all verbs where the verb stem is only one syllable (there are also 2nd and 3rd conjugation verbs that end in -āt, -īt, -ēt, -ot, -ūt and have two or more syllables). The 1st conjugation is the most complex and is further divided into 5 groups – nopirkt belongs to the 2nd group and other similar verbs are listed as a reference. The prefixes section shows the most popular prefixes that can be used with the base verb pirkt. Changing a prefix will often change the overall verb meaning as well.

If you need help with the pronunciation of the verb forms, tap on the share icon, select the Izrunā ar Tildes Balsi option (this is a free App download from the AppStore) and listen to the audio. Alternatively, you can share the verb with others as well as mark it as a favourite for future reference.

The Lists section provides the top 50 and top 100 Latvian verbs and, as with all languages, there are also exceptions with additional notes that you can study further.

For more advanced learners, tap on the settings icon and choose the palatalised r and open/closed e options. The compound tense and passive voice (beginners should avoid the passive voice) are off by default. Switching these on reveals the complexity of Latvian verbs.

Advanced users can also choose from indicative, relative, conditional, debitive and imperative moods to further explore the many different Latvian verb forms.

All of the above works well on iPads in portrait as well as landscape modes.


To download Latvian Verbs from the AppStore just search for “Latvian Verbs”. If you would like to provide feedback or have any questions on Latvian Verbs, please use the contact link through the App or post on the Latvian Verbs Facebook page.

Sinfonietta Rīga bring new vitality to Ivanov’s symphonies for strings

Latvian composer Jānis Ivanovs (1906 – 1983) earned recognition and distinction for his contributions to Latvian music, particularly symphonic music. Composer of twenty completed symphonies, his creative output spanned both the era of Latvia’s first independence as well as Soviet occupation, and his works remain a cornerstone of Latvian academic music.

Recognizing his contribution to Latvian symphonic music, the chamber orchestra Sinfonietta Rīga and conductor Normunds Šnē recorded an album of Ivanovs’ symphonies for strings, which was released in 2018 by the Latvian national music label Skani. The CD collects his works Sinfonietta, Poema Luttuoso, and his Symphony No. 14 Sinfonia da Camera.

The three movement Sinfonietta, though written towards the end of his life (1977), is a vibrant and youthful work. The restless, slightly tense first movement, with its undulating melodies, is played with precision by Sinfonietta Rīga, building in intensity throughout its brief lifespan, which then leads the more somber and reserved second movement, though at a slower tempo, loses none of the work’s intensity. The final movement alternates between an almost hyperactive expression and a slower, almost mournful atmosphere, giving the work many different dimensions and aspects, and conductor Normunds Šnē inspires a nuanced and layered performance from Sinfonietta Rīga.

Poema luttuoso (1966) is a harsh and dissonant work. This is not surprising, as the work is dedicated to the victims of the Salaspils concentration camp, and was inspired by author and physician Miervaldis Birze, who was imprisoned there. Bleak and full of pain, the work is a moving tribute to those that suffered there, and the composer, through repeated motifs, musically indicates that these terrible events should not be forgotten.

Symphony No. 14 or Sinfonia da camera was composed in 1971, and is a lyrical and vital work. Descending melodies begin the first movement, as Ivanovs deftly weaves together the string instruments to create a beautiful musical painting. The second movement, though slower and more deliberate, also has an artistic feel, like a painter slowly moving a paintbrush across a canvas, mixing colors and textures. The third and final movement raises the tension, with sudden jumps in the strings, providing for a piercing listening experience, brought together with precision and skill by conductor Šnē.

The CD booklet contains extensive notes by composer Imants Zemzaris on Ivanovs and his works, in both English and Latvian. Among other interesting facts is that Ivanovs’ final composition for solo piano was only eight measures long – a work entitled Diānai, dedicated to his granddaughter.

The chamber orchestra Sinfonietta Rīga and conductor Normunds Šnē reveal the many facets and layers in Jānis Ivanovs’ symphonic music, and confirm again why Ivanovs remains such a towering figure in Latvian symphonic music. Even though these are chamber orchestra works, they as rich and powerful as any work for a full symphony orchestra. Such is the talent of Sinfonietta Rīga and Šnē – and these works by Ivanovs gain a new vitality and vivacity in these performances.

For further information, please visit the Sinfonietta Rīga website and the Skani record label.

Sinfonietta Rīga

Jānis Ivanovs – Symphonies for Strings

LMIC SKANI 068, 2018

Track listing:

1. Sinfonietta

I. Allegro energico

II. Andante tranquillo

III. Allegro assai

2. Poema Luttuoso

3. Symphony No. 14 ‘Sinfonia da camera’

I. Moderato – Allegro – Tempo I

II. Andante

III. Allegro – Moderato (Come sopra)

Egils Kaljo is an American-born Latvian from the New York area . Kaljo began listening to Latvian music as soon as he was able to put a record on a record player, and still has old Bellacord 78 rpm records lying around somewhere.