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.