›  The Implementation of Latvian Language Policy in Riga: Meanings, Interpretations, Conflicts

The Implementation of Latvian Language Policy in Riga: Meanings, Interpretations, Conflicts

  • Frank, Melanie (Universität Augsburg)


Since the restoration of independence, the language policy of the Republic of Latvia has comprised two central elements: firstly, Latvian is the only official language and therefore in some spheres of public and political life Latvian is the only language to be used. Secondly, minorities enjoy certain language rights, e.g. a right to receive education in their first language. Recent policy initiatives, however, limit the dimension of minority language rights and thus display a new development, which is met by significant criticism from large segments of society. To shed light on the conflicting elements in Latvian language policy, I use the conceptual framework of language regimes brought forward by Cardinal/Sonntag (2015) and combine it with Dvora Yanow’s approach to interpretative policy analysis. I show how the contradictory elements in the language policy regime translate into implementation difficulties in Riga, where more than half of the inhabitants speak Russian in their everyday life. The argument is built on the basis of media analysis and a review of data on Latvia’s language situation and policy, accompanied by an analysis of the central policy documents, as well as interviews with stakeholders. The hypothesis suggests that the current language regime is based on an incoherent approach towards the balancing act between fostering the usage of the Latvian language and the accommodation of linguistic minorities. The incoherencies arise from shortcomings in the securing of the position of Latvian, giving way to political approaches that demand a cut down of minority language rights. Therefore, one observes a growing discrepancy between the goal of a monolingual public pursued by government institutions on the one hand and the multilingual sociolinguistic reality in the society on the other hand. This can be regarded as the main obstacle to adopting language policy approaches that embrace the current challenges in multilingual Europa. In Riga, these are mainly stemming from a rise of the number of Russian speakers in Riga due to migration and from the diversification of the language situation in recent years.