THREAD: Long vowels in Latvian and Estonian loanwords

The wry observation has sometimes been made that Latvian sounds like an Estonian speaking Lithuanian. There may be more to this than meets the eye. Image
Of course, Latvian is famously midway between its two Baltic neighbours in more ways than merely geography.

Lithuania has deep historical connections to Poland, while Estonia has its links with Finland. Latvia is kind of in-between.
It may in fact be the the most "Baltic" of the three countries. The saying goes that a Latvian, upon being faced with a fork in the road, decided after much thought to take both routes.
Latvia is in-between Estonia and Lithuania in terms of:

• population size
• land area
• forest to field ratio
• culture
• AND language Image
Although Latvian and Lithuanian are the only surviving members of the Baltic subgroup (part of the Indo-European superfamily of languages), they are not mutually intelligible and often sound quite different to each other. Image
Estonia and Latvia, meanwhile, although not sharing the same language family, nevertheless share much the same political and cultural history since the beginning of German domination in the 13th century. Image
What is more, Latvian was deeply influenced by an indigenous Finno-Ugric language, Livonian (recently extinct). Livonian was a closely related language to Estonian (arguably closer than Finnish). Livonian was originally spoken along the shores of the Gulf of Riga. Image
With this linguistic/historical context in view, I'd like to give an example of how Latvian and Estonian, although very different languages in many respects, share several important phonological parallels. The one area I'll focus on is vowel length.
Both Latvian and Estonian invariably stress the first syllable of almost every word. But alongside this, any syllable in a word can potentially have a long vowel.
What is fascinating and striking to me is how often the vowel length in common loanwords in Estonian and Latvian coincides.

(Note in these examples that vowel length is usually marked with a macron in Latvian (ā) and doubling in Estonian (aa))
Loanwords from LATIN/GREEK:

Many Latinate words and suffixes are carried over in much the same way in both languages:

• institūts = instituut 'institute' (Lat. -tāt- suffix)
• kapitāls = kapitaal ‘capital’ (Lat. -ālis suffix)
This even extends to originally short vowels, however:

• automātisks = automaatne ‘automatic’ (Gk. -μα(τ)-)
• opera [oːpera] = ooper ‘opera’ (Lat. opera)

Occasionally, the vowel lengths don't match:

• kontrole [kontroːle] ≠ kontroll ‘control’
Loanwords from LOW SAXON:

Large influence historically in Estonia and Latvia came from the low varieties of German. This is readily seen in the following examples:

• āmurs = haamer ‘hammer’
• bīskaps = piiskop ‘bishop’
• vērts [væːrts] = väärt ‘valuable’ (almost a perfect match)
• drukāt [drukːaːt] = trukkima ‘print’
• prāmis = praam ‘ferry’
• īre = üür ‘hire’
• pāris = paar ‘pair’
There are, however, also some mismatches:

• ārsts ≠ arst ‘doctor’
• karte ≠ kaart ‘map’
• papīrs ≠ paber ‘paper’
• kamīns ≠ kamin ‘fireplace’
Sometimes the mismatch is due to the variety of German the borrowing came from:

• ķēde (< Low German Keed) ≠ kett (< High German Kett) ‘chain’
Loanwords from OLD RUSSIAN:

What is fascinating to me is how closely vowel length in Estonian and Latvian is treated in loanwords from a language which lacks vowel length (such as Old Russian):

ķīselis = kiisel ‘flummery’
plombīrs = plombiir ‘ice cream’
grāmata = raamat ‘book’
rajons [rajoːns] = rajoon ‘district’
haltūra = haltuur ‘job’
ķivere ≠ kiiver ‘helmet’

Again, the match isn't perfect, but still quite impressive for two languages which are unrelated genetically.


@koutchoukalimar @LV_Estonia @IlvesToomas

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THREAD: Latin vowels are interesting.

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