"Латвийка" and "латышка" are both translated into English as "a (female) Latvian" (or, which in English is a rather archaic form, "a [female] Lett"). But what is their difference in meaning? Is one of the forms archaic? Or does one mean Latvian by citizenship and the other means ethnic Latvian? Perhaps a person of Russian ethnicity who is from Latvia would prefer to call themselves by one rather than the other? I have consulted a number of dictionaries without getting any enlightenment.

2 Answers 2

  • латышка is an ethnic Latvian

  • латвийка is a woman who lives in or was born in Latvia, regardless of heritage/ancestry. Could be a Russian woman or Roma or something else.

It's like the difference between русский and российский.


Some nations have distinct words in Russian for "pertaining to the titular ethnic group" and "pertaining to the nation or state", as in "Russian" vs. "Russia's":

немецкий/ германский

русский / российский

латышский / латвийский

казахский / казахстанский

малагасийский / мадагаскарский


This happens when the names of the country and the ethnic group come from the different roots (Germany particularly stands out in this regard across the languages of the world).

So латвийка would mean "a Latvian national or resident", while латышка would mean "ethnic Latvian".

  • 1
    Германский falls out of the scheme a bit, being limited to smth. like -германские отношения. Goods from Germany is немецкие товары, etc. Even немецкий посол is a possible expression now when there's just one Germany.
    – Alex_ander
    Aug 17, 2018 at 15:05
  • Colloquially, немецкий is also used to refer to the state, not just the ethnicity or language: немецкий автомобиль, немецкий визовый центр, etc. Aug 17, 2018 at 15:38
  • @Alex_ander: немецкий is just used more frequently than the other ones, that's all, латышский посол is not that uncommon at all. It's российский / русский if anything that really stands out, because of numerous connotations those words have accrued over the centuries.
    – Quassnoi
    Aug 17, 2018 at 15:58
  • 2
    @Wilson: no, they are both литовский. Note that the name Литва itself is a synecdoche, etymologically it's the collective name for the ethnic group, similar to мордва and татарва.
    – Quassnoi
    Aug 17, 2018 at 19:32

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