This article puts into context the situation in the Latvian diaspora, outlining sociolinguistic theories regarding language, contact and migration of ethnic communities in the diaspora. Linguistic change in this diaspora is compared with language shifts during the «trimda» (exile), when a wave of similar number of Latvians fled Latvia during World War II, and native language retention within this ethnic community which has now entered the third generation.
After Latvia regained its independence in 1991 and later joined the European Union in 2004, Latvians started to emigrate abroad. This resulted in a change in their linguistic skills and language use. Living outside the linguistic environment of Latvia, as members of the Latvian diaspora they started to live and integrate into other linguistic environments, which inevitably led to increased use of the language of the new host country, and other languages necessary for communication.
Researchers from the Institute of Philosophy and Sociology at the University of Latvia (LU FSI) have been monitoring the dynamics of language skills and language use by the Latvian diaspora to enable Latvian state to respond to the Latvian language needs of Latvians living abroad, and returning migrants.
Quantitative data from various surveys of the diaspora and returning migrants provides an insight into the dynamics of language retention in both the adult diaspora community as well as in the second diaspora generation raised abroad. Interviews with diaspora community members add a qualitative in-depth look at the issues that concern this wave of emigrants including the challenges regarding retention of Latvian language in families with diverse linguistic backgrounds, opinions on the purpose of native language acquisition and maintenance and how it correlates with ethnic identity.