Those Baltic names again

  • 2004-02-19
(in response to Leo Kangjarv's letter to TBT in #394)

If Mr. Kangjarv is correct, and in Estonian people's names are written with all the diacritical marks of the Latvian, Lithuanian and Polish alphabets - with the combined a's and e's, as well as o's and e's of some of the Scandinavian alphabets; and with the letters used for the voiced and unvoiced th sounds in Icelandic, my hat is off to him and to the Estonian language, and I am even prouder to be partly of Estonian descent.
Mr. Kangjarv errs in blaming the way names are written in The Baltic Times on the fact that the newspaper is published in Latvia. To blame is the English language, which, just as Latvian, transliterates foreign names to adapt them to its alphabet. The spelling of the name of the outgoing prime minister of Latvia appearing on the same page as Mr. Kangjarv's letter proves my point: It was correct, except for the fourth letter, which was replaced with an s. There is no technical reason in this age of electronic word processing that the correct letter could not have been used, as the use of umlauts in Mr. Kangjarv's letter shows.
Transliteration in English is based on appearance, replacing unfamiliar letters with the letters in the English alphabet most similar to them. In Latvian, on the other hand, transliteration is based on pronunciation, replacing the original letters with ones from the Latvian alphabet pronounced similarly to the replaced letters in the original language.
Latvians are also criticized for appending an s to men's and an a or an e to women's names. In English too, grammatical endings are added to foreign names, for example, -s or -es to indicate plural. What the critics do not understand is that Latvian, unlike some other languages, requires the use of a specific ending also in the nominative singular case.

A.R. Schnore