Riga punished for misusing 'Rīga'

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The Latvian state's "language inspectors", officially known as the State Language Agency (VVA) have slapped a fine on Riga City Council for its unfortunate attempt to inject a feelgood factor onto signs welcoming visitors to the capital, LSM's Latvian service reported Thursday.

Debate has been raging on social media for weeks over a move by Riga municipality to replace the 'garumzime' or 'long sign' above the 'i' in 'Rīga' with a heart-shaped device supposed to elicit warm, fuzzy feelings among all those who laid eyes upon it.

Unfortunately for the city fathers, it had the opposite effect, sending language purists into an apoplexy of rage. 

The garumzime is a form of Latvian macron which elongates vowels, turning the pronunciation of 'Riga' into something more like 'Reeega'

More specifically the hearts were placed above the 'i' on the huge stone 'Rīga' signs beside the main highways into the city which have become iconic pieces of design in their own right.

The questionable marketing move has been blighted from the start. Within hours of the hearts appearance in the blue-and-white colors of the city flag, pro-Ukraine artists had cheekily switched them into the yellow-and-blue of the Ukrainian flag.

Back-pedalling swiftly as a storm of protest broke on social media - including spoof photos of the signs depicting various grammatically incorrect obscenities - concerning the heart-shaped symbol, the municipality re-colored them in the red-white-red of the Latvian flag.

Yet even this was not enough to ward off the wrath of the language inspectorate, known for its ruthless enforcement of the rules of spelling, grammar and punctuation.

The precise nature of the penalty imposed at a September 16 meeting of the VVA has not been released but according to LSM sources could consist of a fine of up to €140 plus an order to replace the hearts with the correct punctuation mark.

Besides being in blatant disregard for diacriticals, the doctored Rīga signs were also lambasted by copyright specialists as clearly violating author’s rights held by sculptor Valdis Celms’, who designed the welcome signs in 1980, when they were erected at the municipality’s entry points.

Despite being one of the few Soviet-era ‘monuments’ that might actually be beloved by people rather than a cause controversy, state inspectors call the movement to have it designated a cultural monument “naive and incorrect,” while landscapers and architects have also said harsh words about the city's arbitrary decorative meddling with the sign's appearance.

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