Livonian is classified as a member of the Balto-Finnic subgroup of the Finno-Ugrian family of languages. Finno-Ugrian, along with the Samoyedic languages, forms the Uralic language family. The Uralic languages cover a wide geographic area from Northwestern Europe, where the closest relatives of Livonian (Finnish, Estonian, Votian, etc.) and the Sámi language are spoken, to Northern Siberia, and as far south as South Central Europe where Hungarian is spoken. Today there are approximately 24 million speakers of Uralic languages. Only Estonian, Finnish, and Hungarian enjoy national status in their homeland.

Originally one of the major languages of the Baltic area, over the course of eight centuries of foreign domination, Livonian would shrink to less than a thousand speakers by the middle of the 20th Century. During the five decades of Soviet occupation, the number of people speaking Livonian would ultimately decrease to where it stands today, at less than ten. This occurred as a result of the destructive policies of the Soviet regime geared towards the elimination of this language, its speakers, and their identity. At the start of the 21st Century, most native speakers of Livonian are elderly. Of the community of approximately 200 persons registered as Livonians (in Latvia ethnicity is listed in passports) at least some portion have some further knowledge of the language. Others are learning it. However, any real revival is complicated by the fact that there does not exist a concentrated group of Livonian speakers anywhere in Latvia or elsewhere in the world. Most people registered as Livonians live in Riga and the northwestern coast of Latvia, others live scattered across Latvia and the world. Outside of Latvia, the Livonians largely live mixed with the Latvian community.