Silesian and Cashubian ethnolects as contrasting types of ethnic identity strengthening

Małgorzata Haładewicz-Grzelak (University of Opole)

The research reported in the paper aims at investigating the sociolinguistic factors of ethnic identity change and identity strengthening. The assumption that language is a paramount factor of group cohesion seems self-evident with respect to minority languages. I tried to investigate the issue with respect to the ethnolects which in the past did not manage to coin their standard versions and with the view of occurring changes in language policy, now have the chance to become regional languages.

The research consisted in comparing selected aspects of synchronic and diachronic situation of the two ethnolects in the region of Poland: Cashubian and Silesian, and was supplanted by the field study conducted in 2005 in the region of Cashuby and Silesia, as well as the analysis of internet language data. I tried to avoid passing value judgments (cf. prescriptive versus descriptive linguistics) and hence the term 'ethnolect' (coined by Majewicz) is used instead of the term 'dialect', which is especially important with respect to much itinerated 'language or dialect' discussion on Cashubian. The framework, although the topic is of linguistic nature, is also based on sociological and anthropological theories, e.g. rational choice theory , functionalism as well as semiotic rich-get-richer principle. The referential part of the research is mainly based on elaborations by accomplished scholars investigating the varieties in question: based in Warsaw, Gdańsk and Poznań Universities in the case of the Cashubian (the Poznań contribution includes the research by Ludwik Zabrocki, Gerard Labuda - rector of AMU 1962-65 or Alfred Majewicz) and in the case of Silesian, the researchers based in Silesian Institute in Opole, Opole University as well as many others (Berlińska, Lis, Wyderka, etc.).

The reasons of choosing Cashubian and Silesian for contrastive identity studies are manifold. Most importantly, the question of ethnic identity and identity conflict is most pronounced in the case of these two regions. Moreover, the two ethnolects have undergone similar superstata influences in the past, both from the part of German and Polish languages. The process of suppression of the restricted code and creating subjective language deficiency feelings has also progressed in a very similar way in both cases. However, the concomitant development of ethnic identity progressed in the opposing ways: the Cashubian ethnolect is becoming standardized through language revival process, whereas in the region of Upper Silesia the group identity is overtly build around the language of one-time trespassers (German) giving rise to German Minority in Poland, which is inevitably connected with overt renouncing the identity of a speaker of Silesian.

The two regions are distant enough to prevent any mutual influence and hence enable tracing and comparing the mechanisms affecting identity change. The contrastive analysis I conduct helps to formulate the reasons for such a divergence of identity strategies, rather than formulate any specific predictions, in accordance with the statement by Trudgill (1983: 127): "[i]t is not easy to determine what factors are involved in the establishment of these varying attitudes to language and ethnic group membership. However, the examinations of sociolinguistic situations in which attitudes of this type appear to be undergoing change may be revealing".


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