Not Just Aesthetics: The Distinct Kashubian Language

By PAC Intern Nicole Rybak

Whether in the homeland or abroad, going into a European specialty store, one’s eyes can feast on the beauty of glazed pottery decorated with images of colorful flowers and soft-edged patterns. Abroad, this type of pottery may be considered traditionally Polish, but it actually originates in a region of the country that through this beautiful pottery, pays homage to the abundant nature present within it: Kashubia, or Kaszuby. 

Located in Northern Poland, Kashubia borders with Germany (from which much of its cultural and linguistic influence comes), and boasts a population of about 500,000. While the region is often grouped together with other indicators of Polish culture, the area is culturally, and more importantly, linguistically distinct from the rest of the country. While the aforementioned pottery may provide the most wide-spread association with the territory, the fascinating linguistic difference is often forgotten, despite playing a large role in the cultural presentation of many communities that live in the Kashubian region.

We know that different dialects exist within any given language; for example, English presents us with AAVE, or Spanish is spoken differently in Mexico and in Spain. The distinction between Polish and Kashubian is much more drastic than in the aforementioned examples. Yet, this major difference was only recently recognized in 2005 by the European Charter for Minority or Regional Languages, which ruled that Kashubian is, in fact, its own language rather than a dialect, by its characteristics. 

Some of these differences include the softening of word-final consonants (such as “Bóg” or “God,” in Polish pronounced b-oo-g, would become b-oo-k in Kashubian) and the removal of certain end vowels (“poranek” or “morning,” in Polish pronounced poh-rah-neck, would become “pòrénk” or p-oo-reh-nk in Kashubian). Aside from pronunciation differences, many terms to describe certain items also differ from Polish. For example, “nos” or “nose” is often “cnjik,” and “mgła” or “fog” is “doka.” Of course, because of the linguistic variation even within the small region, some terms may vary. If you speak Polish, a song to see more of these differences can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fo5vzZA8gP0

Of the approximately 500,000 residents of the area only about 233,000 consider themselves Kashubian and a little over 100,000 of the population considers themselves a speaker of the language, according to the 2011 census. This doesn’t seem like a lot; many of the region’s residents simply identify themselves as Polish, and speakers of the said language. This, of course, doesn’t mean that the pride in their language is any less. Starting in the 19th century and continuing into the 21st century, many Kashubian writers and other intelligentsia began to promote their cultural distinction from Poland, writing works in their original language. One of the most prominent authors of the Kashubian linguistic and cultural movement was Aleksander Majowski, who wrote “The Life and Adventures of Remus” or “Żëcé i przigodë Remusa,” which was published in 1938 and reprinted in both Kashubian and other languages many times since, showing that both the fascination with and pride of the tongue continues. Relatively modern-day authors include Ida Czaja, Hanna Makurat, and Tomasz Fopke, just to name a few. While not many works have been published since the larger pre-World War II Kashubian cultural movement, the works of these modern-day authors (whether they are dictionaries, literary works, or songs) show the close association of the language to Kashubian regional pride, despite not everyone in the region speaking the language. 

While not a large movement, the linguistic independence of Kashubian is definitely charged with those filled with pride for everything that makes their region different and fascinating, not just the beautiful pottery. Linked here is a Kashubian folk song that expresses these powerful sentiments: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p_tdcWfUxkQ.

Academic Paper: The Most Recent Kashubian Literature: The Situation Today, Achievements and Tasks, and the Foreseeable Future

Literary Work: Żëcé i przigodë Remusa by Aleksander Majkowski

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