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Linguistic Regionalism in Eastern Europe and Beyond

Minority, Regional and Literary Microlanguages

von Dieter Stern (Band-Herausgeber:in) Motoki Nomachi (Band-Herausgeber:in) Bojan Belić (Band-Herausgeber:in)
Sammelband 350 Seiten


  • Cover
  • Titel
  • Impressum
  • About the editors
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Inhaltsverzeichnis
  • Linguistic regionalism in (Eastern) Europe: Introduction (Stern, Dieter, Motoki Nomachi & Bojan Belić)
  • General Aspects of Linguistic Regionalism
  • Languages without an army: minority, regional and literary microlanguages (Stern, Dieter)
  • Why Pomak will not be the next Slavic literary language (Adamou, Evangelia & Davide Fanciullo)
  • Banat Bulgarian and Bunyev: a language emancipation perspective (Belić, Bojan & Motoki Nomachi)
  • The privacy of having a language of one’s own: Slavic regional standard projects and minority agendas online (Stern, Dieter)
  • Electronic corpora of Slavic minority languages at their threshold – the state of the art and further prospects (Načeva-Marvanová, Mira)
  • Case Studies: Slavic Microliterary Languages
  • Łysohorsky’s Lachia and Lachian – Politics – Poetics – Scholarship? (Marvan, Jiří (†))
  • Язык восточнословацких текстов с точки зрения теории литературных микроязыков (Lifanov, Konstantin)
  • Language situation of stateless groups struggling for recognition: The case of the Lemko language in Poland (Michna, Ewa)
  • Моравский язык: источники регионализма, состояние и перспективы (Osowski, Błażej)
  • Linguistic variation, identity and mental maps: exploring the perceptual dialectology of Poland’s Podlasie region (Woolhiser, Curt)
  • Case Studies: Linguistic regionalism in Western Europe
  • Reconsidering our linguistic diversity from Mirandese: the “latest” and the “least” among Romance languages (Terao, Satoshi)
  • Language planning for Italian regional languages: the case of Lombard and Sicilian (Coluzzi, Paolo, Lissander Brasca, Marco Trizzino, Simona Scuri)
  • Local identity construction in Dutch Limburg through dialect forms, use and popular culture (Cornips, Leonie)
  • The voice of regional language activists
  • Edukacja kaszubska wczoraj i dziś (Labudda, Jaromira)
  • The development of a Latin spelling system for Podlachian (Maksymiuk, Jan)
  • Series index


Dieter Stern (Ghent), Motoki Nomachi (Sapporo), Bojan Belić (Seattle)

In the early 1990s a team of anthropologists from the University of Frankfurt am Main set out to find out what exactly region and regionalism means from the grassroots perspective of local communities and individuals. They came to the overall conclusion that regionalization of identities is somehow linked to the growing individualization in Western societies and provided the bulky volume, which contains their findings, with the pertinent title Region: Heimaten der individualisierten Gesellschaft ‘Region: Homelands of an individualized society’ (SCHILLING / PLOCH 1995). Home or homeland was conceived of as a personal, perhaps even an embodied experience. Regionalism would arise where no strong central identification model was on offer or where this model had lost for one reason or another its binding force either by having been discredited historically or just by not being able to offer a strong narrative of the past and the future for the present. Seen from this perspective, regionalization would be the withdrawal of collective identity towards the experiential immediacy of the private sphere.

The very process of the growing regionalization of identity throughout Europe illustrates how the private is inherently political, and recent evolutions in Europe show how the downsizing of identity to personal proportions is put to use in order to give expression to public concerns about ongoing large-scale sociopolitical processes of change. At the moment of writing this short introduction to our volume, the council of the province of Venezia, which is headed by the Lega Nord, a party of the extreme right, has declared the Venetians a people in their own right on the basis of their Venetian language, which, it is claimed, has little to do with Italian. A news commentator argued that this is to be taken as a first step to achieve political independence from Italy as an antagonistic response to the perceived negative effects of unsuccessful national governance and globalization, more specifically the current migration crisis (SCHLAMP 2016).

This latest development may give a glimpse into how regionalism may possibly evolve in the future, viz. a tool to renegotiate ideologies of belonging. Within this interpretative context, recent migrants become the symbolic vanguard of a culture of radical openness which would deny local residents their right to their home, culture and territory. Regionalism would position itself as a refutation of this perceived design for a future one-world society of the homeless, defending the notion of a territory and an attendant language and culture as the indispensable locus of identity and self-determination. As a symbolic practice, identity could not possibly do without powerful material ← 7 | 8 → objects like land and language. Unlike the national claim to exclusive territoriality, the demagnified regional variant of this same claim will, due to its experiential immediacy, easily come to cover also the ideational sphere of the private as the smallest possible zone of exclusive identity building.

Apart from cases like the province of Venice, however, linguistic and cultural regionalization goes for the most part unnoticed. Though the Council of Europe has realized its political potential and made it part of its legislation, accordingly, regionalization is basically a grassroots phenomenon kept alive by enthusiasts trying to make sense of their environment by building a home out of language and culture in a world that no longer feels like home. Attempts at making one’s local way of speaking a “real,” officially recognized language may at first glance strike any accidental onlooker as the weird whim of some lone freak, but the number of such freaks appears to be on the increase, and many of them appear to find local support quite easily. As solitary as their undertakings may be in the beginning, they appear to strike a chord with their intended public. Many may disapprove of the specific way in which regional identity is played out by these activists, disagreeing, e.g., about the need and usefulness of elaborated orthographic designs. But in the end even this disagreement on the details of implementation betrays a general concern with deeper issues of identity. Linguistic regionalism should therefore be seen as one of many possible surface expressions of a much broader, not even necessarily linguistic, search for a place to identify with.

In this context, the editors, whose background is Slavic linguistics and who have been working on sociolinguistic aspects of regionalism and the formation of standard languages in the Slavic-speaking countries, started to collaborate in various frameworks, including the JSPS grant-in-aid titled “A Comprehensive Study of the Slavic Literary Microlanguages after the Revolution of Eastern Europe” (2013-2016: headed by Motoki Nomachi) and the bilateral agreement for collaboration between Ghent University and Hokkaido University. The core of the present volume consists of the revised versions of papers which were presented at the symposium “Slavic Minorities and their (Literary) Languages in the European Context and Beyond: the Current Situation and Critical Challenges,” held at Tokyo’s Waseda University on January 30-31, 2015 as one of the events of the above-mentioned grant-based project and the agreement. The symposium took place at a time when mass migration to Europe with its implications, which also pertain to the topic of our volume, had not yet reached the critical threshold of becoming an issue of major concern for European politics and media coverage. Accordingly, with the exception of Satoshi TERAOS, the contributions to this volume make little reference to the possible interplay of the seemingly contrary forces of migration and regionalization. The initiators of the conference and editors of the present volume being Slavicists, the contributions to this volume display a clear Slavic bias. Seeing that standardization ← 8 | 9 → projects for regional and minority languages are not restricted to Slavic languages – though among these languages the creation of ever new literary microlanguages has become particularly fashionable in recent years – the editors felt the need to widen the perspective of the volume and also include insights from and about non-Slavic European languages, in order to deepen our understanding of the processes at hand within the Slavic-speaking countries. The volume offers two separate sections for case studies, accordingly, one for Slavic and the other for non-Slavic regional and minority languages.

In dealing with regional and minority languages, one still has to face the situation where basic terminological issues are as yet unsettled. Tags like regional and minority language are concurrently used, and it is not always clear whether they are used to mean the same or quite different things. The European Council has adopted a corresponding legal classification, leaving open what its cultural or linguistic substrate might be. The situation is further muddled up by insufficient communication between Slavic studies, with its own field of investigation into minority or regional languages, which within this research tradition go by the name of literary microlanguages, and the disciplines devoted to other European linguistic minorities. The contribution by Dieter STERN specifically addresses issues of terminology, trying to untangle its often misleading and vague use. This contribution also offers a critical reassessment of Aleksandr Duličenko’s by now classical concept of literary microlanguage. Issues of theoretical relevance are also addressed in the immediately following contributions. In dealing with the specific case of Pomak, Evangelia ADAMOU and Davide FANCIULLO offer a critique of current regional language designs which put too much emphasis on standardization and writing as a strategy of language maintenance, showing that this approach, rather than helping the cause of the respective linguistic minority, is likely to provoke antagonistic feelings within the community, whose members are likely to experience language standardization as an encroachment upon their specific economy of meaning. Building upon the cases of the Bunyev and the Banat Bulgarian languages in Serbia, Bojan BELIĆ and Motoki NOMACHI elaborate on the idea of minority linguistic rights and their possible negative effects on linguistic minorities, which might give rise to a competitive approach of enhancing the status of one’s linguistic minority community rather than serving its immediate needs. In another contribution, Dieter STERN approaches a sample of Slavic literary microlanguages from a netnographic angle, addressing the virtuality of literary microlanguage designs. His survey is guided by the question whether online activities of linguistic minority activists will, apart from creating online support for a purportedly offline community, entail also specific forms of virtual community building emerging from intimate forms of identity play online. The theoretical section is rounded off by Mira NAČEVA-MARVANOVÁS survey of linguistic corpora of literary microlanguages, in which the usefulness of text ← 9 | 10 → corpora for formal linguistic research into this particular type of languages is addressed.

The first group of case studies is dedicated to a range of Slavic literary microlanguages, which are approached from diverse methodological and ideological perspectives. Jiří MARVANS engagingly written essay on Óndra Łysohorsky’s private language for poetic purposes, which became known as Lachian, is a convincing case for the intimate relationship between language and individual which feeds into the commitment necessary for language creation. Konstantin LIFANOV critically reassesses the allegedly long-standing tradition of Eastern Slovak as a literary microlanguage. It is a showcase which debunks often invoked ideas of continuity of tradition and identifies them as myth building devices employed to sanction current standardization projects by providing them with a purportedly time-honored tradition. Ewa MICHNA and Błażej OSOWSKI approach their respective cases, Lemko and Moravian, from the perspective of professional linguists pleading for the legitimate course of their respective linguistic community, thereby straddling the border between sober linguistic inventory taking and outright linguistic activism. Both papers represent the current mainstream in dealing with Slavic regional and minority languages. Curt WOOLHISER approaches the Eastern Slavic dialects of Podlachian – for which a project has been launched only recently to raise them to the status of a regional language (see MAKSYMIUK, this volume) – from the inside perspective of the residents of that area, applying classical tools of folk linguistic research (dialect recognition and map drawing tests). Drawing also upon ethnographic sources from the late 19th/early 20th century, he is able to show that a basic perceptual change with respect to regional linguistic variation is underway. Whereas under historical conditions of strict local confinement of one’s life and perception language was primarily conceived of in terms of the immediate socio-geographical space to mark off group boundaries within one’s immediate local surroundings, the present residents of this region, especially the young or ‘third’ generation, tend to perceive regional linguistic variation increasingly in terms of large-scale ethno-linguistic units, such as Ukrainian and Belarusian, testifying to the success of ‘secondary attitudes’ (KALOGJERA 1985) as transmitted through the national education system. This reconceptualization of the role of regional language variation is possibly also at the foundation of the basic inner contradiction of current regional linguistic activism, which, in trying to articulate a true regionalist agenda, is unable to free itself from ethno-romantic rhetoric.

The second group of case studies is meant to go beyond the narrow scope of Slavic literary microlanguages and the specific framework within which these are usually treated, by inviting specialists in non-Slavic regional languages to provide a glimpse into their field of study. This is not only meant to show that similar things are happening elsewhere, too, but it is also hoped ← 10 | 11 → that the inclusion of studies from outside the Duličenkian paradigm will inspire new approaches to the study of Slavic regional and minority languages. Satoshi TERAO provides an overview of the Mirandese linguistic community and its language in northeastern Portugal. Set against his own Japanese background, Terao then addresses the question of whether the European policy of linguistic regionalization is by any means transferable and applicable to linguistic situations elsewhere in the world, especially to Eastern Asia. He also touches upon the delicate issue of possibly conflicting linguistic rights of heritage groups on the one hand and immigrant newcomers on the other hand, thereby putting linguistic regionalization in a truly global perspective. Paolo COLUZZI, Lissander BRASCA, Marco TRIZZINO and Simona SCURI offer a glimpse into the intricate regional linguistic situation of Italy, which is quite famous for the tremendous diversity of its so-called dialects. Their study contrasts the efforts taken to achieve official recognition in Lombardy and Sicily. Notwithstanding the apparent differences, with regard to the design and respective success of the concerted efforts for recognition, both cases display a common focus on the proliferation of regional languages as a means of everyday oral communication. This bespeaks an attitude towards linguistic regionalism quite different from that of most of the Slavic ventures. Where Lombard and Sicilian are intended to become an audible feature of the regional landscape, the Slavic approach strives to ennoble local linguistic practices by adding to them the dignity provided by a standardized literary language. Leonie CORNIPS explains the emergence of linguistic regionalism in the Dutch province of Zuid Limburg as a side effect of the overall process of Dutch nation building. The crucial point she is making is that there would be no Limburg linguistic regionalism if the Limburgians had not been forged into a subnational sociopolitical entity in the course of Dutch nation building, part of which consisted of the delimitation of provincial administrative units. She illustrates this point by referring to Limburg popular culture, in which Limburg identity is constructed through a contrast of periphery and center by confronting Limburg attitudes, traits and manners with those of posh Amsterdammers. Cornips’ contribution should be read as an important aside on the efforts of many scholars in the field of Slavic literary microlanguages, e.g., STEGHERR (2003), to interpret recently emerging regional linguistic movements along the lines of primordial independent ethnic groups. All three contributions testify to a quite different approach to regional and minority languages, which capitalizes to a much lesser degree on standardization and building up a written tradition as compared to the Slavic linguistic sphere. This might ultimately reflect a difference in linguistic ideologies between Slavic and other European speech communities as well as academic cultures, with writing and literacy ranking much higher in Slavic communities and cultures than elsewhere. ← 11 | 12 →

The volume is rounded off by two contributions by language activists, who provide an inside perspective on linguistic regionalism. As one of the first teachers of Kashubian and an author of textbooks for use at school, Jaromira LABUDDA takes an active part in planning curricula for the Kashubi-an language, one of the more firmly established Eastern European minority languages, particularly since it was recognized as an official regional language in Poland in 2005. Her portrait of the pedagogical efforts taken for the spread and maintenance of Kashubian not only provides a balance of the achievements and challenges for the Kashubian linguistic cause, but also bespeaks the strong dependence on a high degree of personal commitment needed to keep even a minority language like Kashubian, with its firmly established infrastructure, going in the face of the general erosion of strictly localized ways of living. The role and significance of personal commitment is self-evident in the case of starting up a regional language project. Jan MAKSYMIUK is one of the latest founding fathers of a Slavic regional language. In his paper he presents his own spelling system for Podlachian, a regional variety of East Slavic spoken in the Podlachia region in the Eastern borderland of Poland. The title of his recent book Čom ne po-svojomu? ‘Why not in your own language?’ bespeaks a true spirit of non-conformism by converting the conformist requirement to validate and defend the use of local ways of speaking into an open invitation to do whatever you like and to express yourself freely the way you think fit. The barely hidden message of his enthusiastic project lies possibly also at the foundation of so many other efforts throughout Europe to promote linguistic regionalism: Be yourself – be local! Though some projects will take on the rhetoric of romantic linguistic nationalism while others will try to put on more contemporary attitudes of civil rights movements, all of them appear to boil down to a fundamental dissent with the existing order and a longing for individual sense-making.

To our deepest regret, two individuals did not get to see the completion of this volume: one of the contributors and the keynote speaker of the above-mentioned symposium in Tokyo, Jiří Marvan, has not lived to witness the publication of the volume. Marvan was famous, first of all, for his eminent achievements in Czech, Ukrainian and Baltic linguistics, but he was also one of the most distinguished figures in the study of Óndra Łysohorsky’s Lachian literary language. Also, as one of the closest friends of the poet and the most enthusiastic supporters of Łysohorsky’s poems and thoughts, Marvan compiled various collections of his poems, including the capital works titled Lašsko poezyja 1931-1977 (1988) and Lachische Poesie 1931-1976 (1989) thereby contributing to Lachian literary studies. All his works related to Óndra Łysohorsky were the ultimate source of inspiration to organize the symposium and produce this volume. Without his understanding, support and active collaboration, neither symposium nor this volume would have been realized. Drahy profesore a miły přotelu, moc sérdečňe dźekujemy Wóm za wšecko. ← 12 | 13 →

The other individual is Bogusława Labudda who, for many years, has served as a curator at the Museum of Kashubian-Pomeranian Literature and Music in Wejherowo, Poland. Much like her father Aleksander Labuda, she was an enthusiastic patroness of the Kashubian regionalism. She generously supported the aforementioned grant-in-aid, particularly by providing hard-to-reach materials on Kashubian and other literary microlanguages. She was also one of the inspirational sources when it came to organizing the symposium in Tokyo.

The volume was long in the making, and its completion would not have been possible without the help from others apart from the editors and the contributors. We wish to express our warmest thanks to Susanna (Shosh) Westen, formerly of the University of Washington in Seattle, who did a fantastic job in getting the language of all the English contributions right and converting them from less fine to finest English. We have to thank also Christian Voss for his friendly support and willingness to have our volume included in his series Studies on Language and Culture in Central and Eastern Europe. Many thanks go also to the staff of Peter Lang Publishers, especially Mr. Benjamin Kloss, with whom it was a pleasure to collaborate to get the final touches done and get the volume ready for publication.


KALOGJERA, D. 1985. Attitudes toward Serbo-Croatian language varieties. International Journal of the Sociology of Language 52: 93-109.

SCHILLING, H. / B. PLOCH (eds.). 1995. Region. Heimaten der individualisierten Gesellschaft. Frankfurt am Main.

SCHLAMP, H-J. 2016. Warum Venetien ein eigener Staat werden will. Spiegel Online, 11 December 2016.

STEGHERR, M. 2003. Das Russinische. Kulturhistorische und soziolinguistische Aspekte. Munich. ← 13 | 14 →


Dieter Stern (Ghent)

On October 1, 2017 Catalonia held a referendum on its independence. The Spanish central government perceived this as a major political threat and reacted by massive police interventions to stop the vote. In the course of this operation at least 844 people and 33 police were hurt. In the days following the vote legal actions were taken against representatives of the Catalonian regional government, and independence leader Carles Puigdemont fled to Belgium to avoid arrest. The Catalonians had to learn the hard way what it means to have a language without an army. One may with some reason argue that this is all about politics and growing discontent with the central government, possibly even with the EU at large, and not so much about language and ethnicity per se. But still, language, more specifically the recognition of Catalan as a language of its own, has played an eminent role in the whole cultural-political process leading up to the events of October 2017. The case of Catalan should serve to remind everyone that minority issues, among them the issue of minority languages, are by no means minor issues of interest only to the odd specialist in the field. Catalonians are, of course, a sizable minority of some million people, and most minorities, especially those we will be dealing with in this volume, are much smaller, and so their impact on big politics, which might get them into the news, may accordingly be expected to be far less significant. The impact of these smaller minorities and their respective languages or, rather linguistic ambitions, is, however, not to be measured in the sheer number of their respective speakers and/or supporters. It is rather their recently increasing proliferation which may be indicative of a major shift in the way people construct ethnic-style identities throughout Europe. It is not the overall number of any one linguistic minority which is relevant here, but the overall trend towards ever smaller, highly localized forms of identification, to which the minority language projects discussed in this volume give testimony. Throughout Europe there appears to be a steadily accelerating process of fragmentation and personalization of cultural and linguistic identities underway, which seems to be particularly vibrant in Eastern Europe. Taking a closer look at these minuscule linguistic communities – some of them of long standing, but many quite recent arrivals on the scene – one cannot avoid the impression that the case of Catalonia offers us a glimpse into the past rather than into the future, which may see a further disintegration – not just of Catalan – into ever smaller regional languages. ← 14 | 15 →

Minority language, regional language, literary microlanguage – is it all the same?

The contributions to the present volume deal with languages which appear to be in one way or another defective in at least some of the features that would allow them to be listed within the inventory of today’s established standard languages. Most will intuitively attach labels such as small or minor to these languages, implying not just smallness with respect to the number of speakers, but also smallness in terms of a restricted functionality (KUSSE 2009, 41) or existing power differentials (NIC CRAITH 2003, 60-1), the latter making them in a way languages without an army and a navy.1 Of course, smallness is a relative notion and is sometimes applied to fully-fledged national languages like Dutch, because of their comparatively smaller number of registered native speakers and their weaker prominence as languages of science, international communication, etc. (KUSSE 2009, 41-2). On the other hand, there are languages such as Kurdish which share all of the features typical of languages that we call small or minority languages but which are used by millions of speakers.

Apart from that, Max Weinreich’s famous bon mot is meant to say that a language without an army and a navy is usually deemed a dialect, but the point in calling a linguistic repertoire a minority or regional language is to stress that it is not just a dialect. The bon mot implies a clear-cut binary distinction between either ‘languages’ with power potentials or ‘dialects’ without them, leaving no space in between for other categories. What then could these languages in between language and dialect be? There appears to be no binding and conclusive demarcation of the shady zone between dialect and language inhabited by minority, regional and literary microlanguages. Of course, there are quite straightforward cases such as Basque, where a linguistic repertoire lacking power and full functionality must be awarded the status of a language simply because there are no known relatives which could claim it as a dialect (TRUDGILL 2004, 36). Basque must clearly be classified as an Abstand language. The same holds true for Saami, which surrenders the ← 15 | 16 → power of official language as well as part of its virtual functions to Norwegian and Finnish, but no one would seriously put up the claim of its being a dialect of one of these two languages, though with respect to its sociolinguistic functionality it comes pretty close to being a dialect. There is thus a conflict of approaches. Weinreich’s formula focuses exclusively on sociopolitical status, whereas most linguists will also take into account genetic linguistic findings in order to determine the status of a linguistic repertoire as dialect or language. For the languages discussed in this volume, all of which tend definitely more to the Ausbau than to the Abstand end of Kloss’s opposition, the genetic status would as a rule be more tenuous than is the case for Basque and Saami, and a claim of their being just another dialect could be, and in fact was (and in some cases still is), put forward, applying techniques of erasure of potential differences and iconization of common features (IRVINE / GAL 2000).

Biographische Angaben

Dieter Stern (Band-Herausgeber:in) Motoki Nomachi (Band-Herausgeber:in) Bojan Belić (Band-Herausgeber:in)

Dieter Stern is chair of Slavic Philology at the University of Ghent/Belgium. He is a specialist in the sociolinguistics of Slavic languages, especially contact languages, and in Slavic historical linguistics and philology. Motoki Nomachi is Professor of Slavic linguistics in the Slavic-Eurasian Research Center at Hokkaido University, Japan. His research interests include language contact and sociolinguistics with special attention paid to Kashubian as well as other small languages. Bojan Belić is Principal Lecturer and Departmental Languages Coordinator in the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures at the University of Washington, USA. He conducts research in the general field of South Slavic linguistics with particular focus on syntactic phenomena, as well as language policy issues.


Titel: Linguistic Regionalism in Eastern Europe and Beyond