Table Of Contents
- About the author
- About the book
- This eBook can be cited
- Table of Contents
- Introduction: Studying young people engaged in revitalizing minority languages in Europe
- Scope of research and methodology
- Theoretical inspirations
- Structure of the book
- Chapter 1: The sociolinguistic situation and language practices of young people
- The sociolinguistic situation of the four minorities
- Kashubia: diminished home transmission
- Brittany: in the shadow of trauma and the language revival of the 1970s
- Upper Lusatia: impending language change
- Wales: language communities and a territorial community
- Language ideologies, symbolic violence and discrimination
- Kashubia – language ideologies in the eyes of the young
- A dead language, a rural language
- Welsh – a non-progressive language
- Speaking a minority language as an expression of nationalism
- Lusatia – from quiet discrimination to overt hostility
- State protection and language policy
- The Kashubian language – change in status and prestige
- Brittany – unappreciated state aid
- Lusatia – a defensive stance
- Wales – application of the model language policy
- Effects of language policy in the perception of the young
- Chapter 2: Institutionalized transmission of minority languages
- Types of education offered to minorities
- Can schools save minority languages?
- The role of teachers…
- … and the role of parents
- Chapter 3: Young speakers of minority languages
- Problems concerning the modernization and standardization of minority languages
- Dialectical vs. literary forms of a minority language
- “Ideal types” of young users of minority languages
- “Native speakers”
- “New speakers”
- Chapter 4: How young people construct language identities
- Language vs. identity
- Language as an ethnic boundary
- Language vis-a-vis belonging to a minority
- Chapter 5: Community life in the eyes of young people
- Minority culture as a community – a paradise lost?
- Minority identity as an option
- Identification with a minority as a continuous struggle for identity
- Towards a new type of relation
- Chapter 6: Community and language practices of the young
- Formation and role of interest groups focused on minority issues
- From interest groups to activity-oriented communities
- Eisteddfod – reinforcing a sense of belonging to a community through cultural practices
- Minority communities of practice: language, education, identity
- Online media: real vs. virtual communities
- Chapter 7: Towards activism
- Participation in minority culture
- Early stages of engagement
- Cultural activities
- Friends, activists
- Finding one’s own place
- Parting from family and location
- Becoming involved with preservation of the minority language
- Types of activism
- Attitudes towards activism
- Activist profiles
- Subjective perception of benefits of activism
- The world of activists as they view it
- Chapter 8: Between tradition, folklore and modernity
- Upper Sorbian culture – rites and folklore
- Kashubia – from folklorization to modernity
- Brittany – from community customs to invented tradition
- Welsh culture – between everyday practices and festivities
- In search of ethnic boundaries in the transcultural world
- Conclusions: Discourses of endangerment and responsibility
- The discourse of endangerment
- The discourse of benefits of multilingualism
- Quasi-political discourse
- The discourse of responsibility
- Subject index
- Name index
- Series index
Writing this book was both an immense challenge and an immense pleasure. After years of intensive fieldwork involving many encounters with young people representing different European language minorities, having forged a network of contacts with other researchers studying the status and revitalization of endangered languages and having reviewed the extensive literature dealing with these issues, I felt the time had come to organize and summarize my observations and conclusions in book form. But more than anything else, however, I wished to find a way for those individuals who were the subjects and theme of this study, i.e. almost 100 different young people belonging to the four European language minorities I studied (Kashubian, Upper Sorbian, Breton and Welsh), to have their voices heard. It is to them that I owe the greatest debt of gratitude, and yet I can express that gratitude to them here only collectively, as ethical practice stipulates that they should remain anonymous. Still, I wish to emphasize as much as I can that their company, their ideas and initiatives, in which they engage with utmost passion, was what gave me all the energy I needed to conduct the study, so much so that I cannot even consider the time spent with them as “work.” During the three years of my fieldwork I met many fascinating young people who infected others with their attitude and enthusiasm. It is thanks to them and people like them that the future of minority languages in Europe, perhaps more widely in the world, is beginning to look somewhat more optimistic. I should stress, in particular, that in writing the chapter on young activists I was especially inspired by Tymoteusz Król, a young, passionate and fervent revitalizer of the language Wymysiöeryś, also known as Vilamovian. I would like to express my heartfelt thanks to him, wishing him even more persistence and stamina in his further endeavours.
But I would not have been able to meet those young activists if it had not been for the people who helped me organize such meetings and reach out to various circles and groups. In Kashubia, my most important guides were two wonderful teachers of Kashubian, Felicja Baska-Borzyszkowska and Wanda Kiedrowska, to whom I owe my deepest gratitude and respect. I am also indebted to Łukasz Grzędzicki, who offered me a room for recording interviews at the Kashubian House [Dom Kaszubski], and to Artur Jabłoński. The Upper Sorbian part of my project would not have been possible without help from my friends Jadwiga and Fabian Kaulfürst, two very generous animators of the Sorbian culture and academic life. My thanks go to Ada and Jan Měškank for their help in transcribing Sorbian interviews and also to Dietrich Scholze-Šołta for the institutional support I received during my stays in Budyšin/Bautzen and for a grant from the Sorbian Institute at the final stage of writing this book. In Brittany, I relied on the help of Hervé Le Bihan, Aurélie Le Brun and Glenn Jegou in contacting young activists. I also owe special thanks to Fanny Chauffin, a marvellous teacher, activist and a dear friend of mine, who not only enabled me to carry out field studies in the ←9 | 10→Diwan secondary school, but also had long conversations with me and organized scientific and cultural gatherings during which our findings were presented. In Wales, among the many people assisting me in carrying out my study, I would like to acknowledge the care, friendship and help of Elin Haf Gruffydd Jones, who constantly empowered me with her optimism and energy. I also greatly appreciate the help of the activist and artist Steve Eaves, who enabled me to organize a number of meetings and who introduced me to the circles of Welsh activists. However, it is impossible to mention here all the names of people to whom I owe a debt of gratitude, so I would like to take the opportunity to express my sincere thanks to all of them.
The research upon which this book is based was conducted under a grant from Poland’s National Science Centre, which enabled me to carry out fieldwork, participate in conferences, collaborate with the international scientific community and to visit numerous libraries. In the discussion herein, therefore, the reader will find echoes of all these different kinds of experience, including first-hand conversations, theoretical inspirations, lectures and debates that I had an opportunity to attend. My perception of the cultural and social reality was profoundly affected by my studies at the Institute of Polish Culture, University of Warsaw. I am also indebted to my colleagues from the Institute of Slavic Studies, Polish Academy of Sciences for their valuable comments on an earlier, Polish draft of this book. My special thanks go to Agnieszka Pasieka and Andrzej Mencwel, whose constructive critical remarks were especially helpful in improving its final version.
For obvious reasons, I am not able to enumerate all the people who provided intellectual inspiration reflected in the analyses carried out in the book. Among them, however, I would like to take this chance to acknowledge (in alphabetical order) Anna Engelking, Michael Hornsby, Ewa Michna, Justyna Olko, Hanna Popowska-Taborska, Tomasz Rakowski, Karolina Rosiak (whom I thank for answering my questions on contemporary Welsh culture and sharing interesting materials with me), Julia Sallabank, Miren Artexte Sarasola (thanks to whom I appreciated the role of communities of practice in revitalizing minority languages), Claudia Soria, Leoš Šatava, Tomasz Wicherkiewicz, Elżbieta Wrocławska and Jadwiga Zieniukowa.
My warmest thanks are certainly due to my friends and family, who supported me at every stage of my research and writing this book. I thank my parents for being the wisest people I know and the most fantastic parents one could possibly dream of. I would not be able to persevere in my scientific pursuits without their constant encouragement, support and providing me with positive motivation. I thank my sister Patrycja for the close relationship we enjoy together and for always being there for me. I extend my thanks to Władek, who bravely coped with my moods when I was exhausted or plunged in thought. I very much appreciate his constant support, conversations about issues that were on my mind, and also his readiness to read what I had written and advance more or less critical comments. Finally, I would like to thank Ziuta for not holding a grudge against me for too long when I had to leave home to do fieldwork. I appreciate her being with ←10 | 11→me and keeping a close eye on me during all the long hours I spent at the desk, and for taking me out for a walk when, in her view, I needed a break.
The translation of this book into English has been financed under a grant from the Polish Ministry of Science and Higher Education within the National Programme for the Development of Humanities (Narodowy Program Rozwoju Humanistyki) and supported by the Foundation for the Polish Science’s ‘Translations’ programme. I would like to thank the translator of my book, Daniel J. Sax, for his great translation as well as careful reading and inspiring comments.
This English version of this book differs from the Polish original, albeit only slightly so. Despite the two-year time lapse between its publication in Polish and the initial work on preparing this English version, I refrained from updating the bibliography or remodelling fragments that I might interpret or formulate differently today. The only alterations have involved shortening some of the interviewees’ remarks and adding commentaries to some others. I have also added a brief description of the minority groups and research field in the introduction part.
“Young people nowadays have no interest in anything,” “they don’t feel connected to the minority and they don’t care for the language of their forefathers,” “all they care for is the virtual world, they cannot form bonds or get involved” – such opinions about young people, both secondary school and university students, can be heard again and again, in different minority groups across Europe. This kind of discourse, known as the discourse of moral panic (Thompson, 1998; Czykwin, 2007), is indeed the dominant one on issues related to the revitalization of minority cultures and languages.
Indeed, as theories of reversing language shift (Fishman, 1991) underscore, a necessary condition for language survival is its continuous transmission, which means being used by each consecutive generation. However, in modern times cultural transfer across generations has been significantly hampered, if not completely suppressed. Older generations, strongly influenced by monolingual discourse and language policies oriented towards eliminating minority languages, often chose dominant languages to be spoken in their families. In schools, institutions and the media, only those languages were allowed. But more recently, minority groups have gradually won recognition for their languages in public life. Nowadays, not only are some minority languages being taught in schools and used in many domains of life, they are also receiving financial and institutional support. This includes policies aimed at protection and promotion, as well as active revitalization. Under such circumstances, every member of a minority could in theory use their ethnic language. In practice, however, this is not the case.
François Grin (2003) mentions three fundamental conditions that have to be met for a minority language to actually be used: having a sufficient capacity to use it (which can be achieved at home or at school), having an opportunity to use it in a language community or in public life, and having a desire to choose this particular language as a means of communication. In the case of languages covered by revitalization programs, the last of these three conditions appears to be the most difficult to meet. Young minority members are often expected not only to attain a high level of communicative competence in their language but also to identify with it, or even get actively involved in supporting its cause. This is, however, only one of the many possibilities that young people growing up in the twenty-first century have to choose from in shaping their identities and priorities. The old world of closed homogeneous language communities based on direct bonds has ceased to exist, replaced by a world that could be dubbed transcultural, characterized by unlimited information flow, mobility, and various possibilities to change ←13 | 14→one’s place of residence, job or language. Today’s young people are citizens of the world rather than of the traditional “small homelands.” Indifference towards belonging to a minority group and speaking its language, fostered by increasing cultural assimilation, globalization processes, economic conditions and lifestyle change, is one of the major threats faced by minority languages. It is this threat that activists fighting for the recognition of minority language rights seek to counteract, trying to draw as many people as possible out of what might be dubbed the “grey zone of ethnicity.” The best remedy for such indifference appears to be active and conscious participation in the minority culture and getting to know the minority language not only as one used at school, or as an otherwise useless forefathers’ language, but as a means of communication amongst a peer group, perceived by young people as their own.
This book hinges upon the results of the field research I conducted in recent years among minority communities in various locations in Europe.1 These findings, later confirmed by other studies on young people’s behaviour, including their participation in civil and/or community life, support the central thesis of the book: that having a conscious attitude of belonging to a minority culture and deciding to use and promote a minority language is to a large extent personal and depends on a combination of many factors. The most important such factors include attitudes inherited from the family environment, participation in cultural and social activities, and the emergence of communities of practice within minorities as well as bonds among peers (see Corona Caraveo, Pérez & Hernández, 2010). Developing a conscious attitude of belonging, accompanied by a sense of involvement in minority culture and language, may for instance be triggered by an encounter with an individual particularly able to inspire a young person and incite in them a “spirit of ethnicity.” Or, alternatively, a young person may become friends with someone interested in the community’s past and language, or become member of a group in which participation in a minority culture is valued and appreciated. Young people who develop an interest in ethnic culture and become engaged in the preservation of a minority language may then exert a crucial influence on their peers by preparing for them cultural activities on offer, through which communities of practice are created (Wenger, 1998) and ethnic awareness is gained. This can be achieved by forming a powerful group attracting ethnically undecided individuals, or by initiating and carrying out protests against the extant situation of a minority in such a way that other young people may join in. Therefore, the role of young people involved in the minority cause and that of language activists cannot be overestimated. This assumption is what motivated me to undertake research specifically on young people becoming interested in their culture and language and getting engaged in various activities related to them both within and outside their community. I wished to discover how their involvement in the life of a ←14 | 15→minority comes about, to observe how their cultural and language identity arises and becomes consolidated, to find out what they think about the surrounding world and why they want to change it. Scrutinizing the language and cultural practices of this particular group of young people and trying to adopt their perspective on the world can be a source of precious knowledge on the young generation of individuals coming from minority groups. This knowledge, in turn, may help revise some notions and practices concerning revitalization, making them better suited to the expectations and needs of the young generation, commonly recognized as being responsible for the future of minority languages and cultures.
In my fieldwork,2 I examined the situation of four language minorities in Europe: the Kashubs in Poland, the Upper Sorbs inhabiting Upper Lusatia in Germany, the Bretons in France and the Welsh in Great Britain.
The Kashubs3 are speakers of a Slavic minority language that inhabit a relatively compact region of Poland, known as “Kashubia,” essentially clustered around the region of the city of Gdańsk on the Baltic Sea coast, from there trailing inland to the south-west. The Kashubian language is recognized as the sole remaining survivor of a range of Pomeranian tongues once spoken along the Baltic coast in former centuries, and as such it is a West Slavic language closely related to the dominant language of the region, Polish. The intergenerational transmission of Kashubian was significantly interrupted in the second half of the twenty century. Today the number of Kashubs is estimated as 300,000, based on the criterion of individual declarations, with approximately 100,000 speakers of the language. Kashubs do not have the status of a group officially recognized in Poland, but Kashubian is recognized as a regional language under the Act of 6 January 2005 on National and Ethnic Minorities and the Regional Language.
The Upper Sorbs are a minority community residing in Lusatia, a region of eastern Germany close to the border with Poland and the Czech Republic. Their language, Upper Sorbian, is a Slavic minority language surrounded by a dominant Germanic language, namely German. They are in fact one of two closely related minority communities in the same region: the Upper Sorbs live in a portion of the region known as Upper Lusatia, centred on the town of Budyšin/Bautzen, whereas Lower Sorbs (speakers of the related minority language Lower Sorbian) live in ←15 | 16→Lower Lusatia; my research pertained only to the Upper Sorbs. The Sorbs (both Upper and Lower) are recognized in Germany as national minorities, whose collective rights and language rights are guaranteed in the constitutions of the respective federal states (Saxony in the case of Upper Lusatia and Brandenburg in the case of Lower Lusatia). They obtain funding from the Foundation for the Sorbian People. The number of Sorbs (both Upper and Lower) has been reported as 60,000, but this number is not derived from any current studies or population statistics (see the discussion in the next chapter); the estimated number of Upper Sorbian speakers oscillates around 10,000–15,000. In the Catholic Upper Sorbian community, the intergenerational transmission of the language has been maintained.
The Bretons, in turn, are an indigenous people originally speaking Breton, a Celtic language (related to Welsh in the UK) and living in the region of Brittany, in the northwest corner of France. Brittany in fact has three languages: French (the dominant Romance language), Breton, and also Gallo, another Romance language often called a patois of French. It is difficult to estimate the number of Bretons, since the criterion of being a Breton is fluid. As an administrative region, Brittany is inhabited by over 4,000,000 people, but not all of them consider themselves Bretons. No statistical investigation on Breton identity has yet been carried out. The Breton language is spoken by less than 200,000 people and the intergenerational transmission of this language has been almost totally disrupted after the Second World War. The revival of the Breton culture and language dates to the 1970s. Bretons do not enjoy any special status in France, and their language is not recognized by the state. Activities aiming to protect the language have been supported by the local authorities, which allocate a share of the regional budget for this purpose, and by the Public Office for the Breton Language.
Welsh, a Celtic language, is the indigenous language of Wales, one of the component countries of the United Kingdom. The population of Wales is about 3,000,000, but as in the case of Brittany, the residence criterion cannot be accepted as decisive for the Welsh identity. Welsh is spoken by approximately 562,000 people in Wales. In the second half of the twentieth century the Welsh gained numerous rights thanks to the rise of the Welsh movement with organizations such as nationalist political party Plaid Cymru, Welsh Language Society (Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg), and devolution, obtaining partial autonomy and a parliament (the National Assembly for the Wales). The Welsh language is recognized as an official language in Wales (next to English) and its status in various domains of life is safeguarded by a number of organizations. The body responsible for language policy is the Welsh Language Commissioner.
Although these four groups differ variously in terms of status, population and sociolinguistic situation (as will be described in Chapter 1), the language situation of all these communities is complicated and the languages spoken by them are all under threat of extinction. One of the criteria that can be used to differentiate between these groups is the existence of a speech community and home transmission of a minority language. This criterion is met only in Catholic Upper Lusatia and in some areas located in northern Wales. In all the other areas, young people ←16 | 17→can learn the ethnic language at school, in courses or on their own initiative. Participation in a minority culture and awareness of group belonging also differ significantly across the minorities under discussion. In Catholic Upper Lusatia, practically all children from Sorbian-speaking families participate in ethnic cultural life and rituals. All children attending Welsh-language schools likewise participate in various kinds of contests, cultural events and eisteddfod festivals. For children coming from non-Welsh-speaking families and schools, however, access to Welsh cultural life is limited. In Brittany, the Breton language was until recently taught only to children of parents involved in the Breton language movement. Besides, participation in Breton cultural life is rarely conditioned by speaking the language. The overwhelming majority of the region inhabitants do not speak Breton and are not interested in learning it. The Kashubian language can still be heard in little villages of Pomerania, but it is burdened with many negative ideological associations. Besides, it is often stigmatized as a rural and folkloric language of the past in the perception of young people. The last few years, however, have seen the development of language initiatives slowly but steadily contributing to an increasingly positive perception of Kashubian.
Despite these differences, however, there are also many striking similarities among the four groups. Crucially for this study, all the four communities include certain young people who do not merely participate in the life of the minorities but who also get actively involved in various kinds of efforts supporting their minority’s cause. As their own testimonies indicate, their motivations and attitudes towards being engaged in promoting their minorities are very similar – similar enough to ensure that a certain coherent picture emerges from the four-way perspective adopted in this study.
This book cites numerous statements made by young people engaged in a minority cause, originating from over a hundred anonymous and semi-structured interviews4 carried out with representatives of the four language minorities. The respondents were selected through a number of channels: through contacts with activists, organizations, societies and leaders whom I had known from previous research and who recommended their young collaborators to me; through secondary school teachers of minority languages; through students’ organizations ←17 | 18→associated with minorities, and also through the minority media, local societies and political organizations. I made an effort to recruit my respondents from various circles and various fields of activities, that is why I rarely deployed the snowball method (Babbie, 2013: 191), in which interlocutors are requested to recommend their own acquaintances and colleagues. In a number of cases, however, young people did contact me and volunteered to participate in survey about which they had learned from their friends or from myself on the occasion of various activities in which I participated, or which I observed. I certainly faced no shortage of interlocutors, and those who participated in the interviews showed a great deal of enthusiasm. I did not want my respondents to remain complete strangers to me, so I tried to spend some time with each of them and also to participate in their activities and meetings. I conducted participant observation, communing with language activist groups, especially those having many young people among them. I took part in a number of formal and informal actions supporting the minority cause. I also attended classes for the ethnic youth and conducted many workshops for various groups. During my research I usually stayed in dormitories for school and university students. I attended rehearsals and performances of youth theatrical and musical groups. I also joined in meetings and discussions in students’ clubs and youth societies. I was an active participant in the social life of my older-generation interlocutors as well, accompanying them to various events and meetings. During the three-year period of fieldwork I was present at many events which were important for the minorities, such as regional workshops organized by the young for the young, social and political debates on minority issues, cultural and language festivals, such as the Welsh eisteddfod, rallies for the language rights attended by young people, meetings and activities of civil disobedience groups and other events promoting the minority cause, such as the Ar Redadeg race around Brittany organized to raise funds for the sake of the Breton language. I spent much time talking informally to young people as well as to experienced activists and culture managers. With many of them I became friends on Facebook, which also turned into a valuable source of information for me. All the observations, conversations and meetings enriched my background knowledge and added an anthropological dimension to my study of the recorded interviews, next to the discourse analysis dimension.
At this juncture, I would like to devote some space to the heroes of this book: the young people who voiced their opinions in the interviews. They were between the ages of 16 and 25, limits I had set arbitrarily. The assumption was that interviewees would be old enough to be conscious of the choices they were making or about to make, and at the same time they would still be at an age when they can choose activities that are enjoyable and that shape their character and human relationships. Even though the age span of the group is not large, it can be divided into three major subgroups on the basis of age and experience. The first subgroup includes secondary school students. In Penelope Eckert’s parlance, secondary school is “a hothouse for the construction of identities” (Eckert, 1998: 163). At school, characters and attitudes of young people are shaped under specific ←18 | 19→conditions that Kathryn Woolard referred to as a “distinct chronotope” (2011: 618), using the term coined by Mikhail Bakhtin. Obviously, not every school is a hothouse in this sense, but language immersion and bilingual schools are of special significance, especially boarding schools in which students become strongly integrated with their peers. Such schools exist in Lusatia, Brittany and Wales. In Kashubia, where the minority language is taught as an optional subject, participation in Kashubian culture and speaking the language is only indirectly related to school. The second group consists of university students, some of whom have academic interest in the minority language and others who are engaged in various language- and culture-related actions outside university. Highly aware of the significance of their actions, their passion and enthusiasm still remain unhindered by professional duties. It should be noted that the identity and language behaviour of the young undergo changes once they become members of various communities of practice. Both secondary school and university provide opportunities for creating strong peer bonds and friendships, but after graduation individuals may find themselves in environments in which connections with a minority group are not valued, and language competence acquired during education proves to be of no use. Therefore, a third group can be distinguished that includes people who have completed formal education but continue to be involved in the life of a minority. They often work for organizations or minority media, are engaged in political and cultural issues, possibly as activists. For them, getting involved in minority problems has become a consciously pursued path of life, at least for some time. The distinction between those who are natural part of a minority environment at school or university and those who choose to be involved in a minority cause is vital: if people continue to change communities of practice throughout their lifetime (Bucholtz & Hall, 2004: 378), and participation in each of them affects their identity, it follows that the cultural and language behaviour of young people may also be subject to frequent changes (Woolard, 2011: 618). My interlocutors talk about their lives and, through this narration, they project a vision of themselves in the future, although this vision may or may not come true.
The young participants of my survey are engaged in the life of their minority group through a number of activities. The most important fields of their involvement include: 1) learning a minority language at school, at courses or by self-learning, underlain by the belief that the language should be preserved and revitalized; 2) studying the minority language and culture; 3) being active in students’ organizations and clubs promoting minority languages and cultures; 4) being active in informal youth groups promoting a minority and its language; 5) organizing cultural and social events related to speaking a minority language and participation in the minority life; 6) participation in and/or leading teams such as amateur theatres, musical groups, literary circles; 7) organizing and/or conducting language/culture lessons, such as minority language courses or language camps for children and teenagers; 8) involvement in the minority media, either as voluntary service or as a paid job; 9) involvement in a non-governmental organization or a minority organization promoting its language and culture, either as voluntary service or ←19 | 20→as a paid job; 10) organizing language and/or culture events; 11) involvement in formal and/or informal minority organizations, including political ones; 12) organizing and/or participating in street rallies; 13) organizing and/or participating in civil disobedience activities, such as Ai’Ta, A Serbsce?, Cymdeithas yr Iaith. It has to be emphasized that in the minority environment, various forms of activity are typically combined and many of my interlocutors are engaged in a number of different fields.
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- Publication date
- 2020 (August)
- linguistic minorities language activists language revitalization speakers of minority languages young activists multilingual Europe
- Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2020. 392 pp.