The Dialect of Polish Spoken in Cruz Machado, Paraná

A Portrait of a Language Apart

by Karolina J. Zaremba (Author)
Thesis 322 Pages


The Polish language was brought to Brazil by Polish-speaking peasants who came to the New World in the late 19th and early 20th century. Since then, the language has been developing in relative isolation from the European Polish context.
In this monograph, the author focuses on a dialect of Polish still spoken in a remote community in the south of Brazil. The dialect’s origins, history, and present character are investigated to portray the language as a result of a multilingual process with a specific starting point. On the basis of the original data recorded in the community, the author establishes a viable baseline for future in-depth studies of linguistic phenomena. She pays special attention to the distinct identity of the speakers, which mirrors the dialect’s distinct character.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the Author
  • About the Book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Acknowledgments
  • Table of Contents
  • List of Abbreviations
  • Introduction
  • Chapter 1: Polish-speaking settlements in the Brazilian interior
  • 1.1. What is spoken and how it is spoken about
  • 1.2. The language of migrant settlements
  • 1.3. Migrant dialects of Polish in past research
  • 1.4. Polaki pół na pół: Origins of the first settlers
  • 1.5. The orality of migrant Polish and its repercussions
  • Chapter 2: Heritage of bilingualism
  • 2.1. Heritage language speakers and the horror of the unbalanced bilingual
  • 2.2. Universal implications
  • 2.3. Heritage speakers and their language
  • 2.4. The socioeconomic context
  • Chapter 3: A language in contact or a contact language?
  • 3.1. Towards a description of the Cruz Machado dialect: Some remarks on terminology and diachrony
  • 3.2. The Cruz Machado dialect as the Polish language in contact
  • 3.3. The Cruz Machado dialect as a contact language
  • Chapter 4: Methodological proceedings
  • 4.1. The research trip: The place and the context
  • 4.2. The study concept
  • 4.3. Methodology in conversations
  • 4.4. Ethical considerations
  • 4.5. The speakers and their output
  • 4.6. Transcriptions and analysis methods
  • Chapter 5: The speakers and their language
  • 5.1. Percentage of Portuguese elements in the dialect. Differences between users
  • 5.2. Awareness of the dialect’s distinct character
  • 5.3. The Polish stratum
  • 5.3.1. Some observations about pronunciation
  • 5.3.2. Lexicon of the Polish stratum
  • 5.3.3. Grammar and syntax of the Polish stratum
  • 5.4. The influence of Portuguese
  • 5.4.1. Code-switching
  • 5.4.2. Morphology of borrowings
  • 5.4.3. Hybrid constructions
  • 5.4.4. Toponymy
  • 5.4.5. Interjections and individual styles
  • 5.4.6. Structural calques
  • 5.5. Domains of use and motivations for speaking the dialect
  • 5.5.1. Pół na pół ‘half and half’ as home and community language
  • 5.5.2. Portuguese as the city language
  • 5.5.3. Portuguese as the language of religion
  • 5.5.4. Portuguese as the language of formal instruction
  • 5.5.5. Power, prestige, and prejudice in the Cruz Machado dialect
  • 5.5.6. Efforts towards dialect maintenance and preservation
  • Chapter 6: Questions, answers, and more questions
  • 6.1. The Polish stratum and Polish as a heritage language
  • 6.2. The presence of Portuguese and other influences
  • 6.3. Linguistic awareness, domains of use, and motivations for speaking the language
  • 6.4. Panoramas, perspectives, and problems
  • Conclusion
  • Sources
  • Appendix A: Other narratives from Cruz Machado
  • Appendix B: Declaration of the municipal authorities
  • List of tables
  • List of figures
  • Series Index

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This study seeks to present a portrait of a Polish dialect spoken by Brazilians of Polish descent in the interior settlements of the Cruz Machado municipality in the state of Paraná in southern Brazil. What began as a simple pilot study led to an investigation of themes little explored in subject literature, including the geographic origins and character of the language spoken in the municipality, the degree of preservation and innovation, and the practical needs of in-depth research, like choosing a viable framework for meaningful description.

Much of the inspiration for this book was drawn from a monograph on Polish-Portuguese bilingualism by Miodunka (2003), a work inflexible in its vision to present an all-encompassing picture of the individual bilingual experience that many times gets lost in the research preoccupied with strictly linguistic phenomena. Miodunka’s humanistic focus has inspired me to paint a similarly comprehensive picture sensitive to the dialect’s rural origin and character and attentive to how the speakers themselves perceive their own language. The book is also in debt to other studies of the Polish language in Brazil, among others, Kawka (1982; 1996); Kucharski (1996); Linde-Usiekniewicz (1997); Delong (2016); Pereira (2017), and Ferreira (2019; 2020). The nature of the data collected has determined the theoretical frameworks adopted in the study, which uses the ideas of Polish dialectology (Karaś 2010a), heritage language studies (Polinsky 2018; Polinsky & Scontras 2019), Polish language abroad (Dubisz 2014), and contact languages (Thomason & Kaufman 1988; Meakins 2013) to reach its conclusions. Based on the studies and literature evoked above, as well as the observations made in the field, nine research questions were formulated that could be linked to three wider areas of interest: (1) the nature of the Polish stratum; (2) the signs of contact, with the focus on the presence of Portuguese; and (3) the domains of use and the motivations for speaking the language. Among others, the book raises the issue of a baseline that would be relevant for the description of a dialect similar to the one in Cruz Machado, the possible distinct developments, the nature and intensity of the Portuguese presence, and the relationship the speakers have to their language.

The study analyzes the recordings of thirty users of the Cruz Machado dialect, the majority of them third- and fourth-generation speakers, inhabitants of various rural settlements scattered around the municipality. The study’s setting was naturalistic; in all cases, the conversation took place in the user’s own home, and the only requirement was the will and the ability of the person to speak ←21 | 22→to the researcher in the ancestral language, which already in itself limits the investigated group to speakers proficient enough to hold a conversation.

The study is composed of six chapters: three theoretical, one methodological, one analytic, and one synthetic, in which the research questions are answered in light of the preceding content. Chapter 1 presents the study in the broader context of studies of the Polish language in Brazil and highlights the distinct identity of the first settlers, as well as their language’s relationship to the written and spoken realm. In Chapter 2, the migrant Polish spoken in the community is described in the context of bilingualism and heritage languages studies, with particular attention given to specific developments observed in languages of this kind. In Chapter 3, the Cruz Machado dialect is described as Polish in contact and later as a new language emergent out of contact. The following chapters focus on the study methodology and data analysis. The last one reviews and interprets the results as well as indicates the areas for future research and practical repercussions of the study.

←22 | 23→

Chapter 1: Polish-speaking settlements in the Brazilian interior

Their stories draw you in. As I look on from the wooden porch at the land sprawling downhill in front of me and inhale the crisp odor of damp charcoal and manure, I catch myself thinking they would make an excellent short story collection. I would not need to polish them off too much. They could stand as is, with minimal editing. Sparse, measured, direct, they catch me off guard with their casual punch and deceptive linearity, the biographies punctuated with discrete gaps that I, as an outsider, need to politely ignore. The only thing I could flesh out a little is the setting that my hosts no longer pay attention to. The rows of pine trees as tall as apartment blocks, their umbrella-like crowns a fixture in the rural skyline. The stubborn drizzle that makes you want to cozy up to the iron furnace glowing with warmth. The bitter, grassy taste of chimarrão sipped from a wooden vessel making its rounds around the room.

Their language mirrors that clipped, forceful style. Words that in Poland are considered highly colloquial, almost offensive, appear with no break in rhythm. Many speakers switch codes with similar disregard, giving no heads-up whatsoever. This makes for a problematic transcription when I finally sit down to it, months later. Portuguese words appear unexpectedly in the dialect discourse, often wholly incorporated into the Polish syntax, hiding. The singsong cadence some of the settlers speak with is similarly confusing. The pattern is not Brazilian, but it is not standard Polish1 either. To my ear, it sounds like the dialects of Polish spoken in the regions close to the eastern border of Poland and possibly beyond. I also recognize some notes that are detectable in the speech of some of my family members, the branch that was resettled in the Western territories from the eastern lands lost in the aftermath of World War II. From my notes, both mental and written, I am trying to arrive at a clear image of the speech I listen to day after day. But for every regularity I seem to discover, I promptly identify several inconsistencies, sometimes even in the speech of the same family. This fluidity, I find out later, is common in dialects spoken in the countryside, but in the case of Cruz Machado, the situation of prolonged contact adds to the language’s volatility. Sometimes, my interlocutors source their Brazilian repertoire so intensely while speaking the dialect that my travel ←23 | 24→companions, who do not speak any Portuguese, miss the meaning entirely. The Portuguese presence in the dialect is undoubtedly the most prominent. But some of the vocabulary, notably the greeting Zdrowo, betrays an Eastern Slavic influence.

Speaker 10 has excellent fluency. He is one of the few subjects in the study who literally talk without ceasing. The recording device does not faze him one bit. At one point, he dismisses the urgings of my travel companions, who come to tell us it is high time we got going. ‘They will wait,’ he says. In his enthusiasm to tell his story, he does not hesitate to use Portuguese for whatever concept he feels he needs to express. It is a magnificent tour de force—both of the dialect and of the settlement’s history. He talks of the good old times when everything, from kitchen utensils to work clothes, was handmade rather than bought in-store; he talks about the Brazilian school where he was taught Portuguese by a group of nuns, about traditional house construction and about Father Daniel, a now-deceased community priest, who used to speak Polish with him. His son has a similar penchant for using Portuguese in his dialect with no prior warning. The practice is evidently transparent to him. I ask him questions about subjects that require a vast array of vocabulary, but he is imperturbable, drawing on Portuguese unapologetically whenever it suits him. His wife, on the other hand, has a strong eastern lilt to her dialect, which is absent from her husband’s speech. She is not from here. She came looking for work from another municipality, she met him and stayed. Speaker 23, on the other hand, gives me a completely different experience. He is one of the few subjects in the study who barely use Portuguese in their dialect, at least not overtly. At the same time, when I ask him which language he uses at home with his family, Portuguese or Polish, he says without missing a beat, ‘Pół na pół’ ‘half and half’. I am set to hear this expression many more times still. This speaker has just finished a long discussion with a group of speakers of European Polish who do not speak any Portuguese, which could explain the relative lack of overt switches in our recording. His wife, who I record before him, code switches frequently, using both one-word switches and longer stretches of Portuguese in her speech. Her whole demeanor personifies class, and her speech is precise and calm, with a steady rhythm to it. Even code switches adhere to that constant melody. Speaker 5 approaches the matter differently still, preferring one-word switches. In the dialect, she has a rich vocabulary and excellent fluency. She is the one who hosts the group of speakers of European Polish at her home twice a year, so she gets regular practice. She even experiments with some European turns of phrase that she must have heard from her guests, but she does it cautiously, as if she were unsure how the modern ←24 | 25→items would fit into the ancestral language structure. She says tentatively, for example, that something will turn out okej ‘okay’. Then there are people whose style I cannot quite get a grip on because they clearly find the whole situation of talking to a gringa just a little too far-fetched. They get shy and close-mouthed; they focus on answering my questions in the most correct way possible and try not to contradict me too much, eager to tell me whatever they think I want to hear. With time, they might thaw a little and start to talk more freely, dare to ask me questions, show flashes of subtle humor and confidence. But we do not always get there. In some cases, I am left with recordings that are monosyllabic and bland, with only a few revealing segments here and there. Then, since I stay in the community for almost a month, one day, out of the blue, I run into some of these more taciturn speakers in a completely different setting, and I am surprised by their warmth and gregariousness. I decide I need to go back and make a new recording—and then it does not happen. Two years have passed since my study in Cruz Machado, and I still remember every one of my interlocutors. I even picked up some of the dialect phrasing in my European Polish, which startles my out-of-context friends. In this work, I tried to include the voices of the settlers as much as possible, especially since the individuality of dialect users, and the specific traits of their language, is not a subject that appears in many studies. This monograph is dedicated to them.

1.1. What is spoken and how it is spoken about

At the start of this journey, some basic terminological issues need to be clarified. Even upon reading the passage above, a careful reader might have picked up on the cautious way in which the speakers and their language are described. The words ‘settlers’ and ‘settlements’ as used in this book pertain to villages of farmers or growers common in the Brazilian interior, especially in the South, and are my translation of the Portuguese colonos and colônias, respectively. The Portuguese names, and the phenomenon they describe, hark back to the time of increased European immigration in the 19th century, when land plots were allotted to migrants willing to settle in the inhospitable interior (Lesser 2013: 60–84). The municipality of Cruz Machado has a number of such dispersed settlements, which were visited throughout the study described in this book (see Appendix B and Chapter 4 for more details). Initially, colônia signified an insular community bent on preserving its culture (Buchenau 2004: 32–33); soon, with the arrival of the new generation, it came to mean just an ‘ethnic community’ (Lesser 2013: 83). Nowadays, it simply denotes a small agricultural settlement, ←25 | 26→frequently in a remote area2, which is also why this English word was adopted in the book over the more history-laden ‘colony’; another related reason was the possibility of confusion surrounding the usage of the corresponding adjective ‘colonial.’3

In the passage above, the language recorded in such interior settlements is described as a ‘language spoken in the countryside,’ a ‘dialect,’ a ‘Polish,’ a ‘dialect of Polish,’ or a ‘speech.’ It is a language spoken by a community that has more than one lect at its disposal. Several times above, Portuguese and Eastern Slavic influences are mentioned as the two forces that are more readily identifiable in the speakers’ output, although they need not be the only ones. The passage also highlights a contrast between the community’s way of speaking and a construct called ‘European Polish.’ Even from this short description, it follows that the speakers are able to navigate a conversation with users of this latter variety, even though their way of speaking differs from it markedly.

At this point in the discussion, the quality of that difference remains unclear. What is clear, however, is that the dialect spoken in Cruz Machado seems to be, on the whole, quite volatile. Its nature changes somewhat from speaker to speaker and even from context to context for the same speaker. These observations set up the fundamental question for this study: What exactly is spoken in the settlements of Cruz Machado? We might even widen the question a bit and ask, What exactly is spoken in other similar places in Brazil, in the many settlements populated by descendants of Polish-speaking migrants? What do we call this lect spoken by people who are clearly bilingual, and quite possibly multilingual4, a lect which obviously shares genetic ancestry with the language identified nowadays ←26 | 27→as European Polish and is mutually intelligible with it to some extent, but which also seems to operate in a very different way? Past research in the field is less helpful here than one might think, as shown by the discussion in this chapter. To shed some light on the issue, the study draws on a variety of different approaches which use different vocabularies to serve their respective research purposes. This necessitates a careful and thorough consolidation of terminology to suit this book’s objectives, although some points of tension with other terminological outlooks may still remain.

In reference to the dialect of Polish spoken in the settlements of the Cruz Machado municipality, this book adopts the straightforward term ‘Cruz Machado dialect.’ At this point in the discussion, we define this lect as descended from the language of the settlers who came to the Cruz Machado area from what is now Poland in the late 19th and early 20th century. Alternatively, the term ‘migrant dialect’ or ‘migrant Polish’5 is used to signal the commonality this lect shares with dialects of Polish spoken in other settlements in Brazil with a similar history of Polish-speaking immigration. The restricted, local sense of these terms allows the discussion to be sufficiently concrete and context-bound, although a cautious extrapolation of the study’s conclusions is still possible (see below).

The phrasing ‘dialect of Polish’ or ‘migrant Polish’ points to the genetic link between the Cruz Machado dialect and the Polish spoken in contemporary Poland. This genetic relation need not imply belonging. In other words, the migrant dialect may now be so far removed from its parent language – geographically, typologically, and culturally – that it may be considered a separate linguistic entity. This question is more directly addressed in Chapter 3. However, the fact that the speakers themselves repeatedly and consistently identify their language as Polish (even though they also go to great lengths to nuance this designation, see Chapters 5 and 6) is sufficient grounds for retaining this specification.

The same genetic link also exists between the Cruz Machado dialect and the construct called here European Polish, or the quality of language commonly used in Poland, and even standard Polish, or the quality of Polish deemed acceptable and correct by educated language users and sanctioned by ‘cultural authorities’ (after Bańko 2001).6 Even though the notion of a standard and the components ←27 | 28→of its definition are excruciatingly arbitrary, they need to be engaged with in our discussion for two reasons. First, the body of research that touches on dialects of migrant Polish such as the one spoken in Cruz Machado has historically done so with the explicit or implicit assumption that there is a standard of Polish these dialects fall short of. This tendency, along with its weighty implications, will become apparent in the coming discussion, most prominently in Chapter 3. Second, the author and conductor of the study is a speaker of that standard, a language user who is ‘educated,’ at least according to the Western notion of education. Later in the study, we will see how the speakers of the Cruz Machado dialect make a point of distancing themselves from the idea of language that they perceive as embodied by the author.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2023 (January)
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2023. 322 pp., 3 fig. col., 1 fig. b/w, 12 tables

Biographical notes

Karolina J. Zaremba (Author)

Karolina J. Zaremba received her graduate degree from Poznań University in Poland and went on to do her Ph.D. at the University of Viadrina in Frankfurt (Oder) in Germany and Universidade Federal Fluminense in Niterói, Rio de Janeiro in Brasil. Her research interests include Portuguese and American studies, Biblical studies, and historical Bible translations.


Title: The Dialect of Polish Spoken in Cruz Machado, Paraná
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324 pages