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Conversations with God

Multilingualism among the Catholics in Belarus in the Late Twentieth and Early Twenty-First Centuries. Sociolinguistic study

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Ewa Golachowska

The book discusses the sociolinguistic status and prestige of the Polish language and the changes in the national identity of Catholics in Belarus due to the switch from Polish to Belarusian in the Catholic Church. The research shows that the national identification of Catholics in Belarus is changing. The oldest generations most often self-identify as Polish. For those from the middle and youngest generations, the link between nationality and their religion is not obvious as being a Catholic does not exclude a Belarusian self-identity. Belonging to the Catholic Church results from being baptized in the Catholic rite, while national identity can be defined in many ways and re-defined by various life experiences. Catholicism has proven to be a less debated and more durable category than nationality.

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1 The Functioning of Polish in Catholic Communities in Belarus

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The contemporary language situation in Belarus is characterised by complexity and non-uniformity. For a sociolinguist, it is extremely hard to describe. In the various areas of Belarus, we can find different communicational situations and different linguistic codes. In the countryside, Belarusian dialects and Russian coexist. In cities, Russian is dominant, and one can also sometimes hear the standard variant of Belarusian. In various communicational situations, Polish also plays a role, and is present mostly in the west of the country. The function of Polish in the countryside is entirely different from that in cities and towns. It also differs between the older generation and young people. Even today, we can still observe traces of differentiation according to class/estate: the descendants of the petty nobility use a different form of Polish from that spoken by the descendants of peasants. Older people who attended Polish schools in the interwar period in Belarus continue to use the standard variant of Polish, with few regional characteristics. Their children, even if Polish was used at home, have a much weaker command of Polish. We must therefore be aware of the diversity of variants of Polish, which stems from geographical, social and generational factors. It is impossible to describe the multitude of these variations in mutual relations using a coherent methodology. We can only describe the individual idiolects and the way in which Polish functions in Catholic communities in Belarus. The key concepts for describing the linguistic situation of Catholics in Belarus are multilingualism,...

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