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Conversations with God

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


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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There are various reasons for attaching transcriptions of interviews to a synthetic description of transformations in language and identity. Above all, they are a living record of the language of various generations of Catholics living in Belarus today. Included here are Polish texts transcribed in Mohilev, Minsk and Grodno, as well as Belarusian texts produced by Catholics from Eastern Belarus. This selection of material shows that the language of Catholics in Belarus is not only the Polish or literary Belarusian of the intelligentsia, but also the form of Belarusian spoken by the people of rural Eastern Belarus, with numerous Russian influences. The second reason for including selected texts is the fact that they document extremely important, often dramatic events from the history of the Catholic Church in Belarus and the fortunes of its followers. The third reason is the need to document a language that is becoming a thing of the past, as are its users.

Out of concern for data protection laws as well as my interviewees’ trust, I do not give their data, but rather I use abbreviations. These contain the first syllable of the place where the interview took place, the informer’s initials, their age at the time of the interview, the year when the interview was conducted and their gender.

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