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“No One Will Do This For Us”.

The Linguistic and Cultural Practices of Young Activists Representing European Linguistic Minorities


Nicole Dołowy-Rybińska

This book presents a portrait of actively engaged young people representing four linguistic minorities in Europe: the Kashubs (in Poland), the Upper Sorbs (in Germany), the Bretons (in France), and the Welsh (in the United Kingdom). In numerous statements cited in the book, drawn from interviews conducted by the author, young people speak for themselves and serve as guides to their minority cultures. They draw attention to the difficulties and challenges they encounter in their day-to-day life and activism. Based on their statements, the book examines the sociolinguistic situation of each of the minorities, the prevailing linguistic ideologies and the role of minority education; it also distinguishes different types of minority language speakers. The analysis focuses on the cultural and identity-forming practices of young people in the context of different forms of community life and their different pathways to becoming engaged representing their cultures and languages.

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Chapter 1: The sociolinguistic situation and language practices of young people

Chapter 1: The sociolinguistic situation and language practices of young people

The sociolinguistic situation of the four minorities

Kashubia: diminished home transmission

It is not easy to pin any exact number on the Kashub population. Brunon Synak (1998) estimated it as 250,000–300,000, whereas Jan Mordawski (2005) cited the figure 391,000, further classifying another 176,000 as people of “partially Kashubian descent.” In the Polish national census of 2011, the number of people who declared themselves to be Kashubs was reported as 108,000. The number of people who use the Kashubian language in everyday interactions is estimated as about 100,000, with some tens of thousands of speakers more using it only occasionally. Research has shown (Synak, 1998; Mordawski, 2005; Mazurek, 2010) that the intergenerational transmission of the language was significantly weakened in the latter half of the twentieth century, consequently, today’s young generation either have only a passive knowledge of the language – being able to grasp what the older generation is talking about – or they do not know it at all. Only a limited number of young people, living mostly in rural areas, acquire Kashubian at home.

The statements I collected from young people concerning the language situation at their family homes and in their local community to a large extent corresponded with statistical results reported in the 1990s and in the early 2000s (Porębska, 2006; Mazurek, 2010), indicating that the intergenerational transmission of Kashubian is declining and its symbolic function is gaining significance. My interviews indicated that there were few families in which parents spoke Kashubian to their children. In the 1990s, the majority of those who acquired Kashubian in their childhood were raised in rural farming, as is evidenced by this testimony:

G25F(K): They spoke Kashubian to me since my childhood. […] Besides, we have a farm and you know – when you’re out working in a field, visiting your neighbours or doing the shopping, everybody speaks Kashubian there, even though they intertwine it with Polish words. […] It seems to me that things is no longer like that now, because young people don’t really speak Kashubian. You know, they are taught, but at home, with this young generation, like from the 1990s and younger, you can’t sense this old Kashubian spirit anymore.

According to this 25-year-old woman, speaking Kashubian was confined to farming activity and everyday conversations with people from the local rural community. This young woman, who learned to write Kashubian at school and is currently employed in institutions promoting the Kashubian language and culture, notes ←29 | 30→that the language they used at home was a dialectal variety of Kashubian, with numerous borrowings from Polish. She says that children born and brought up a few years later5 “don’t really speak Kashubian,” which typically means that they understand it but lack the self-confidence to use it. This perception of Kashubian is shared by a slightly younger girl working for Kashubian-language media:

H24F(K): Everybody, practically everybody [knew Kashubian]. […] But only people coming from farming families spoke Kashubian […] Other people understood it perfectly but used it only to tell a joke, or say something amusing. Because speaking Kashubian is funny, that’s my explanation for it. Only some people actually communicate in Kashubian. […] but never at school or in front of outsiders, just at home.

This young Kashubian woman confirms the observation that the only young people who spoke Kashubian were those from farming families. She also points to another interesting phenomenon in their language practices: children from Kashubian villages born at the beginning of the 1990s knew (at least some) Kashubian but they did not treat it as their own, using it only as a “language for performances.” She says: “speaking Kashubian is funny,” which is how this language was perceived by children. Moreover, as she goes on to say, even those who knew Kashubian, including herself, did not use it at school or in conversations outside school. Rather, the language was restricted to family and play. A similar opinion is voiced by the following young teacher of the language, who sees the belief that Kashubian cannot be a regular language of communication as being so widespread in Kashubian villages that their inhabitants are unwilling to convey this language to their children:

I22F(K): […] we didn’t speak Kashubian unless we wanted to say something funny or when [as children] we used to pretend we were adults. That’s how we used to play in primary school: when we pretended to be older, we spoke Kashubian, because it was funnier. For us, it was a language of jokes. And my friends who have stayed here, in this environment, and who will probably always live here, don’t want to speak Kashubian […] don’t want their children to speak Kashubian because, according to them, it’s a hindrance.

A different situation is depicted by the following 25-year-old woman, whose mother not only spoke Kashubian at home, alongside Polish, but she was also actively engaged in protecting and promoting the language. While the father is called a “true old Kashub” – someone who speaks the language without paying attention to it – for the mother, speaking Kashubian was a conscious strategy:6

←30 | 31→

B24F(K): Since I was a little kid, both of my parents spoke Kashubian to me. My mom mostly because she is involved in various regional affairs and teaches Kashubian. My dad is in fact just a true old Kashub.

Some interviewees learned Kashubian not from their parents but from their grandparents – a pattern also reported by Synak (1998) and Mazurek (2010: 161). The following secondary school student admits that even though she understands Kashubian very well, until recently she was unable to find it in her heart to utter a word in the language. She explains that her parents were too busy to speak Kashubian to her:

T18F(K): At my grandparents’ house, I mean. Because my parents were like, work – home, home – work, and when we talked, it was about what was happening in our lives and it just wasn’t [in Kashubian].

The notion that one has to spend extra time and effort to speak Kashubian to one’s children adequately reflects the situation of this language. The belief that it is impossible to reconcile the simultaneous use of two languages was widespread among the generation educated after the Second World War, when it was commonly upheld that Polish and Kashubian could not function jointly (Synak, 2001: 303). For the generation of grandparents, however, Kashubian was often not only their first but also their only language. Its use in a conversation with their grandchildren was therefore natural. Here is how a 20-year-old man, who recently became a Kashubian activist, remembers the language practices of his childhood:

V20M(K): My father and his brother, my uncle, and also granny speak Kashubian to me all the time. […] I understood them perfectly. But I always replied to them in Polish because that was how I spoke to the other family members, schoolmates, etc. It is only today, when I’m visiting my home village and go out with my primary school friends, that it turns out all of them can speak Kashubian.

Even in those families that spoke Kashubian, it rarely became the children’s first language. Used in communication with people from outside the immediate environment, Polish became a dominant language and started to prevail among Kashubs, too. At the same time, many young people were continuously exposed to Kashubian in their families, which led to passive acquisition and facilitated learning it at a later time. Some of my respondents, however, confessed that they never heard any Kashubian at home:

J21M(K): My mom, on the other hand […] spoke Kashubian at her family home because she had to […]. But at our home she only spoke Polish. […] When I was little and I mixed some Kashubian words into Polish, she would often correct me. “Don’t say jo [Kashubian for ‘yes’], you should say tak [Polish for ‘yes’].”

This young man found out that his mother could speak Kashubian only when he himself decided to learn it as an adolescent. He remembers that his mother was concerned about him speaking pure Polish, without any intrusions of Kashubian ←31 | 32→words and expressions. Mixing the two language codes was considered wrong or harmful, and it could even reflect badly on the speaker. Still, it was a widespread phenomenon, as evidenced by the following statement by a young man who took up Kashubian – consciously, as he himself says – only when he was in secondary school:

P19M(K): My parents know they live in Kashubia and that it exists. The language they speak is neither pure Polish nor pure Kashubian, I mean they have Kashubian words in their lexicon but these words are combined with Polish inflection and grammar.

In this family, Kashubian and Polish were intertwined in their home conversations but the former was not considered an autonomous language but something akin to local folklore, which was suitable for some places and some groups of interlocutors. Interestingly, the young man says the notion of being a Kashub was never talked about in his family, which may be taken as indication that the lack of a sense of language identity blurs ethnic boundaries and diminishes the sense of group identity. The teenager said repeatedly that he was “the first person in the family” to take any interest in Kashubian and – crucially – to sense that he had a Kashubian identity.

To better understand the dilemmas faced by young Kashubs in choosing a language for communication, let us take a look at their reflections on the presence of Kashubian in their local environment. Opinions held and expressed by peers are very important from the standpoint of choosing, or opting not to choose a particular language for interactions (Lanza & Svendsen, 2007). Many young people feel that Kashubian is rejected by their peers:

J21M(K): In small towns like Wejherowo or Kościerzyna, Kashubian is generally perceived as a rural language, spoken by undereducated people, so you’re not supposed to use it. But their parents speak this way, which they even openly admit, but still, they think it’s kind of embarrassing. So they don’t want to be like that.

Young people often display a negative attitude to Kashubian, stemming from long-standing discrimination and language ideologies reinforcing an unattractive image of its speakers. Only a limited number of young people use Kashubian and are open about it. A young woman who started learning Kashubian in secondary school claims that nowadays those who speak the language must be “ambitious enough” and well-informed to realize that knowing one more language can simply be beneficial. Others see Kashubian as “a language of peasants” and refute any connection with it. But as young people observe, in order to learn Kashubian, one should not be merely interested in the language itself but feel an urge to get immersed in the surrounding world:

U18F(K): [The majority of young people from my village attend a vocational school] so their ambitions do not reach beyond having a blue-collar job. In my opinion they were never interested in Kashubian because for them it’s a language of peasants, ←32 | 33→kind of. They come from the country but they would like to think of themselves as city dwellers, maybe even from the capital.

The reason why speaking Kashubian and overt identification with this ethnic group is often negatively evaluated by average Kashubs is that it is seen as an indicator of low social prestige. Only those who are capable of reflecting on the situation of Kashubian and consciously choosing their identity – an ability typically characterizing educated people – have enough fortitude to break the existing stereotypes. Below is a comment made by a Kashubian journalist:

O24F(K): [In my class] there were two people who were open about their Kashubian origin. Nowadays, there are many more such people in secondary schools. I noticed that the better the secondary school, the more of them there are […] It used to be the other way around, so I’ve heard.

Sociological studies carried out in the 1980s demonstrated very clearly that educated people aspiring to social advancement definitively abandoned Kashubian (Synak, 1998: 190 and 197–198). It was a language of the rural working class, typical of local life and communities. Today, the situation is changing: it is becoming a language of choice for educated and ambitious people.

Brittany: in the shadow of trauma and the language revival of the 1970s

According to sociolinguistic and sociological research conducted in Brittany, among the total population of Brittany, which exceeds four million, the Breton language currently has about 200,000 speakers. Of these 200,000 speakers of Breton, 70% are over sixty of age (Broudic, 2009). This dramatic situation results from the severing of intergenerational transmission of Breton in the second half of the twentieth century. According to a survey from 1946, Breton was then spoken by 1,100,000, whereas a survey from 1997 showed that the number of speakers had dropped to 240,000. The situation of many families having some relations with Breton is adequately captured by the following statement about language practices provided by a student attending the Diwan immersion school:7

B17F(B): Well, in my family it was quite special. I have grandparents on my mother’s side who are Breton-speakers, but I have never spoken with them in Breton because the Breton of my grandparents is really, really difficult to understand when you start to learn Breton […]. And I never got into the habit of speaking Breton with them. And with my mother… hmm… she talks to me in Breton, and I answer her in French. Not because I don’t want to speak Breton, but the problem is that I don’t speak Breton as well as she does and when I speak she corrects me all the time. And finally, I started to speak French because it is much simpler like ←33 | 34→this. But… well sometimes I do [speak Breton], but in general, in my family, only my grandparents speak Breton but not with us… my grandparents didn’t transmit the language to their children. And my mother by herself took the decision to learn Breton.

There are the grandparents, who speak Breton but did not transmit it to their children. After a stay in Paris, their daughter returned to Brittany and decided to learn Breton herself. She sent her own daughter to a Breton immersion secondary school, so that is how my interlocutor learned Breton. When she attained some level of proficiency, her mother decided to make Breton the “official” language at home, but the experiment was only partially successful. To make the situation more complicated, the grandparents were first unwilling to speak Breton to their granddaughter, and then their Breton turned out to be incomprehensible to the girl.

Statements concerning language practices in Breton families can only be understood in the context of the circumstances that led to breakdown in the transmission of this language in the second half of the twentieth century. The reasons for that were many, including France’s language policy aimed at eliminating minority languages both from public and private sphere, a change of lifestyle from agricultural-piscatorial to urban, the appearance of the exclusively French mass media and massive migration of the Bretons, which necessitated switching to the dominant language. Equally important were psychological causes, evident in my interlocutors’ statements about their home language practices. In the collective consciousness, this language was disvalued by being associated with illiteracy and rusticity. Besides, it was believed that there was no prospect of social advancement for its speakers (Dołowy-Rybińska, 2011: 79–103). Children who spoke only Breton at school were ridiculed and punished, both physically and symbolically (Elégoët, 1978; An Du, 2000; Broudic, 2013). The generation of my interlocutors’ grandparents experienced a very intense trauma, which not only made them cease using Breton in conversations with their children, but which also triggered negative attitudes towards the revitalization of Breton and its being taught to the young generation (Jones, 1998b). Nowadays Breton is thus used mostly by and among elderly people in their local environment. As many statements testify, their trauma was truly strong and had a long-lasting effect. The following female Breton graduate of the Diwan secondary school, who subsequently obtained a university degree in Breton and now works as a teacher of the language, shares her recollections:

A25F(B): […] once I asked my grandma to say something or sing a song for me in Breton and she firmly refused because this would have awakened a lot of painful memories in her. I never managed to persuade her to speak Breton.

Another female Breton comments on the unwillingness on the part of the older generation to send their grandchildren to Breton-speaking schools:

N23F(B): One of my grandmothers […] speaks Breton. But for her it is very tough. She was forbidden to use Breton when she was a kid and so on, and she simply ←34 | 35→doesn’t want to speak Breton to us […] for instance, when my parents decided to send me and my brother to the Diwan school, she wasn’t happy about it at all. She said it was a bad idea, it will have a negative impact on our reputation, we’ll have trouble in life, and will be rejected by society. And she was really against it. For her, it was plainly negative.

The older generation, who were penalized and humiliated for their inability to speak French and who were forced to use French at school (Elégoët, 1978), are now afraid that the young generation, by devoting their time to learning Breton, may not have sufficient resources to learn the dominant language properly. This is one of the reasons why they refrain from speaking Breton to their grandchildren, and even when they occasionally do, they look for a pretext to switch to French. Another argument for using the official language in conversations is that it is a more universal tool of communication:

P18F(B): My grandpa very rarely speaks Breton. I tried to talk to him in this language several times but it didn’t go quite well because… I don’t really know. It’s quite complicated – in the beginning my grandparents were opposed to the idea of me going to the Diwan school. My grandma was afraid that I would never master French. […] Grandpa does not make any effort to understand what I’m saying [in Breton] so the whole thing is not going well.

The Breton of the older generation is dialectal and so differs slightly from the Breton young people are being taught at school (cf. Hornsby, 2005; Le Pipec, 2013). However, what will be shown later in this book, the lack of understanding between young people and “old” Bretons depends not on the actual language differences but on the language ideologies that create the impression of language distance.

Few of my interlocutors stated that they spoke Breton at home with their parents or one parent.8 As it turns out, in the majority of such families, the parents learned Breton as adults and consciously chose it to be the language of communication with their children. It should be emphasized, however, that my interlocutors – young people taking interest in Breton – are an exceptional group that is not in any way representative of the young inhabitants of Brittany in general, 96% of whom ignore Breton completely (Broudic, 2009: 66). Most members of this exceptional group are the children of parents who actively joined the movement for the revival of the Breton language and culture back in the 1970s and 80s. This movement was quite strong and was especially attractive to young and rebellious people (Goalabre, 2011; more on the movement can be found in Nicolas, 1982; 2007; 2012). That generation managed not only to get rid of the stigma of poverty and backwardness commonly associated with the Bretons but also to transform ←35 | 36→it into a positive image based on a feeling of unity with the old culture, abundant in a variety of practices, mostly related to musical performance and festivals (Le Coadic, 1998). The generation of my interlocutors’ parents chose to learn Breton, which they saw as a symbol of social identification and as a means of recreating a bond with previous generations, the land and community (Le Nevez, 2006). Many of them belonged to a fairly resilient group of Breton activists known as militants bretons, who decided to learn the “illicit” language of their parents and grandparents and who travelled to the country to listen to conversations among the elderly, and joined especially organized courses of Breton (McDonald, 1989; Le Coadic, 1998). In this way the group of new Breton speakers (néo-bretonnants) originated, who tried, albeit not always successfully, to make their learned Breton their first language, and who actively fought for the preservation of this language. A Breton student describes his parents in this way:

H20M(B): My parents are speakers of Breton, which they use at home. But they were taught Breton – my mom in secondary school, and my dad at a course in Rennes. It had to be so because my grandparents were from the generation who got, in a way, traumatized [traumatisé] and refused to speak Breton. So in order to speak with their grandparents, my mom and dad learned Breton […] But as for us, we always spoke Breton at home, it is my native language. I learned French at school.

Other interlocutors admit that the idea of making Breton the language of communication in their families was only partially successful:

M21F(B): My dad started to learn Breton when he was 18–19, so he was still young, but his parents also spoke Breton, although not to him. And his Breton is really fantastic. […] My mom learned it at a somewhat later age and her parents didn’t speak Breton. In fact, she learned it because my dad could speak Breton. I always spoke Breton with my dad, with my mom less so…

As it follows from the young activist’s statement, Breton was to some extent the language spoken in her family, but she also admitted that her twin sister, who shared the same language environment and followed a similar Breton-language educational path until university, was unwilling to speak Breton, even to her. For the majority of my interlocutors Breton is a language they learned at school and they rarely have an opportunity to use outside especially organized events.

According to the statistics, among all speakers of Breton only 4% are in the age range of 15–19, which amounts to about 9,000 people. The percentage of young people who speak Breton has increased from 1 to 4% in the recent years, mainly thanks to the development of immersion and bilingual education (Broudic, 2009: 66). However, this figure is still dramatically low, with many native speakers of Breton remaining closed in isolated communities and sometimes having a sceptical attitude towards the young speaking what sounds like “strange Breton” to them. The actual magnitude of the differences between the varieties of Breton are not the crucial issue here; rather, it is the belief that communication is impossible that effectively renders it impossible. In this way, new Breton speakers do not have ←36 | 37→many opportunities to use it in everyday conversations with peers. They often feel that Breton does not exist outside school at all:

U25F(B): […] In the Diwan schools, we lost our accent. But outside of Diwan, Breton is a dead language.

People who are engaged in Breton cultural life but have not completed Breton language education confess that they lack motivation to learn the language, pointing out that opportunities to use it in communication are almost non-existent:

I25M(B): Practically no one speaks Breton around me so I don’t feel any urge to learn the language. Of course I find it interesting to hear Breton spoken, but because I don’t have anyone around I could speak to, I just don’t feel like it.

Fañch Broudic (2011) anticipates that in the next 15 years the number of speakers of Breton will drop by 70%. The majority of the remaining speakers will have learned Breton outside home transmission.

Upper Lusatia: impending language change

Much has been written about the difficulty in determining the number of Sorbs or speakers of either Upper or Lower Sorbian (cf. Elle, 2010b; 2014; Dołowy-Rybińska, 2011). These problems are due to the complicated history of the Sorbs, including discrimination prior to the Second World War and institutional support during the times of the German Democratic Republic (“East Germany”), which led the figures to be either underreported or overreported.9 Another complication stems from the fact that demographic statistics in Germany do not include the criterion of nationality. Owing to that, there is no data as to the ethnic identity declared by inhabitants of Lusatia. Besides, Lusatia is internally divided along two axes: one axis of nationality-culture-language, separating the groups of Upper Sorbs vs. Lower Sorbs, and an axis of religion, on the basis of which Catholic Upper Sorbs are distinguished from Protestant Sorbs (cf. Dołowy-Rybińska, 2011). The first axis coincides with a geographical divide: Lower Sorbs inhabit Brandenburg, formerly a part of Prussia, where persecutions were much harsher than in Saxony, the homeland of Upper Sorbs. Historical processes as well as the language and national policies imposed by the two German states impacted on the present-day identity and language practices of the Sorbian nations. According to official statistics (Norberg, 1996; Elle, 2010b; 2014), Lower Sorbian is spoken by about 5,000 people, mainly from the oldest living generation. However, this number may be overestimated. Intergenerational transmission of Lower Sorbian was severely diminished in the 1930s, only to be completely interrupted after the Second World War (cf. Marti, 2014). The generation of the parents of today’s youngsters do not ←37 | 38→speak Lower Sorbian and the number of Lower Sorbian new-speakers is very low. Even though young people have been able to participate in language revitalization programs in recent years, these programs are not as effective as was expected (cf. Norberg, 2006).

The other axis, dividing the Sorbs into Catholics vs. Protestants, has an equal share in explaining the complexity of identity and language processes in Lusatia. This goes back to the times of the Reformation, when the majority of the Sorbs converted to Protestantism. The Sorbian Protestants, whose number was estimated in the nineteenth century as 200,000, as compared to about 20,000 Catholics (Scholze, 2011: 62), underwent very rapid linguistic and cultural assimilation (Walde, 2006; Malink, 2014). Having created a triple ethnic boundary (i.e. involving language, national identity and denomination) separating them from the German Protestants, the Sorbian Catholics formed a strong enclave, thereby preserving their identity protected by Catholic families and firm rural community, which was further reinforced by religious practices performed in Sorbian (cf. Walde, 1999; Wałda, 2014). My interlocutors included only Upper Sorbs coming from the Catholic community, all of them native Sorbian-speakers. Given this fact, it should to be noted that the discussion presented below concerns mainly the Catholic Upper Sorbs, whose young generation is actively engaged in promoting Sorbian culture and language. It has some relevance also to the Protestant Upper Sorbs, but does not apply to young people from Lower Lusatia.10

The Catholic Upper Sorbs, a compact group numbering about 7,500 people, inhabit a small area called in Sorbian Při Klóšterskej wodźe (German: Am Klosterwasser). The majority of the members of this community, irrespective of their age, can speak and actually use Upper Sorbian, as intergenerational transmission of the language still exists (Walde, 2004). Drawing their strength from common ethnic, cultural and religious roots, the community is opposed to assimilation. Many young Upper Sorbs coming from families cultivating a Sorbian identity speak the language of their forefathers until they leave their family home:

A18F(S): Before I left for Leipzig, I spoke Sorbian almost all the time. In fact, all my friends were Sorbs and we spoke Sorbian at school, except in German classes. I used German only in shops.

When both parents are Sorbs living in a Sorbian-populated area, Sorbian is the first and quite often the only language spoken by children until they go to school:

B22M(S): My mother is a Sorb from a Sorbian family; my father is a Sorb from a Sorbian family. […] At home we always spoke Sorbian. We always speak Sorbian. That’s how I was brought up. Sorbian is my native language.

←38 | 39→

Participation in Sorbian events, holidays and traditions is very often considered to be a marker of being Sorbian. Life in Catholic Upper Lusatia is to a large extent communal (Wałda, 2014), which allows native Sorbs to maintain their language on the one hand, but makes it difficult for new-speakers to be integrated into the group. As a 25-year-old female Catholic Sorb characteristically emphasizes in the following statement about her family, she was raised to be a Sorb. The Sorbian identity in the Catholic community is strongly associated with participation in religious holidays, which reinforces communal feelings. Unlike the Sorbian or German Protestants, the Catholic Sorbs regularly attend Sorbian-language masses and other religious events, which organize their yearly cycle. Numerous Sorbian-style church holidays and events associated with them, in which Sorbian is the only language of communication, reinforce in-group bonds.

H25F(S): First of all, I was brought up as part of the Sorbian community. The language is a very important element but no less important is the feeling that I am a Sorb and see myself as one. It is because both my parents speak Sorbian with family and friends and they are engaged in Sorbian life. That is for sure. […] for me, the Sorbs are very religious, my parents too. So the Catholic life comes first. Thanks to the church tradition everybody has the Catholic costume and can participate in a procession at Róžant [Rosenthal] as a družka11 or on other occasions as well. This is so because the Sorbs have lived there. This is what being Sorbian means to me. Language, engagement, awareness – that’s the ideal.

The strength of the Catholic community derives from its long persistence (in the lands where they “have lived”). The customs are not invented traditions but have been continually passed from ancestors down to currently living Sorbs. Thanks to the rites, the Sorbs can manifest their cultural belongingness by means of the traditional costume and, most of all, actively engage in community life with other Sorbs. Events of this kind and the common language are, according to the young people, the most important means forming the identity:

I22F(S): Yes, because this is something that distinguishes us from others. Thanks to the fact that we speak Sorbian, we practice how to use it. That’s a part of my life. This is just inborn; I don’t know how to say it. It’s only natural for me that I speak Sorbian with the people who know it too. This is why I feel I belong to the group.

This young woman emphasizes an important issue: thanks to the meetings in a wide circle of Catholic Sorbs, young people have an opportunity to develop their language skills and to make speaking Sorbian feel natural. Stretching out beyond the confines of their home or close friends, their use of Sorbian enters the public sphere and becomes a force uniting the whole community.

At the same time, however, the social imperative obliging Catholic Sorbs to marry only within their own ethnic and religious group has been waning in the ←39 | 40→recent years (Wałda, 2014). Together with increasing mobility of young Sorbs looking for jobs in other areas, this has caused an increase in the number of mixed Sorbian-German marriages. Language practices and the sense of belonging in such families are to a large extent dependent on the determination of the one Sorbian parent:

C17M(S): My mother speaks Sorbian to us and we, her children, also speak Sorbian to her. My father always speaks German, even though he understands Sorbian, but he doesn’t use it. This means [my family is] half-Sorbian. We go to Sorbian masses and participate [in Sorbian events], when something takes place.

For this secondary school student, the choice of a language used at home is directly related to cultural and national identity. In fact, for Catholic Sorbs those who do not speak Sorbian are considered as “Germans” which considers also people from Sorbian linguistically assimilated families and as such excludes them from the circle of “real” Sorbs.

The Sorbian element of the family life is also founded upon participation in religious celebrations and cultural events, which serve as a “proof” of Sorbianness. Equally important for preserving the Sorbian language, especially in bilingual families (Budarjowa, 2014), is sending children to Sorbian schools:

S17F(S): My family is bilingual. My mother is Sorbian and my father is German. […] It was very important to us that these languages were separated. Mother spoke only Sorbian with us and father German, because he couldn’t otherwise. Then we went to a Sorbian kindergarten, primary school, middle school and secondary school.

However, despite living in Sorbian communities and participating in Sorbian and Sorbian-language events, young people have a feeling that the language situation around them is changing very rapidly, with German being heard increasingly often:

O21F(S): I notice that in our village everything is slowly getting Germanized. […] I have a feeling that the awareness is no longer here, [the awareness] that we used to have. Our neighbours are beginning to speak German among themselves.

Young Upper Sorbs often verbalize their sense of an imminent threat to their language. Some of them point to specific examples of whole families switching from Sorbian to German among their local community. The following university student coming from a family of Sorbian activists, currently doing Sorbian studies in Leipzig, has developed a highly emotional attitude to the ongoing language change:

B22M(S): [Near my house] there’s a family with four kids. The oldest girl is in the third grade. There are also three boys. But they speak German among themselves. That’s because during the first years of their lives, their Sorbian parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, who live next door in the same village in the Sorbian area, all of them spoke German to those kids, even though the kids attended a Sorbian ←40 | 41→kindergarten. They may have used a little Sorbian occasionally, but German was the language they used most of the time. Their reasoning was like “We don’t want our children to learn to speak German poorly.” And what happened? The kids speak German among themselves. Why? Because their parents spoke German to them. […] What is your native language? The language that was spoken at home, right? And they speak German at home.

The change being described by the young people is not limited to home transmission. As my interlocutors point out, their peers of Sorbian or mixed descent often choose German as a language of communication among themselves. According to the following teenage Sorb, it is this choice made by Sorbian speakers that sentences their language to oblivion:

N18M(S): Well, you can hear that they speak German a lot. I don’t get why but some people think it’s cooler to speak German, even though they know Sorbian. [It is] a pity, being Sorbian will die out because of that.

In the two preceding statements, young people present common reasons behind switching to German: fear of not becoming a fluent speaker of the dominant language and its positively-connoted image. These extant language ideologies unwittingly contribute towards the weakening of the minority language. A decrease in the size of the Sorbian community also has serious consequences for language practices in Lusatia. A new education system in Upper Lusatia opened bilingual Sorbian-German education to learners form German-speaking families. Therefore, in the building of the Upper Sorbian Secondary School in Bautzen/Budyšin and its boarding house there are now more German-speaking students and German has become the dominant language in what used to be a stronghold of the Sorbian identity for the young generation. This can be heard in the school corridors, and does not pass unnoticed by students. It is important to notice that the protection of the Upper Sorbian language and community exclude potential new Sorbian-speakers. One secondary school student complains:

T17M(S): My younger brother is in grade six […] the German influence is stronger there. […] This Sorbian identity is receding there. I do speak Sorbian with my classmates, even though not always, but I can hear my brother talk to his classmates and I can see the difference. The difference may be small now but if things go on like this…

Many statements by the secondary school students share a similar pessimistic tone.

Wales: language communities and a territorial community

At the beginning of the twentieth century, half of the population of Wales, i.e. almost a million people, declared themselves to be Welsh speakers. Subsequent studies indicated a rapid decline in the number of people speaking Welsh, accompanied by increase in the population inhabiting Wales (Williams, 2000). The most ←41 | 42→recent survey obtained as part of the 2011 census12 estimates that out of 3,100,000 inhabitants of Wales, 562,000 speak Welsh. About 30% of them, i.e. 169,000, are aged between 3 and 15, which shows an increase of young Welsh speakers as compared to previous reports. This increase can be linked to the introduction of Welsh as obligatory subject at schools and also to the development of bilingual and Welsh-language schooling (Morris, 2010: 81). Even though compact areas inhabited by Welsh speakers were originally found in North West Wales, due to internal migration, mostly by young people looking for employment, most of the Welsh-speaking population nowadays inhabit South Wales (Robert, 2009: 94). By this token, the image of a typical Welsh speaker is changing: the language in now less readily identified with farms, quarries, coal mines or churches, but is instead accumulating greater prestige, largely in connection with the bilingual middle-class elite inhabiting South Wales towns, where there are growing numbers of Welsh learners (Jenkins & Williams, 2000: 23).

Traditionally, the population of Wales was divided into Welsh speakers identifying with Wales, non-Welsh speakers identifying with Wales, and people of British identity (Balsom, 1985). These divisions are still largely based upon territorial distinctions, even though in recent decades the Welsh identity is no longer considered to be uniquely determined by blood relations and place of birth (Aaron, 2003: 4). Political causes and independence movements, which were the main factors distinguishing Welsh-speakers from non-Welsh speakers throughout the nineteenth and most of the twentieth centuries, gradually lost significance due to the emergence of a mutual “enemy,” which led the groups to join forces in the 1997 devolution referendum.13 However, looking at the language map of Wales, one can still observe a division between Welsh-speaking North and non-Welsh-speaking South and East-North. My fieldwork differed enormously between these two areas: in South Wales I met people who either learned Welsh or who moved there from North Wales with their parents or as adults in search of jobs. During my first stay in South Wales I found it difficult even to find any interlocutors, which never happened in North Wales. It was only my discovery of the Welsh-speaking community in South Wales that opened a door for me to meeting young activists. In the north of the country, on the contrary, there were too many volunteers for them all to participate in the study. The differences between the two regions manifested themselves not only in people’s attitudes towards the researcher but also in their descriptions of their home and local language practices. The young people whom ←42 | 43→I interviewed and the Welsh in general may be attached to their local dialect; they may even be opinionated about whether the north is more Welsh than the south, but neither this, nor the division into Welsh-speaking and non-Welsh speaking Wales, has any serious influence on the fact that the Welsh mostly identify themselves with Wales as a whole territorial and political unit.14 According to Mari Jones, the sense of national identity and unity provided by a national language is stronger than the sense of belonging to a local community (Jones, 1998a: 325). Owing to that, considering Wales as being divided into small, separate communities does not appear to be justified.15 Not how the following university student born in a small town in North Wales talks about her family language practices:

L20F(W): [Being Welsh] is very important for all of us. Like there is no English-speaking person in my family. We are all Welsh, and then, it is really important. My dad is like “yeah, we can raise a lot of children” and they want us all to get married to Welsh speaking people, so there are more Welsh-speakers… It sounds funny but it’s.., we all feel it really strongly, and we all want to, like, pass it onto next generations.

For this family, speaking the language is not only a means of communication, it is also a family mission. The girl has four siblings, who – as she says – are more fluent in Welsh than in English and who have been participating in Welsh cultural life since childhood. Such a strong bond with the Welsh culture and desire to protect the language is not standard, even in North Wales. The language practices described by another university student look considerably different:

←43 | 44→

A20M(W): My family is a Welsh-speaking family, yeah. Welsh, I speak to my mother and my brothers, but my mother speaks English to my middle brother. […] Because my brother, when he was about 13–14, he had relatively a lot of English-speaking friends. So his first language with them was English. Although, always speaking Welsh to me, always speaking Welsh to my older brother, he started to speak more English to my mum. And when I moved to my grandpa, it happened [that] my parents started to speak English with each other and to my brother. And then, when it’s a habit, it’s a habit and it’s difficult to change it.

Welsh was the first language of this young man’s mother but the second language of his father, so English was always present in this family. When my interlocutor had been a teenager, his grandmother passed away and his grandfather needed a day-to-day help. The family decided that the boy would live with his grandfather. Conversing with him reinforced the boy’s Welsh identity and gave him awareness that the Welsh language has to be fought for, but his absence from his family home also had the impact of shifting the language practices there, with English taking a dominant position. It was only recently that my interlocutor deliberately started a process of conscious language practice change, striving to switch back to Welsh as the main language of the family.

Another university student coming from a Welsh-speaking family in South Wales describes his local environs as predominantly English-speaking. Unlike in many North Wales regions (Anglesey, Gwynedd, Ceredigion, Carmarthenshire), where Welsh speakers still outnumber English speakers, if only slightly, in South Wales, Welsh speakers, most of whom are young, constitute a small percentage of the population (cf. Jones, 2012). Note that the attitude of young people towards the language is shaped to a greater extent by the family than by the local environment (Morris, 2014). This young man was raised in a family that was highly aware of their identity and was also determined to preserve it. According to his testimony, he never rebelled against speaking Welsh, on the contrary, he was proud of his proficiency in Welsh, which often proved challenging for his schoolmates. On the basis of observations of language practices in schools attended by both minority language natives and non-natives, we can venture the statement that mainly those children who are very strongly shaped by their families can resist the language pressure from the outside and are inclined to speak Welsh regardless of how it is perceived and evaluated by the environment.

B20M(W): [Where I am from] it’s not full Welsh area, but the whole of my family speak Welsh […] When I was in the Sixth Form in my school having Welsh language at home was very rare […] So I was very proud of the fact that I had Welsh background. And also I’ve always been brought up in the support for Cymdeithas yr Iaith, what it’s doing, in these ideas of Welshness, that you have to support Cymdeithas yr Iaith, you have to support Plaid Cymru, taking part in the eisteddfod. That sort of stuff.

←44 | 45→

A young man from South Wales who learned the language at school and decided to study it at university passes a harsh judgment on families that do not pass Welsh onto their children, thereby – in his opinion – dooming it to extinction. He is aware of the fact that he learned Welsh thanks to political and legal regulations, but he still believes that it is the parents, not institutions that are responsible for the language:

C21M(W): I am the first person in my family that speaks Welsh, so I am partly responsible for creating the first Welsh-speaking generation in my whole family. […] If the people do not transmit the language onto their kids, it’s like there are killing their own language. They kill the whole generation of Welsh-speakers, you know. And the legislation, it is important, obviously. But if the speakers don’t pass it on and don’t use it, then it is dead.

With Welsh-speaking people constituting only about 1/5 of the population of Wales, the number of mixed families is quite high. In such families, language practices depend on the attitude of the non-Welsh-speaking parent and on determination of the Welsh-speaking one.

D20F(W): It is quite complicated, cause my dad is English. But since he met my mum and moved to Wales, he became Welsh. […] Everyone in my family feels really strong about Welsh, it’s just that my dad can’t speak it. He understands Welsh, he just responds in English. I think what makes us Welsh is our attitudes.

As this young woman indicates, what is even more important than actually speaking the language is whether those who do not know the language maintain a positive and accepting attitude towards Welsh-speakers, especially given that this kind of asymmetrical bilingualism is attested in many families. I have participated in many family meetings where some individuals conversed in Welsh, others in English, but they understood each other, and even if not, no one felt excluded. Thanks to this kind of attitude the English-speaking parent has a chance to learn Welsh, whether solely by such immersion or by additionally attending a course, at least to be able to attain basic communicative proficiency:

G19F(W): When my parents met, my father couldn’t speak Welsh, and my mother was first language Welsh speaking […] But through raising us as children, my father learned Welsh, so he is fluent now. Has never written Welsh at all, so his spelling is awful.

Language practices in mixed families may not be stable, with a variety of factors causing a change. A 25-year-old tells his story:

K25M(W): Welsh is my home language even though my dad speaks English, which is quite funny actually. Because just imagine when we are eating together like a family, me, my mum, my brother and sister we all are speaking Welsh and dad understands but speaks only English. My mum is quite strong, and she told him he has to learn, but he hasn’t, she gave him a dictionary to learn it.

←45 | 46→

All the children attended Welsh-speaking schools but their dad has not bothered to put the dictionary to use. Despite the fact that the mother was quite firm, the young man admitted that of the three children he was the only one to speak Welsh on an everyday basis in his adult life. This can be attributed to the fact that he also studied Welsh and while at university became involved in language activism. His siblings, on the other hand, have been gradually switching to English since they left home, even in conversations with their mother. They are not passing Welsh on to their children, either. As indicated by studies conducted in Wales in the 1990s and confirmed by more recent ones (Jones, 2008: 547), children at the age of 3–15 raised in homes with only one parent speaking Welsh are much less fluent in Welsh than their peers from homes with two Welsh-speaking parents.

The reverse shift is also possible, however. Following some specific stimulus, family language practices may also change from the dominant language to at least some of the communication taking place in a minority language. Such a situation was experienced by the following 19-year-old, who founded a Welsh-language musical band, closely collaborating with Cymdeithas yr Iaith. His commitment affected the language practices at home:

W18M(W): Yeah, we are all from Wales and both my parents speak Welsh. But we don’t speak Welsh at home a lot. I don’t know why. It’s just never been the case, it was a habit to speak English at home. But when it started with summer gigs in Welsh, I’ve noticed that even inside of the house we use a little bit more Welsh.

However, when asked if they can see a language change in their local environs, practically all of my young interlocutors responded affirmatively. The young woman cited above, who talked about her Welsh home, had this to say about such change, affecting even her younger sisters:

L20F(W): I think there were about 70% [of pupils at my school] that were speaking in Welsh. And the rest in English. But now when I go there I see that Welsh speaking people started to speak English with each other. […] I think they just think it’s cooler to speak English. So that’s dangerous really, and it’s increasing, really.

NDR: Was it like this when you were in secondary school?

L20F(W): Not as much. But my brothers and sisters now, when they speak Welsh, you hear English words in their vocabulary, really. It’s really weird. I would like to tell them like “What’re you doing?” It’s scary, really, I’ve only just left, and you can hear it, like, and then you see that Welsh-speaking people are speaking English with each other. It really confuses me, but that’s happening now around Wales at the moment. Young people just think it’s cool to speak English with each other. I don’t know if that’s like change, maybe it’s just a phase, I don’t know but, yes, it’s very strange.

←46 | 47→

Language ideologies, symbolic violence and discrimination

Attitudes towards a language can be affected both by factors created by a dominant group, imposing a negative image of a minority language upon its speakers, and by the extant social and economic conditions. Due to such conditions a language may become associated with a low-prestige social group, or it may be considered of little practical usefulness, especially from the perspective of social promotion. On this basis language myths are created – beliefs that one language (or dialect) is allegedly somehow worse than another (i.e. standard) one, that it is impossible to express every idea in it, that it is ill-suited to the modern world, or that it is outright ugly and simplistic (Bauer & Trudgill, 1998). Although repeatedly and continually debunked by sociolinguists, such language myths still hold great sway as factors shaping people’ language attitudes, since evaluations are made on the basis of tacit assumptions concerning the status, form and speakers of a language. Taken for granted and deeply rooted in social (sub)consciousness, such assumptions reinforce linguistic and social injustice (Tollefson, 2006: 47). As Shohamy (2006: xv) puts it: “The attitudes and ideologies related to a given language do not result from the language itself but from a social, historical and political conditions, everyday negotiations, conflicts and practices used by a community.”

Young people’s attitudes towards a minority language and culture thus depend mostly on how their family, friends and co-members of the community approach the language and its use. These relations are also influenced by historical, social and economic factors that have impacted on language users for years, giving rise to a linguistic market of sorts, in which every language has a value (Bourdieu, 1991). The perceived value of minority languages, imposed by the dominant language community by means of language policies and other instruments, was not high, at least not until recently. Bernard Spolsky distinguishes three basic components of a language policy: beliefs, practices and management. Language beliefs concern ideologies applied to a language, which contribute to its being perceived as equal or worse than another, as a language of success, as a rural language or merely as a local dialect, which is not worth any effort to be preserved. Language practices, in turn, indicate in what situations and by whom a language is used, whereas language management refers to specific regulations and laws that influence a language’s status and language behaviour in a community (Spolsky, 2004: 1–15). It can be therefore stated that a language policy is not limited to official acts and regulations specifying how a language can be used in given spheres of life; it also includes a whole gamut of language behaviours influenced by the attitudes of other people.

The language policies adopted by minorities (as well as their feasibility in practice) are to a large extent correlated with general strategies of coping with inequality and the dominance of the majority culture. Zbigniew Bokszański distinguishes a few “types of cultural responses to dominance” (2006: 96–97): shifting minority cultural practices to areas unoccupied by the majority, making the minority culture secret with simultaneous participation in the official culture, gradual rejection ←47 | 48→of the minority culture, or rebellion against the dominant culture accompanied by intensifying minority practices and struggling for having them officially recognized and legally sanctioned. To put it another way, we can classify a given minority’s response to dominance and discriminatory practices as follows: adopting a victimized stance, accepting dominance and all the limitations consequent upon it (an attitude typical of the Bretons up until the 1970s and to some extent of the contemporary Sorbs); striving to change the status of the minority culture and raise its prestige, which involves a change in the prevalent language and culture ideologies (an attitude attested among the Bretons and the Welsh in the 1970s and among the Kashubs in recent years); harnessing the minority’s dissatisfaction with the state policy so as to instigate action promoting its culture and language, which involves a rebellion against inequality and fight for a change (as can be observed in Brittany and Wales). Naturally, these types of attitudes can be only neatly teased out in theory, as in the real world there are many ideologies and other factors that simultaneously affect the behaviour and linguistic choices of the past, present and future generations of minority language speakers.

Language ideologies have been extensively discussed in the sociolinguistic literature (Schieffelin, Woolard & Kroskrity, 1998; Sallabank, 2013). This research was pioneered by Michael Silverstein, who defined them as “any set of beliefs about language articulated by users as a rationalization or justification of perceived language structure and use” (Silverstein, 1979: 193). Since then, various definitions of language ideologies have evolved (cf. Chromik, 2014); in trying to shed some light on the dilemmas faced by young minority speakers, I shall assume a certain simplified definition herein. The point of departure is the assumption that the status and viability of a given language is conditioned not only by objective historical facts, but also by beliefs and prejudices often intentionally passed onto the target group to engrain in them a sense of inferiority about their language. As Harold F. Schiffman (1996: 5) states: “language beliefs (imprecisely called myths) are transferred to a group as a part of the social conditions that affect the maintenance and transmission of its language.” Language ideologies thus represent and replicate beliefs about the minority group imposed by the dominant group.

For Kathryn Woolard (1998), one of the most influential researchers of this phenomenon, even though language ideologies pertain directly to language, they are never confined to language alone. “Rather they envision and enact ties of language to identity, to aesthetics, to morality, and to epistemology. Through such linkages, they underpin not only linguistic form and use but also the very notion of the person and the social group, as well as such fundamental social institutions as religious ritual, child socialization, gender relations, the nation-state, schooling, and law” (Woolard, 1998: 3). This means that prevalent ideologies and beliefs, such as that one language is worse than another, that it is not suitable for use in formal situations, that using it may be detrimental to its speakers by disabling their social promotion or even intellectual development, are so strong that they not only disvalue the language itself but automatically spread the highly negative image onto its users. The negative identity so obtained by a minority (Dołowy-Rybińska, ←48 | 49→2011: 92–100) evokes a desire to shed the burden of negativity and may prompt cultural and language assimilation. It has to be emphasized that language ideologies are beliefs articulated by its speakers and/or surrounding groups, which legitimize the extant situation of a language. They are not the objective truth about a language; they are merely a representation of a negative attitude of the majority towards a minority.

Acting in the same way as symbolic power (e.g. Bourdieu & Wacquant, 1992), language ideologies are highly effective and durable as instruments for domination. The belief that some linguistic systems16 are inferior to others is fed to minorities for a long time and in a variety of ways – by means of bans, via media messages, by limiting the impact of communications in a minority language, by means of symbolic and physical penalization of speakers, etc. Ultimately, minority members assimilate the belief that the widespread opinions are true (Bourdieu, 1991: 165–170). They reject their language once they start to perceive it in the way imposed by the dominant culture. This is what happened in Brittany in the mid-twentieth century and in Kashubia. Despite the fact that recent years have seen major change in the dominant language ideologies, the old ones are still present in the subconscious of the young generation, affecting their attitudes towards minority languages and their willingness to use these languages for communication.

Kashubia – language ideologies in the eyes of the young

Young Kashubs, for instance, attest to a whole range of such language ideologies, often rooted in the official communist Poland policies orientated against multilingualism (Wicherkiewicz, 2011: 145), and specifically against Kashubs, considered as a “suspicious element” and hence subject to discrimination (Bolduan, 1996: 30; Obracht-Prondzyński, 2002: 153–193). The Kashubian language could not be used in public life (Synak, 1998: 140–141). Schools, too, played an important role in reinforcing the prevalent language norms (Bourdieu & Passeron, 1977). Children were penalized and ridiculed for speaking Kashubian (Synak, 1998: 202–203; Mazurek, 2010: 100–101; cf. also Dołowy-Rybińska, 2011: 389–393). The attitudes thus acquired proved to be very strong, often bringing negative experiences onto my interlocutors whenever they spoke Kashubian outside home. The following young woman was a target of laughter when she mixed some Kashubian words into her Polish sentences:

G25F(K): […] me and my brother often used Kashubian unconsciously, even during German or Polish language lessons. Sometimes a Kashubian word slipped out and the whole class would laugh at me, but for me it was not funny at all.

←49 | 50→

The testimonies provided by young people show that despite the enormous change in attitudes towards Kashubian, adolescents and children are still reluctant to use the language in public places, fearing hostile responses and ridicule.

L23M(K): […] when someone at school still spoke Kashubian, maybe not teachers, but other kids would make fun of him. And watching many of my friends who spoke Kashubian at home, I saw that they didn’t do so at school. Because of their schoolmates, etc.

Another young man wonders:

X18M(K): I don’t know [why my schoolmates do not want to speak Kashubian]… Perhaps they are afraid of how others will react or what they will say, they may be laughing or ridiculing them.

This secondary school student has himself encountered similar reactions to speaking Kashubian. As the Kashubian language and identity is equated with inferiority and being a target of mockery, a negative identity (Erikson, 1975) is formed, when the targeted group accepts the imposed image and starts to marginalize its own significance (Bourdieu, 1991; Goffman, 1963). Both interlocutors point to the hostile and humiliating reaction of their peers as their main reason for abandoning Kashubian. Language ideologies widespread in society do have an impact on the formation of negative attitudes towards one’s own language.

Language ideologies “are based on deep-seated dispositions and strongly held beliefs and perceptions concerning both language practices (what people do) and policies (what people should do)” (Sallabank, 2013: 64). As such, the stereotype of people using a minority language is reinforced among the general public. This in turn affects attitudes towards the language. In this context, what this secondary school student has to say about his father’s opinion on people speaking Kashubian is particularly interesting:

R17M(K): My father is quite open about having his roots here, but this speech is not to his liking, he simply has unpleasant associations with it. He says that during communist times, when Polish was the language spoken at school and also by most people, he would go to work by bus and he could hear those drunkards at the back of the bus playing cards and speaking Kashubian. And he got quite irritated by this.

The link between speaking Kashubian and socially unacceptable behaviour is so strong in these people’s minds that they automatically transfer a negative assessment of one person onto the whole group and create a direct connection between two inappropriate activities: excessive drinking and speaking Kashubian. A simple and stereotypical association invites itself. The young man cited above who was raised in a home where Kashubian was not valued claims that he enjoys learning the language but on the other hand he finds it hard to imagine that he could have a “real” conversation in Kashubian (i.e. outside of lessons). The belief that it is inappropriate to use Kashubian in certain places, especially those inhabited ←50 | 51→by dominant culture members, is very deeply entrenched in the minds of many Kashubs and people living in their environment. Avoiding speaking Kashubian in towns is part of their strategy of mingling with the crowd, which means avoiding discrimination or being ridiculed, and fitting in with the world outside their locality. Dominant languages ensure anonymity, whereas when using a minority language, one is always “from somewhere” (Woolard, 2008: 304). As one young Kashub woman recalls:

H24F(K): […] when we were going shopping to a city, maybe to Kartuzy or Gdańsk, and when we were speaking Kashubian among ourselves, as we got closer, my mum used to say, “C’mon now, kids, we’re not speaking Kashubian now, we’re speaking Polish; it’s not the done thing to speak Kashubian in the city.” This happens even today, that mum switches to Polish when we are in the city. That’s the way it works.

This young woman, who works in the Kashubian media, emphasizes that nowadays she does not lack the confidence to speak Kashubian in the streets of Gdańsk, but there are few opportunities to do so.

The most powerful ideology, still widespread in Kashubia to this day, is the belief that Kashubian is inferior to Polish. This is reflected in a negative attitude of the young towards the language of their forefathers. A university student of Kashubian studies admits:

F23F(K): […] when I was a kid I always thought that it’s a kind of substandard language, that we weren’t supposed to use it and the right way was to speak Polish.

A friend of hers talks about bitter experiences that made her avoid speaking Kashubian and hide her identity for years:

M22F(K): I started school in Kościerzyna, where using Kashubian expressions was considered reprehensible; it was shameful to say jo. For us, it was a normal thing to speak this way. I couldn’t understand how they could not know such words, how they could punish me for using them. And I experienced many, well, perhaps not quite problems, but I just felt worse and I felt that speaking this way I was depriving myself of a chance to be someone better. That’s the way it worked. So I tried to adapt to the situation rather than to stand out.

Young people speaking Kashubian are often stigmatized as rural, inferior and uneducated – a pattern that becomes sanctioned in a social hierarchy (Goffman, 1963). By this token, shedding the stigma opens a possibility of joining in the world of people perceived as “better” and “normal,” which comes at the cost of denying one’s own identity (Eriksen, 2010: 35–36).

A dead language, a rural language

Stereotypical views have a particularly detrimental impact on minorities, which typically spend centuries under the influence of a dominant group that imposes ←51 | 52→a simplified and unfair image of the minority (Lippmann, 1965; Bokszański, 2001; Kłoskowska, 2001). Stereotypes are often formed on the basis of negative prejudices towards ethnic or other groups. On the other hand, stereotypes may sometimes be useful, in social interactions between people not knowing each other in person, enabling the interactants to attribute to the other person stereotypical features of the group with which they can be identified (Eriksen, 2010: 28–31). But besides this function of systematizing and categorizing the world, stereotypes can be also used for legitimizing inequalities and unfair distribution of social resources. They also help set the boundaries of one’s own group (Eriksen, 2010: 30). Stereotyping minority members as simple and uneducated helps justify keeping them out of prestigious roles in society, whereas propagating the image of the minority culture as backward and folkloric facilitates policies promoting development and modernization, underlain by an alleged desire to help purportedly underprivileged groups. Since the real cultural differences between the majority and minority cultures have been to a large extent obliterated, and the minorities have learned to create and utilize such differences to achieve their own political, cultural and economic ends (cf. Nijakowski, 2009; Comaroff & Comaroff, 2009), the labelling and stereotyping of the minority by the dominant culture can become a strategy for hampering the minority’s political or cultural aspirations that may be deemed dangerous by state authorities. Nowadays, many international and local organizations undertake efforts to protect endangered languages, considered to be the most essential exponent of identity and ethnic boundaries. Revitalization policies pursued by minorities aim to attract people who would like to join in the speech community, but who do not necessarily descend from the group of original speakers, often burdened with a negative image. Under such circumstances, the stereotyping of the minority language and its users is intended to protect the interests of the majority group or people assimilated with the majority from the minority’s aspirations.

This strategy is effective insofar as learning a minority language, often incurring costs and offering no practical benefits in return, is a great challenge undertaken on the basis of a conscious decision. Stereotyping and labelling minority language speakers, which results in undermining the status of these languages, can thus be an effective strategy for halting the process of reversing language shift, especially among the young, who tend to be more sensitive to the opinions of others.

Georg Kremnitz distinguishes two co-existing forms of language prestige. One of them is internal prestige (French: prestige interne), i.e. the opinion a community holds about its own language. If this opinion is negative, owing to the influence of the external environment, a minority may abandon its language in favour of one considered to enjoy higher prestige (Kremnitz, 2013: 107). The other level is external prestige (French: prestige externe), stemming from stereotypes and prejudices held with respect to a group, partially created by language policies. If the latter do not support minority language development and its access to various domains of social life, a language begins to be perceived as unattractive and useless (Kremnitz, 2013: 107). As underscored by Schiffman, language ideologies “do not evolve ex nihilo; they are not taken off a shelf, dusted off, and plugged into a ←52 | 53→particular policy; rather, they are cultural constructs, and are rooted in and evolve from historical elements of many kinds, some explicit and overt, some implicit and covert” (Schiffman, 1996: 22). Until the industrial revolution, minorities formed close-knit communities living in city outskirts, while cities were inhabited by dominant cultures. Even though this has changed, with many people, including minority members, taking advantage of mobility and multiple identities afforded by the global world (Pennycook, 2006; Heller, 2008), the stereotypical perception of minority languages as something synonymous with the distant past and its immobile traditional culture has remained.

Two most widespread beliefs concerning minority languages in Europe are that they are “dead” and “rural.” If they are dead and no one uses them, then learning them is beyond any point. If they are rural, and thus synonymous with low status, physical labour and a lack of education, then whoever is of higher social status would risk becoming degraded should they take an interest in this language. One of my Kashubian interlocutors dubbed Kashubian culture as “bumpkin” (Polish: wsiurska) culture, which means that it not only originated in the countryside, but it is perceived via negative stereotypical assumptions. Consequently, speaking a minority language does not merely mark a member of a community, it marks a person who is of lesser value and who deals with unattractive or uninteresting things. The student who tried to get rid of Kashubian expressions and to fit in with the Polish-speaking environment observes that negative attitudes towards Kashubian have not disappeared totally:

M22F(K): […] my brother is one of those who don’t think very highly about Kashubs, so he says: “Come on, just quit it, you’re only making a fool of yourself. When they ask me at work what my sister does, I tell them she’s a student. What does she major in? Polish studies. So she’ll be a Polish teacher? Yeah, Polish and Kashubian. What, Kashubian? How wiocha! [how village-related, embarrassingly unsophisticated].” That’s people’s usual response – “how wiocha!” That it’s something that belongs to the countryside and should remain there. That it’s not something you share with people. I think that such prejudices are quite widespread, our culture still holds these stereotypes.

Another girl points out that anything expressed in Kashubian is automatically categorized as backward. What is Polish is modern, what is Kashubian is uncouth. One secondary school student observes that:

U18F(K): […] according to many people, Kashubian is a language of peasants… A friend of mine says she couldn’t possibly learn Kashubian because it sounds so terribly wieśniacko [old-fashioned and rural], and we should move forward rather than shut ourselves in the past. We can’t move backward.

Due to the prevalent associations between Kashubian and the unprestigious countryside, those people who moved to towns decided not to pass Kashubian onto their children and on top of that they were negatively disposed towards the idea of learning the language. Another university student who was born in Gdańsk says:

←53 | 54→

D22F(K): As a child I didn’t [learn Kashubian], because in our environment it was, as I said, the language of the country, why then learn the language of the country? There was no such intention, no one even tried. […] I didn’t think it was important, either – granny understands Polish, so why should I learn Kashubian?

Taking the above-presented background into account, it has to be stated that the process of revitalization of Breton culture, still strongly equated with poverty and backwardness in the first half of the twentieth century, especially in the post-war years, deserves to be described as phenomenal. The Breton movement of the 1970s not only undermined this negative image but also reversed it completely (Le Coadic, 1998). However, this especially applies to the culture of Brittany understood as regional heritage, whereas young people do still tend to hold to stereotypes about the Breton language, which is not spoken around them and which is said to be the language of the oldest generation. The stereotypes are based on an image of the Breton speakers as old people, living in some tiny village in Lower Brittany, wearing a folk costume with a characteristic caul.17 The young Bretons claim that this is why their peers feel that learning Breton does not make any sense:

E16F(B): […] people still think about Brittany in a stereotypical way, that it’s a land of old people, ploucs, who speak Breton among themselves.

Young learners of Breton often encounter the view that Breton is a dead language, so not only learning it but efforts to protect it make no sense at all. This view, as my interlocutor intimates, justifies ignorance, a lack of involvement in activities promoting Breton, or even boycotting the work done by others:

J21M(B): […] the majority [of the young] don’t want to have anything to do with it, they aren’t trying to get to know, to get interested in Breton culture and even less so in the language. Many people consider Breton dead and they can’t see any reason why there should be bilingual information boards at university. […] Some time ago there were elections at the faculty and there was a Breton list. When I explained to other students why I voted for Breton candidates, they poked fun at me and couldn’t understand why I wanted Breton to be present at the faculty… they just thought it didn’t make any sense.

Welsh – a non-progressive language

In the twentieth century Welsh was burdened with a stigma rooted in the tragic fate of the Welsh people during the First World War, followed by a period of poverty and huge exodus (Jenkins & Williams, 2000: 3–5). Due to ever-closer contacts with English speakers, the presence of ridiculing attitudes towards Welsh speakers ←54 | 55→accompanied by the significance of the British identity emerging after the Second World War, the people of Wales started to switch to the dominant language, English. The latter was associated with progress, industrialization and new media. As mentioned before, young people’s attitudes towards the minority language largely depend on family language practices, but when they are outside their home, they are naturally influenced by the language dominating in the community or social group to which they belong (Morris, 2014). Many Welsh youngsters testify that the school environment is firmly divided into Welsh-speaking groups and those speaking English. With English-speaking groups enjoying greater popularity, many young people refrained from speaking Welsh in peer groups:

B20M(W): I was in a Welsh language primary school and the only language spoken was Welsh. And then, in secondary school, there were two streams. And the English stream was much more forward and much more like always seemed to be more popular people there and then people sort of wanted to be more connected with them. So they just spoke English more.

A girl coming from a Welsh-speaking family living in South Wales notes another problem: if speaking Welsh is unpopular at school, pupils avoid this language so as not to stand out from the group:

G19F(W): […] I don’t know, I don’t think it is just South Wales, but there is a strange culture where if you speak Welsh in school you are considered strange. Even though it is a Welsh medium school and the language of the school is Welsh. Within the pupils of the school, if you are Welsh speaking, you are frowned upon by your classmates. I am not quite sure why. […] I think that people who speak Welsh at home, they have to follow the crowd. You know I didn’t speak Welsh to some people, because you wouldn’t want to be looked at strangely or you wouldn’t want someone to talk about you behind your back. So you do, as awful as it sounds, you do adjust to the people who you think they have more authority of you even though they don’t.

Similar practices of adjusting to the dominant or more prestigious group are also mentioned by the following young man, who started to pay attention to Welsh only after he left school:

S19M(W): I don’t mean it in a nasty way, but there were always “uncool” kids who spoke Welsh. And me, I didn’t want to be an “uncool” kid, and probably that’s why I didn’t speak Welsh at school.

Attitudes towards those who speak Welsh are influenced by a number of factors. A female student of a secondary school in Aberystwyth admits that a small group of Welsh-speaking people are accepted by virtue of their being generally likable. This is not a rule, though:

P16F(W): […] we are just crazy people, but we are quite popular at school. And if someone speaking Welsh is popular than it is fine. So I think we are quite lucky, ←55 | 56→you know. But I have a friend, also Welsh-speaking, but in school, she speaks English because no one else speaks Welsh there. She is not forced maybe, but they just think it’s a normal thing to do, to speak English. Because no one else is doing it [speak Welsh with each other].

A law student who decided to attend a Welsh-language university says that she has to confront the following attitudes:

I19F(W): “No one speaks Welsh anymore so why do you bother,” “You don’t need to be able to speak Welsh,” “You just need to speak English.”

Similar attitudes are cited by another Welsh university student of the same age:

J19F(W): […] a lot of people would tell you that there is no point to study in Welsh and that you would not get anywhere with it.

Such statements are backed by ideology. The state ensures the Welsh language the right to be present in all domains of public life, but this will not materialize there if there are no people who not only can, but also want to use it. Because of such opinions maintaining that speaking Welsh is pointless, all the effort put into its promotion may therefore not yield the expected results.

R20M(W): Yes, I hear every day some negative opinions about speaking Welsh, that I shouldn’t do this, that Welsh is a useless language. There is stuff in the English press all the time about how kids at schools are forced to speak Welsh. A lot of people complain about how much money goes on the Welsh language. Even if it is only about 3% of the Welsh Assembly budget that goes to the Welsh language.

One intern at a Welsh state institution complains about the impossibility of speaking Welsh in that institution and about a negative image being projected of the language. It has to be noted that negative opinions of the kind cited above are much more readily accepted when the economic situation deteriorates. The young activist therefore adopts an analytical approach to the position of Welsh: since the minority is always pushed to the margins, Welsh should be the first rather than the second language in Wales. He believes that as long as the situation does not change, English will always be the most highly valued on the linguistic market:

A20M(W): We’ve always been surrounded by the stronger neighbours. We turned out to have an inferiority complex, although I don’t feel it exist anymore but a lot of people think [that] if you want to have a good job, if you want to live in a city, if you want to cross the bridge you need to get rid of your sentiment to the language. It’s tricky because if you don’t want to be a minority you are fighting to re-establish Welsh as a majority language, to make it the main language of Wales. My reasoning is that Welsh is everyday language of many people in Wales but everybody, 100% knows English as well. So to make their life easier, they would speak English.

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Speaking a minority language as an expression of nationalism

In the wake of social movements aiming to protect minority languages, another language ideology appeared. Legitimized by states’ fear of minorities demanding independence, this ideology depicts people promoting minority languages as separatists or even fascists. In this way, minority activists are labelled as elements threatening the state’s integrity and interests. Such labels are applied mostly in Wales and Brittany, which do have a record of struggling for independence/autonomy and also for language rights. But even in Lusatia, merely speaking Sorbian in the public sphere and in front of German speakers may be considered radical (cf. Elle K., 2013: 76–79). Young people believe that this is a kind of obsession or fear of the unknown. As one Breton activist puts it:

K21F(B): There are people who attack us really aggressively, saying, for instance, that demanding that Breton should be an official language in Brittany makes for a nationalistic and isolationist attitude, that bilingual Breton-French schools are good for nothing, that teaching Breton is useless and that, if you want to attend a bilingual school, it’s much better to go to an English-French school. What else?… It’s very infrequent, but sometimes they treat us like fascists. What can you say, it’s just a phobia.

It is important to note that, among such critiques against Breton, one may sense the language ideologies of uselessness and accusations of nationalism and fascism. The latter are due to the historical context of the Breton movement, an extreme faction of which overtly proclaimed support for the Nazis during the Second World War, and also to France’s language policy, which sees using languages other than French as a threat to the state’s integrity. One Welsh activist has also encountered pejorative evaluations of efforts he made with his peers:

A20M(W): We were quite a forceful group within the school. We were used to being perceived as a sort of gang of people. We’ve been called Nazis, we’ve been called extremists, fascists… various things. At that time it hurt because we did not know why they are doing it. But now I know that it works like that. People were afraid of activists because they did not really understand what it was. They just couldn’t understand why other people want to change their mind. I think that’s the problem that people do not have enough education, people don’t know what the issues are. When they see someone campaigning for an issue, they don’t know why he is doing it, what is he doing, and they think it is against them.

This young man does not justify the negative attitude towards his activism supporting a minority language, yet he can understand its causes. At the same time he believes that education and being open towards multiculturality would lead to greater acceptance for pro-Welsh activity. But as long as ideologies and prejudices rule, such action evokes fear and rejection.

In Kashubia, accusations of separatist intensions have been levelled against the Association of People of Kashubian Nationality, Kaszëbskô Jednota. The origins of ←57 | 58→the association and its activities can be seen through the lens of the politicization of ethnicity or pluralization of identity discourses within minorities (Warmińska, 2013: 190). Neither the association’s official agenda, however, nor official statements made by its leaders include anything that could be interpreted as a threat to Poland sovereignty. The activists demand recognition for the Kashubs as a distinct nation from the Polish nation, their being granted the status of an ethnic minority in lieu of the present status of a group using a regional language, the prevention of discriminatory practices against Kashubs and the delimitation of sharper ethnic boundaries, which includes wider access to Kashubian as an element uniting the imagined Kashubian community. The group’s aims are elucidated by one of its supporters in the following way:

V20M(K): I’m very far from separatism, I don’t think that Kashubs should have their own government or that they should cut themselves off from Polish culture and have nothing to do with it because these cultures have permeated each other for hundreds of years. But they should be autonomous. I believe that a strong dose of cultural autonomy […] would really make for a modern state. […] If I could be a Polish citizen of Kashubian nationality, if I could have real influence on what is going on, I would fly the Polish flag next to the Kashubian flag. Because the Polish one would no longer stand for my being robbed of my identity, but for a state of which I could be proud.

The association’s activities met with a negative reception from the very beginning. This may have resulted from the debate initiated by its members concerning the commonly accepted model of the double identity of the Kashubs: a national Polish one plus a regional Kashubian one (Obracht-Prondzyński, 2003: 126–127). Demanding recognition for Kashubs as a nation could be interpreted as a desire to sever ties not only to Poland but also to those Kashubs who feel connected to Poland. Another reason why the association garners critique is that it overtly invokes an analogy to another minority in Poland, namely the Silesians, who have been fighting for recognition of the Silesian nation, and of the Association of People of Silesian Nationality and Silesian Autonomy Movement as representing that nation. It has to be noted that the Silesian issue has given rise to a number of controversies over the recent years (cf. Nijakowski, 2004; Sekuła, 2009; Kamusella, 2013), hence, by extension, Kaszëbskô Jednota acquired the reputation of being a radical and extremist organization, despite the fact that their official documents do not declare any such views. In my study carried out among young people, however, I was not interested in the views of all Kashubs as a whole, only in the views of people engaged in activities promoting Kashubian awareness. It follows from the statements by young people not associated with the Kashubian national movement, both recorded ones and spontaneous conversations, that many of them fear that some of the demands could in fact be harmful to Kashubia. What they feel is often a mixture of admiration for the fact that the “radical option” consistently speaks Kashubian and personal grudges stemming from behaviour on the part of their peers from Kaszëbskô Jednota; sometimes they simply absorb to the ←58 | 59→more widely dominant views about the organization. Their negative attitude may be also due to unfamiliarity with some of the nomenclature, especially confusing the notion of autonomy with that of separatism, or to personal interactions with young activists from this organization, who are sometimes seen as conceited and detached, and whose statements are often much more extreme than official declarations and may be even interpreted as negating the need to sustain any ties with Poland. One of the members of the Pomorania Students Club, a bastion of Polish-Kashubian identity says:

M22F(K): I’m annoyed by the separatist attitude, that these people consider themselves to be only Kashubs […] I’m annoyed that they don’t want to admit that they have anything to do with Poland. They were born here, they live here, they work here, the Polish state provides for them. But they don’t want to have anything to do with this Poland.

Young people from outside the national movement are afraid of being labelled “nationalists,” as was the case with the Bretons and the Welsh.

Lusatia – from quiet discrimination to overt hostility

It might seem that it is easier to oppose discrimination, an overt phenomenon, than covert language ideologies, deeply rooted in the subconscious. Discrimination based on culture, religion or language can be battled by means of arguments, or even prohibited by law. Language discrimination consists in unfair/humiliating treatment of a person because of the language they use and is strictly connected with the language ideologies prevalent in a given area: people who feel they are in a position of strength make judgements concerning the speakers of a certain language, their origins, character, as well as physical and mental predispositions. Such opinions lead to unfair treatment of individuals or communities considered inferior by the dominant group, as they are based on culturally, socially, economically and politically determined preferences maintaining that one language may be evaluated as better than another. Tove Skutnabb-Kangas called this kind of discrimination “linguicism,” and defined it as “ideologies, structures and practices which are used to legitimate, effectuate, regulate and reproduce an unequal division of power and resources (both material and immaterial) between groups which are defined on the basis of language” (Skutnabb-Kangas & Phillipson, 1989: 455). De facto, the difference between language ideologies and discriminatory practices is that the former deploy symbolic power as a tool, whereas the latter can resort to physical or mental violence. Their effects, however, are similar and include a feeling of inferiority, possibly resulting in a change of language practices. At this juncture, we should emphasize that the object of discrimination is not a language as such but the group using it. In other words, the evaluation of a language and its prestige derived from this evaluation are not based on any real linguistic or aesthetic factors but on the attitude with respect to its users. “Language, then, triggers certain reactions because of its associations with that which is really being ←59 | 60→judged – the group” (Edwards, 1996: 704). Owing to this, as Rosina Lippi-Green claims, ideologies created by dominant groups and practices resulting from them are a reason why individuals and groups are denied recognition of their legitimate rights (Lippi-Green 2012: 67).

There is a long history of German discrimination against the Sorbs. It includes open discrimination accompanied by physical violence, especially in the Nazi period, and symbolic harassment, such as acts of destroying Sorbian monuments, erasing Sorbian information from bilingual boards or painting anti-Sorbian graffiti, which is attested even nowadays (cf. Walde, 2012). In the German Democratic Republic, discrimination against and the lack of acceptance for the Sorbs were a taboo subject and it is only in recent years that social campaigns are implemented in order to sensitize the inhabitants of Lusatia to multiculturality (Ratajczak, 2011: 5). Most actions taken against the Sorbs are targeted at their language. I asked my interlocutors from all four minorities I studied about their negative experiences resulting from speaking a minority language or manifesting their ethnic identity. Only in Lusatia did this question set off an avalanche of stories, many of which expressed pain and trauma. Each of my interlocutors encountered situations in which they were forbidden to speak Sorbian, insulted or threatened with physical violence, although nobody reported the actual use of violence as punishment for speaking Sorbian. Young Sorbs often experience incidents when the language rights granted to them are breached by the Germans. One university student shares her memories:

O21F(S): While playing football we had many problems. […] Once it was like this: we came, prepared ourselves, we got changed, as usual. Obviously, we spoke Sorbian with each other. A referee approached to us and said, “it would be better if you spoke German on the pitch, so the other team could understand you, they don’t want this [Sorbian].” And we [said] “no.” Then she started: “you can’t use it, it is forbidden, you are not allowed to speak Sorbian and you will face consequences for it.” And we were like: “What? Wait a minute, we are on Sorbian speaking territory, where we can use this language even in court.” But we didn’t say that to her. She didn’t want to understand us and wanted to give us a warning. She was absent for a longer while and when she returned, she said that she called someone and that person had said that we are not allowed to speak Sorbian. And she wanted to punish us. […] That time I realized that Germans want to forbid us to use our language.

Confrontations between young people and older Germans, on whom they are dependent in many ways – in this case it was up to the German referee to decide if the Sorbs could participate in sports activities – are unequal by definition. Even though there are legal regulations granting the Sorbs the right to use their language in public life, including courts, institutions and most certainly a football pitch, if these regulations are not accepted by the Germans due to their unfamiliarity with the law or hostility towards the Sorbs, the latter find themselves in a difficult position. They can either demand respect for their rights by providing arguments, ←60 | 61→or – as was the case with these girls playing football – give up. Their first impulse was to oppose the referee’s unfair order but they were not confident enough to argue that they simply had a right to speak Sorbian. The referee on the other hand proved to be completely ignorant when she said she had taken a second opinion on the issue and assured the girls they were not allowed to speak Sorbian on the pitch.

The young Sorbs I interviewed spoke much about Germans expressing animosity towards Sorbian being spoken in their presence, since – allegedly – the Sorbs could be speaking badly about the Germans. This kind of negative attitude was documented in research conducted by Cordula Ratajczak (2009; 2011), who indicates that the Germans generally accept the Sorbian language as long as it is not used in their presence. The researcher dubs this the “acceptance paradox” (German: Akzeptanz-Paradox) (Ratajczak, 2011: 35–39). As has been pointed out, the attitude of the dominant group to the use of minority languages in public places is one of the most important factors affecting opinions on that language (Bradley, 2002: 1). In Lusatia this attitude is markedly negative:

N18M(S): Many times I heard [some Germans] say: “Why are you speaking Sorbian? We’re here too” – at school, for instance. One of my Sorbian friends and I always spoke Sorbian, and when this teacher was with us, she said “Speak German, please. We don’t understand when you’re speaking Sorbian.” I couldn’t quite understand why. They don’t mind that we are talking, but they are unhappy about not understanding us. Then they think we are gossiping about them. Pity they see it so negatively.

This young Sorb goes to a German school, so he is surrounded mostly by Germans. His schoolmates do not allow him to speak Sorbian with a few other Sorbs attending the school, fearing that the Sorbs may take advantage of the fact that the Germans do not understand their speech and conspire against them. They perceive the bilingualism of the Sorbs as a negative phenomenon, rather than a sign of the wealth of their region.18

Young Sorbs are afraid of the prospect of aggression on the part of the Germans, especially given that there are considerable numbers of Neo-Nazis in some areas located near Lusatia. As such, Sorbs may often hear remarks voiced by their followers, or merely reckless teenagers who repeat whatever sounds like an attractive slogan to them. One such comment is remembered by a Sorbian student:

P22M(S): What hurt me the most was when one [man] […] said “You’d have been the next after the Jews” or something like that. He meant that we were the next the Nazis wanted to kill off during the war.

←61 | 62→

Such comments are really hard to take for young Sorbs, especially since most of them declare a double identity and feel strong bonds to the German state (Šatava, 2005: 53–55; Tschernokoshewa, 2013). Still, they face the prospect of verbal or physical aggression in the lands where they are the indigenous population, because of their language, Sorbian identity and also for being Slavs.

It is typical of many victims to justify the behaviour of their oppressors (cf. Bourdieu & Wacquant, 1992). The Sorbs likewise tend to justify the anti-Sorbian views of some Germans, as characteristically expressed by the words of a student:

I22F(S): People from Budyšin are confronted with this every day, really. When the Germans have some antipathy they respond differently and tell us to speak German because they hear [Sorbian] every day and they’re fed up with it. But in Leipzig people know nothing about the Sorbs except in our dorm, other than that they don’t have any interactions with any Sorbs, so that’s possibly why they think it’s nice when they have a rare opportunity to meet a Sorbian student.

This young woman claims that the Germans living close to the Sorbs have a negative attitude towards them because of daily interactions between the two groups. At the same time, trying to prove that the attitude of the Germans coming from other German lands is positive, she incidentally discovers that in fact those Germans from other lands are unaware of the Sorbs’ existence rather than genuinely friendly towards them, so when they learn about the Sorbs, they approach them as a regional attraction. All in all, the Lusatian Germans generally do not accept the Sorbs, and other Germans have never heard of them. Aware of this situation, young Sorbs cease to use their language outside their home or to reveal their identity. For those who have experienced aggression, their family may be very helpful and offer support.

H25F(S): I think it was hard for me when I was a kid in Pančice, in a primary school and then secondary school, I had problems with the Germans who would say “you Sorbs don’t want to talk to us” or “speak German” or something like that. I grew up with that. And when you grow up like this, it can only get better later on. If you have a family, in whom you can confess and who will tell you “Listen, there’s nothing wrong with you, it’s OK to be like that,” who will not make you feel rejected, who will not most definitely tell you “don’t let anyone notice that you’re Sorbian,” but who will always stand by you, then I think it’s not difficult.

My interlocutors from the other minority groups rarely mentioned discrimination. One of the Kashubs recalled an unpleasant situation on a suburban railway train in Gdańsk, where a group of thugs attacked him and a friend, with whom he was speaking Kashubian. Yet despite an absence of overt hostility, many Welsh, Breton and Kashubian interviewees did talk about humiliation and ridicule. Young people are hit by the realization that individuals coming from the same region as them may not understand that their language is actually used by anyone for day-to-day ←62 | 63→communication. They reject it instead of being proud of it. This is how a Welsh student expresses his disillusionment:

L20M(W): It happened to us last Saturday, and it is happening all the time, that people get mad at you [because you speak Welsh]. You just go to the town and speak Welsh and then… I don’t know, they just say stuff like “What are you doing? Why you speak that?” I get really angry because… how can they say that, we do live in Wales, so we have to respect this [language]. They are students. Some of them are just teasing you, trying to make you angry. What shocks me really is that these people, lots of them are from Wales. And I think that’s really bad. Because they should respect it but they don’t.

State protection and language policy

The Kashubian language – change in status and prestige

Kashubian was not protected by the Polish state until the twenty-first century. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, it was considered to be bad-quality Polish, its autonomy from Polish was called into question, and it was subject to the politically motivated process of “dialectalization” (Kloss, 1967), especially under the communist rule. The use of Kashubian in the second half of the twentieth century was effectively curtailed by means of prohibitions and language ideologies, which led to a weakening of the intergenerational transmission and the language being pushed to the private sphere of life. Kashubian was a language of very low prestige resulting from previously existing associations and evaluation (Edwards, 1996: 703). For Jadwiga Zieniukowa (2006: 55), prestige is “the social position of a language, achieved on the one hand in the evaluation of its own speech community and on the other in the evaluation from outside, i.e. by other communities and the administration of the state on the territory of which this speech community, possibly being an ethnic community, lives.” Zieniukowa argues as well that while a prestigious language is considered valuable, a lack of prestige may result in “negative effects within the cultural, social and legal-political situation” of its users (2006: 55). Commonly thought of as a patois or subdialect (Polish: gwara), Kashubian did not have a standard spelling system, despite various attempts undertaken by the Kashubian community since the mid-nineteenth century (cf. Breza, 2001). Its speakers also believed their language was inferior, unsuitable for interactions outside the home, such as schools, towns or official meetings.

Since the early 1990s, following the change of the political system in Poland, steps were taken to draw up an act ensuring some rights and privileges to minorities in Poland. In the culturally homogeneous country that Poland then was, the status of the Kashubians as an ethnic group or speech community was far from obvious (Synak, 1998: 25–26; Obracht-Prondzyński, 2002: 322; Łodziński, 2007; Wicherkiewicz, 2014: 233–234). After many years of disputes, carried out within Kashubian communities as well, a compromise was reached: in the “Act on National ←63 | 64→and Ethnic Minorities and the Regional Language,” enacted in 2005, Kashubian was recognized as the only regional language in Poland. What might seem to be only a formality exerted a significant influence on the perception of Kashubian among the young generation. As aptly observed by Bernard Spolsky (2009: 1): “One fundamental fact about named varieties is that they are socially or politically rather than linguistically determined. A dialect becomes a language when it is recognized as such.” The following words by a Kashubian activist show that the change was real:

N22M(K): This language is important to us, we take pride in its being the only regional language in Poland so far, this brings about a lot of benefits and also boosts our sense of pride. Because a subdialect [gwara] is not the same. And a regional language is something more important, something that gives us strength and inspiration for further actions.

In this short statement, the young man underscores three important issues. First, Kashubian is Poland’s only regional language, which makes its speakers and other people symbolically connected to it feel unique. Second, the change of status brought about real benefits such as state funding for the protection and development of Kashubian, and this is something the young really appreciate. Third, by officially recognizing Kashubian as a language, the stigma of “subdialect” (the negatively connoted Polish term gwara) has been lifted, thereby providing young activists with additional motivation for getting involved. The claim that the status of being a language is tied to “power and prestige” (Jaffe, 2011: 208) is therefore true.

Very soon after the Polish act on minorities was passed, initiatives concerning Kashubian gained a lot of impetus, in terms of not only language policy19 but also prestige planning. This term was introduced by Harald Haarmann, to differentiate between initiatives aimed to promote a positive image of a language from initiatives aimed to change its political status. He claims that “not only the content of planning activities is important but also the acceptance or rejection of planning efforts” (Haarmann, 1990: 105), which implies that for a language policy to be successful, the local community must be prepared for the changes. In Kashubia this project proved to be successful. The new regulations helped accelerate the development of Kashubian, which gained a literary form and started to be used not only in publications dedicated especially to the Kashubs but also in the local press. The Kashubs learned to systematically take advantage of the rights they had obtained: bilingual signs appeared immediately in localities with a sufficient number of Kashubian inhabitants, the Kashubian language appeared in the media – first in local radio and TV stations financed from ministry funds and then in the private media; it found its way into the churches, which meant a great deal to religious people (cf. Zieniukowa, 2015); and, most importantly, it started to be taught in schools (cf. Wicherkiewicz, 2014: 239–244). All these phenomena were ←64 | 65→consolidated and intensified during the preparations for signing and ratifying the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages in 2009.

The ever-increasing presence of Kashubian came as a certain cultural shock for the young generation. A student majoring in Kashubian studies admits that when she was a child, anything Kashubian was kept hidden. She has the impression that in 2005 everything suddenly changed, as if by magic:

M22F(K): Things are definitely different now. […] I don’t remember a lot from my childhood […], being Kashubian wasn’t that much spoken about then. The boom started in 2005 when it was officially decided that Kashubian is a language, and not a dialect. In recent years everything has changed because Kashubian was recognized as a language, otherwise it wouldn’t have been possible.

In recent years, there have been a number of campaigns to promote the cause of the Kashubian language and culture. There are numerous Kashubian festivals and picnics, regional meetings, special days devoted to particular towns and localities, during which Kashubian flags, symbols, folkloric costumes, music and food can be seen, heard and tasted.20 “Kashubianness” is becoming increasingly visible, forming part of the cultural landscape of Pomerania. It is also beginning to be thought of as something positive, which is definitely worthwhile and which can be a source of pride. Young Kashubs note the change that has occurred in the cultural and linguistic life of Kashubia, and they are also aware of the change in attitudes:

D22F(K): It seems to me that recently being a Kashub is no longer thought of as something uncool or totally lame and that it’s not embarrassing to own up to your identity. There’s no denying that was a common way of thinking. They thought, “oh my goodness, if I tell them I’m from Kashubia I’ll be a target of ridicule, they’ll think I’m stupid and who knows what else.” Now people are no longer embarrassed, on the contrary, I think they rightly believe that they have something extra, something to show to others, they are unique. They aren’t just ordinary Poles like everyone else, but they have something more. […] and also because the news is spreading that it can be developed, it is possible to learn the language at school, etc.

Thanks to activities promoting the Kashubian identity, it is gaining recognition in the public sphere, which in turn attracts new people who join in and create new cultural events. In this way, “Kashubianness” is becoming fashionable: it is widely spoken and written about. This new dimension of the Kashubian cause impacts on the everyday lives of average Kashubs, at the same time inspiring Kashubian elites to undertake further actions to strengthen the Kashubian spirit and to create a supra-local community. These initiatives include annual Kashub Reunions, the Kashubs’ Unity Day, and a new Kashubian Flag holiday. Celebrations of this kind ←65 | 66→can be considered “invented traditions” which, through their symbolism and cyclic character, serve the purpose of “establishing or symbolizing social cohesion or the membership of groups, real or artificial communities” (Hobsbawm, 1983: 9). The Kashubian symbols exploited at such celebrations include flags, the Kashubian griffin, “Kaszëbë” bumper stickers, black and yellow shirts, outfits with Kashubian embroidery, the presence of people wearing Kashubian folk costumes, Kashubian music, and Kashubian-speaking hosts at picnics and festivals. By appealing to the sensibilities and imagination of the Kashubs, they reinforce the feeling that their culture can indeed be considered important and interesting. At the same time, through group participation, bonds are forged with Kashubs from beyond people’s circles of personal acquaintances (cf. Mazurek, 2010: 292–298). The Kashubian language and identity are present and increasingly accepted. One of my interlocutors drew a significant parallel:

G25F(K): I think yes, [the Kashubs] are slowly opening up. I don’t know how the Kashubs could be worse than other ethnic groups. In the same way as gender identity issues function alongside other views, Kashubian culture has become part of the reality.

Interest in Kashubian culture gradually ceases to be perceived as a sign of backwardness or oddity. On the contrary, it is beginning to be seen as a sign of originality and creativity, distinguishing young Kashubs engaged in culture-promoting activities from those who are not involved.

Brittany – unappreciated state aid

Despite the fact that France’s language policy concerning minorities has changed considerably in recent years, the changes were not sufficiently conspicuous or condensed in time for the minorities to notice them immediately, as was the case of Kashubia in Poland. In fact, the language policy in France is orientated towards protecting the Republic as a single indivisible entity, with French being the only language. Minorities are a threat to this idea, originating from the French revolution and reinforced by the introduction of obligatory education in French in 1882 (cf. Hagège, 2006). It was in the latter half of the twentieth century that minority languages found a certain limited place in schools, regional media and the state in general. However, as Michael Hornsby (2010: 82) writes, they are still perceived as a threat to national unity and the universalism of French culture. This is evidenced by the fact that French politicians remain reluctant to ratify the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, even though since 2008 the constitution includes a clause recognizing regional languages as part of France’s heritage (on language rights in France cf. Garabato, 2013; Woehrling, 2013).

To claim that there are no instruments for protecting such languages as Breton would be unfounded, however. Such instruments are the result of many years of struggle by language activists, who had to have much determination and stamina, as they were condemned by society (cf. Nicolas, 1982; 2012). But through their ←66 | 67→efforts, in 1977 the Charter of Breton Culture (Charte culturelle bretonne / Karta Sevenadurel Breizh) was signed, establishing many important Breton institutions, such as the Council for the Culture of Brittany (Conseil culturel de Bretagne / Kuzul Sevenadurel Breizh) dealing with language planning and other issues, the Institute of the Culture of Brittany (Institut Culturel de Bretagne) and after many years, the Public Office for the Breton Language (Office Public de la langue bretonne / Skol-Uhel ar Vro).

Change in Brittany was gaining momentum, with numerous initiatives and organizations facilitating the introduction of Breton into various domains of life (cf. Dołowy-Rybińska, 2011). All this, however, was accompanied by anti-minority attitudes manifested by many politicians, upholding a distinctly Jacobin image of France, with control over its citizens and denying space to any who do not meet all the conditions sanctioned by the state.

Brittany gained a strong regional identity as a land with characteristic Celtic culture (cf. Favereau, 2005). Moreover, institutions were established to ensure the preservation and development of the Breton language, bilingual and Breton-language schooling flourished, spending on the protection of regional minority languages increased significantly21 and so did support for initiatives promoting Breton (Broudic, 2009: 149). Despite all these changes, however, few Bretons feel an urge to participate in any political or cultural activity for the sake of the Breton language. Also in the public discourse, such activities are barely mentioned, mostly due to fears of being accused of nationalistic propaganda, so there is only a niche for those who are already interested in Breton. It has to be kept in mind, though, that the generation born in the 1990s did not participate in the powerful political-cultural movement on behalf of the cause of Breton and Brittany that their parents once formed. Today all the issues connected with protecting the Breton language have come into an institutional framework and participation in Breton culture has lost the advantage of being seen as something adventurous or rebellious. As a result, young people believe that no one, except those learning Breton, actually takes any interest in the language. At the same time, the group of learners is increasing in size, including not only children of Breton activists (cf. Pentecouteau, 2002), but also individuals who plan to find a job connected with the Breton language, subsidized by the state or regional authorities. A one university student says:

H20M(B): I think that those who learn Breton are aware of the obligation to protect minority languages and cultures. This seems obvious, but not in France, which is a Jacobin state par excellence. So here, it is an enormous step forward. Of course, people who learn Breton at language courses may have all sorts of motivations. I don’t know all of them. It’s very diversified, which is a good thing because it means that there are more and more possibilities. For some people it is connected ←67 | 68→with their profession, for instance in France3 anyone can enrol in a six-month course to become a bilingual journalist or film technician. In my opinion this shows that Breton has been reclaimed by people as the group studying it is getting increasingly varied.

This statement characteristically departs from a critique of France’s attitude towards minority languages – as a Jacobin state, generally negatively disposed towards all initiatives supporting minorities – but it also acknowledges opportunities for those who want to learn the language. These are in turn seen as conducive to the Breton community opening up to individuals who do not have natural ties to the language and may have aims other than language activism.

With Breton facing a dramatic drop in the number of speakers, the regional language policy is orientated mostly towards attracting people potentially interested in learning the language. In recent years intensive six-month Breton courses have become popular, after which one can obtain qualifications as a language teacher. This appears to be an attractive opportunity, since there are not enough Breton teachers, especially those able to teach in Breton. In the eyes of young activists, however, both the awareness that such courses are available and demand for them are still low. One university student, asked specifically about the courses, had this to say:

J21M(B): There are few people who want to become teachers and stay in Brittany. When they speak Breton, they can be certain they will stay in Brittany. So perhaps some of them may take advantage of that. […] The region accepted a plan and supports educating Breton-language teachers, but still there are not enough of them. Every year a large number of posts for teachers remain vacant. People aren’t hugely interested in these jobs.

NDR: Why do you think that is?

J21M(B): I think these people are not Breton native speakers and they don’t feel connected to Breton culture, so they have no natural interest in it. Or they don’t really feel familiar with Breton culture. They may not be even aware that there is such a plan. Some incentives have to be offered, but it’s not easy.

Even those who tend to blame the French authorities for this situation cannot fail to notice that there is no shortage of opportunities, but the Bretons and other potential Breton speakers are not necessarily interested in them.

Lusatia – a defensive stance

The protection granted to the Sorbs by the Germans as well as the language policy implemented in Lusatia can be considered a model for other regions. The Sorbs obtained rights as a minority in 1948, when the Act on the Protection of Lusatian People, known as “the Lusatian Law” (Sorbian: Serbski zakoń) was passed, guaranteeing legal protection and state patronage for the language, cultural initiatives and development. A full organizational and institutional ←68 | 69→infrastructure was created in order to cater to the needs of the minority, including Sorbian-speaking schools, pedagogical and academic institutions, a publishing house, daily newspapers, radio programs, musical bands and folklore groups. The Sorbian language was allowed to be used in public offices and state institutions for the first time in history, but the Sorbian community was at the same time under the control of by Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED) (cf. Dołowy-Rybińska, 2013b). After the reunification of Germany in 1990, the Sorbs retained their privileges and institutions, which then started to be financed by the lands inhabited by the Sorbs, i.e. Saxony and Brandenburg, as well as the federal budget. The Foundation for the Sorbian People was established, although the funding at its disposal has not been increased, despite inflation. The new political situation bringing freedom of choice to the Sorbs turned out to be more perilous to the minority than living under the communist-era regime. It resulted in a strong migration out of Lusatia, especially of young people who are unable to find employment in their home region. The number of mixed marriages has grown, in which Sorbian may not be the language spoken to children, and generally, the Sorbs integrate with the Germans, blurring ethnic boundaries. In an attempt to salvage the situation, the Sorbs established a new educational institution, called the WITAJ Language Center (cf. Elle, 2014). Despite the pro-active language policy, many Sorbian schools have been closed or merged with German schools, due to an insufficient number of Sorbian pupils. Needless to say, this contributes to language change in these schools.

The official German policy towards the Sorbs cannot be blamed for the decline of Sorbian. Germany has signed and ratified international conventions and charters of minority languages, the constitutions of the respective German lands guarantee the rights of the Sorbs (Elle, 2014), and the minority is subsidized. At the same time, as was mentioned before, the general atmosphere among the dominant German culture in Lusatia is not friendly towards the presence of the Sorbs and their language in public life. Thus, the legislation provides the necessary means but there is no practice supporting the minority. The Germans are not the only ones to be held responsible for this situation, as the Sorbs themselves are not active enough in demanding respect for their rights. It is plausible that they adopted a passive stance during the communist era and also in the years following German reunification, when everything was provided to them (Dołowy-Rybińska, 2014). As a consequence of all the historical, economic and cultural factors taken together, the preferred strategy among the Sorbs of coping with German hostility towards their language and culture and also with efforts to curtail the use of Sorbian in institutions, schools or sports clubs is not to rebel, and therefore to fight back, but to passively submit, to turn a blind eye to harassment. Here is how one secondary school student comments on the typical behaviour of the Sorbs:

D17M(S): There was no reason [to forbid the Sorbs to speak Sorbian in the football team]. I wouldn’t say it was bad that he told us not to speak Sorbian because everyone else is German there, but we still talked in Sorbian among ourselves, ←69 | 70→when they couldn’t hear us. It’s no use fighting, but simply go on speaking Sorbian. Then the Germans might notice it isn’t a problem.

The young man’s main point was that when the Germans are not listening, the Sorbs can talk in Sorbian with friends. But the passive resignation is still present there, which also means accepting the fact that the Sorbs are not allowed to speak their language in public places. This secondary-school student says that rule-breaking – what he is talking about is a ban on using Sorbian issued by the team coach, not merely the unfriendly attitude on the part of other students – was actually nothing “bad.” This is something the Sorbs have to accept, as reflected also in the following statement by a university student specializing in Sorbian studies:

O21F(S): I attend the same class as a friend of mine, who is also Sorbian. We were speaking Sorbian to each other when someone said “hey, they’re laughing at us” so we said it wasn’t true. But then we started speaking German because of this. Then the Germans can understand and they know we aren’t gossiping about them.

It is easier for the Sorbs to switch to German than to openly confront the attitudes of German speakers, explaining to them what multilingualism is about. The strategy that has been applied by the Sorbian community for a long time is known as “parallel biculturality,” which involves being accepted by the dominant culture so long as the two cultures do not interact (Ratajczak, 2011: 39–43): the weaker party tries to remain invisible and to avoid irritating the stronger party. But this strategy is adopted not only by the young inhabitants of Lusatia; Sorbian institutions also write letters to state institutions in German to avoid causing inconvenience or to better please the addressee, and so perhaps be more effective. This, however, may threaten the future of the Sorbian language.

Wales – application of the model language policy

Wales is exceptional as compared to the other language minorities. First and foremost it has administrative boundaries, and a history distinct from the history of England, as well as the ideological foundations of a national movement (Fowler, 2001: 3) that are still reflected in cultural and language activities carried out today. The language policy currently conducted in Wales is virtually ideal. The movement for the Welsh language has a long history, with its peak falling on the 1960, when Saunders Lewis, one of the founders of the national party Plaid Cymru, pointed out that the Welsh language was on track to disappear at the beginning of the twenty-first century unless political measures were taken to protect it. His speech is treated as a founding act of the association Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg, a pressure group fighting for the recognition and protection of Welsh. The movement was so influential that in the 1970s bilingual road signs appeared and bilingualism started to be introduced into local institutions, post offices and other public places. In 1982 the Welsh TV channel BBC S4C was set up, which gradually turned into a Welsh-language channel (Phillips, 2000). The Education Reform Act of 1988 established ←70 | 71→Welsh as an obligatory first or second language in primary education. Since 1991 many local cells of the organization Menter Iaith have been established, which undertake initiatives to boost the range and prestige of Welsh in a given area. In 1993 the Welsh Language Act was passed, in which it gained the status of an official language in the public sector of Wales. On the strength of this act the Welsh Language Board was appointed, to oversee the implementation of Welsh language policy. In 2012 this institution was replaced by the Welsh Language Commissioner. In 1997 the process of devolution was launched, leading to the establishment of National Assembly for Wales (cf. Toszek & Kużelewska, 2011: 88–99) and to enhanced political autonomy. In 2011 the Welsh language obtained the status of an official language of Wales. Even though the institutions and acts did not automatically solve all the problems of the Welsh language, they laid the foundations enabling Welsh activists, politicians and revitalizers to move “from acts to action” (Williams, 2010).

Although the rate of Welsh speakers in Wales is about 19% and is on the decline, because the language is widely supported by ordinary people and institutions, some researchers (cf. Jones, 1998a: 17) nevertheless consider it to be an expanding language. The practical implementation of the legally binding language rights is carefully supervised by the state and local institutions, as well as by activists. After the long tradition of struggle and success that came in several steps, the language awareness in Wales is much stronger than in the other regions discussed in this study. The majority of Welsh people may not actively demand respect for their language rights, but those who are conscious of the value of their language and know the history of the struggle for it do strive to fully exercise their rights. The young Welsh people I interviewed told me that their rights are often not respected. This does not mean, however, that the situation of the Welsh is worse than that of the other minority languages I studied; rather, the young activists’ commitment to the cause means that they have a greater awareness of their language and rights than other minority speakers. As can be gleaned from the statements of my interlocutors, speaking Welsh outside home is far from easy, despite the official language policy. The following student from Cardiff says:

C21M(W): The Welsh language gets ignored. I try to use Welsh all the time but… for example when I need to fill in a form at University I want this form in Welsh. Which I can’t have anyway, but I report it. The woman on the phone says, “you can’t have it in Welsh,” and say “Yes, I can.” She said that I am complaining, that I am an arrogant person, that the Welsh community have unreasonable demands, that the Welsh language is too expensive… And all I asked for is a form! [For that reason] we are accused of being arrogant. Just [because] of the language we want to use.

This situation illustrates the importance of the general public attitude to the necessity of rescuing a minority language. Someone asking for respect for fundamental language rights often faces lack of understanding or even accusations of contributing to an economic crisis in Wales, allegedly caused by a lot of money being ←71 | 72→spent on revitalizing Welsh. As another university student says, her enthusiasm to study through the medium of Welsh was also undermined by the attitude of the employees of an institution, which is theoretically obliged to offer help:

N22F(W): The main one, I think, was in my first year at University when I wanted to do my degree through the medium of Welsh. Legally it is my right but they really made me feel like I was making a big fuss, doing personal harm to them. Like they had more work because of me. And they were like “oh, you want to do it because you can’t speak properly [in English]. Don’t worry, we will help you.” And I just wanted to do it in Welsh for myself, not because I couldn’t do it in English. So it was a really frustrating experience. […] They really made it hard for me to make Welsh the language of my education so I just gave up.

This young woman felt humiliated by the reaction she received from these people. She realized that the university staff was playing out the prevalent language ideology that one cannot be a bilingual person: either you speak English fluently, or you speak Welsh. Because of that they saw her desire to obtain a degree through the medium of Welsh as a symptom of insufficient competence in English. It has to be noted that in Wales there are many programs taught in Welsh at universities, and some of them offer scholarships to students doing their degrees in this language. Despite these possibilities, young people have to fight to have their rights respected, as this student in a bilingual grammar school attests:

J19F(W): When I was in the sixth form and I wanted to do drama, it was all through the medium of English. And I wanted to do it in Welsh but no one else wanted to do it with me in Welsh because maybe they did not feel comfortable enough in Welsh. So then I was looking for someone who would have helped me and teach me practical things on stage through the medium of Welsh. I found one person but she said “no, sorry.” But it was a bilingual school. And that time I did go complain to the teacher but there was no reaction. She said I’ve got to find someone by myself.

This young woman finally got her way. She found a person who agreed to work with her and the school had to accept this solution, fearing that otherwise they would be reported to the local authorities. The conclusion to be drawn, therefore, is that may that public institutions implement bilingualism as long as someone overtly demands it. In the words of young people, this requires a continuous struggle to have the legally enshrined language rights actually respected in practice. This is the same struggle that was initiated by the generation of their parents, whose protests won them the above-mentioned legal regulations. But as the young people point out, today, once these regulations are operational, people seem to care less, instead just taking for granted that the language is protected. As Joshua Fishman (1991) writes, the struggle for a minority language is never-ending. Resting on one’s laurels, grounded in the assumption that the language rights have at long last been secured inevitably, leads to a weakening of the language:

NDR: And do you think that politics now influences the Welsh identity?

←72 | 73→

I19F(W): Yeah, I think it has been like this. Politics was influential in the 1960s and 70s, with all the rebellions, burning and smashing signs, and protesting. It gave Welsh politics a violent name. And it was important because they achieved a lot through that. Whereas now, especially Plaid Cymru, I think it is miserable, they are pathetic, they don’t really do anything, they don’t really have a reason to fight for anything. And I think it makes Welsh politics a little bit softer at the moment.

Effects of language policy in the perception of the young

The processes described above can be referred to as the politicization of ethnicity. They involve a minority group realizing and then further elevating the awareness of its cultural distinctiveness, which provides an incentive to get organized to ensure rights for the group. What originates as a spontaneous social movement turns into institutionalized and planned action, and minority groups begin to be involved in identity politics (Gergen, 1999; Eriksen, 1995; 2010; Warmińska, 2013). The last several decades have seen a number of major changes in the language policies implemented in Europe and also significant shifts in the discourse on minority languages. These developments can be looked upon from the perspective of a rising awareness about the linguistic wealth of the world and its significance for preserving the cultural diversity and ecological balance of the old continent (cf. Nettle & Romaine, 2000).

Scrutinizing the minority-language discourse further, we can notice that it in fact reflects economic problems. As Alexandre Duchêne and Monica Heller (2012) note in their book about language in late capitalism, based on Pierre Bourdieu’s concept, the discourse on languages, including minority ones, oscillates between “pride” and “profits,” i.e. between the feeling of belonging to a community, the social capital resulting therefrom, and the value of language skills on the markets opening up thanks to policies being implemented. The two stances appear to be contradictory. On the “pride” side, there is integration, emotions, authenticity and solidarity, whereas on the “profits” side there is instrumentalism, rationality, strategy and power.22 Against this background, researchers, politicians and ordinary people develop a new ideology concerning their language. Its symbolic and economic value rises so high that it is now looked upon as a commodity that should be managed, measured and controlled. Sociolinguistic statistics, research on language practices and perhaps even regulations and language rights can also be seen as part of the language strategy so conceived. To use the term coined by Michael Foucault (1991), nowadays we observe language “governmentality” (French: governmentalité), a phenomenon in which society subjects itself to control, ←73 | 74→at the same time thinking that it is simply following its own needs. The financial support received by minorities as well as the type of language policies conducted by states and minorities alike imposed a strict formalization on the way minority languages are conceptualized and acted upon, i.e. through grants, regulations, or dominant and subsequently internalized discourses (cf. Urla, 2012b). Under such circumstances, despite the increasing rights, funding and institutional support, there is a lack of grassroots initiative, as noted by many young activists, including this Welsh woman:

N22F(W): Well, it could go in a lot of different ways. Like with the cuts. Like people, for example, were able to make their own baskets and then the factories came and everyone was employed by the factories and they forgot the skills they had before. And that may be happening now because when lots of the state funding came people used them to do things for the Welsh culture. Now the state funding diminishes because of the cuts. And people, I think, they lost their self-drive because they do not have the skills they used to drive on to make things happening in Welsh. So I think now it will take years before people start to do things on their own.

This statement expresses sentiment for a simple life, but it also contributes an important observation that the skills for acting outside of the subsidized and politically accepted schemata have been lost. One Breton teenager notes that in all the activities and measures implemented today, people are lacking in passion and determination to pursue values beyond what is offered by state-funded institutions:

G16M(B): Today in Brittany we receive ample financial support from the French authorities. A lot of money. So what exists here today has been created thanks to, or through the actions of the French state. So we have this here… Anyway, the Bretons have benefited a lot from French programs and I think that because of the money France donated it is no longer perceived as an aggressor. Perhaps when the money is no longer available, people will turn towards cultural values, but I don’t know, I can’t predict the course of history, it just seems to me that it may happen, people may turn towards cultural values, towards their homeland and things that are much more essential […]

According to this secondary school student, when France had been seen as an aggressor, the Bretons were more consolidated in their struggle, initiating activities based on their own tradition and patterns. Then, due to state funding, the minority issues became fully steered by state policy. The same problem is mentioned by a Sorbian secondary school student:

T17M(S): [It’s] easier than it used to be. I mean, for instance, in the Prussian times, Sorbs were persecuted. Back then we were not allowed to speak Sorbian at school, in the village or at Sorbian and German meetings. That’s why it’s important that Sorbs received some support in the socialist era and since then it’s been much easier to be a Sorb. However, in my opinion, since the time when it became easier, ←74 | 75→being Sorbian has been dying out. When there were oppressions, as in the Prussian times, we all felt stronger as Sorbs because we all supported one another. Now, as you can do whatever you want, people no longer support one another. […] There’s no pressure on Sorbs, we get support from the Germans. If things were different, there would be some national movements, Sorbs would get organized, they would do everything by themselves. We got what we wanted. That’s my opinion. Lusatia got lazy because of the German support and now it’s getting smaller.

This young man points out that when the Sorbs had to struggle for survival and cope with overtly hostile policy, they had the motivation to struggle for their identity. Once their existence as an ethnic group became secured, they ceased to be actively involved and, consequently, ceased to be on a constant alert about the condition of the Sorbian identity. Moreover, he goes on to say that if state support backs off, that would mean a reinstatement of the previous conditions, including struggle for survival and rights. This shows that young people’s attitudes to language policies are highly idealistic: they expect minority culture to equip them with values giving them strength and motivation to take action. On the other hand, they are aware that the extant system offers many privileges to minorities, but at the cost of imposing rigid frames upon them.

←75 | 76→←76 | 77→

5 This process may have been accelerated by the political transformation that took place in Poland in the early 1990s, significantly changing young people’s lifestyles.

6 As Synak notes, Kashubian intelligentsia frequently considered Kashubian to be a symbol, rather than a means of communication (1998: 198).

7 Diwan is a network of immersion associative schools in Brittany.

8 This is corroborated by the findings of sociolinguistic research: 70% of learners studying Breton declared that neither of their parents spoke Breton to them (Broudic, 2009: 137).

9 During the communist era, the number of Sorbs was invariably reported as 100,000. The data, however, was not based on any sociological studies (cf. Elle, 2011).

10 In what follows, the terms “the Sorbs” and “the Sorbian language” will be used in reference to Upper Sorbs and Upper Sorbian.

11 A female participant of a Catholic procession, wearing a traditional outfit.

12 See: Office for National Statistics,

13 High unemployment in Wales, the closure of coal mines under Thatcher and a general social dissatisfaction became stimuli uniting the Welsh, who had not claimed political independence before, but rather demanded ethnic, linguistic and cultural recognition (cf. Toszek & Kużelewska, 2011: 13–51).

14 Some activists have posited that the divisions between Welsh-speaking and non-Welsh speaking Wales are played up artificially in order to instigate conflicts among members of the community. An activist of Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg (the Welsh Language Association) once said “It is one Wales, yes, definitely. There is no part of Wales that I would say ‘that’s not Wales, that’s not Welsh.’ A lot of people try to play Welsh people, Welsh speakers and non-Welsh speakers, against each other saying ‘oh if we do this it will create a divide between Welsh-speakers and non-Welsh speakers.’ But that is not true. There is so much support for the Welsh language [from some non-speakers]. Are there some who are against the Welsh language? Of course, there are, but that does not change the point. The Welsh language does bring people together and gives us a sense of unity. But just living in Wales and being a part of Wales also brings people together.”

15 Researchers studying Wales and Brittany often apply a division into traditional communities, i.e. North-West Wales vs. the other part of Wales, and Lower Brittany vs. Upper Brittany. It should be noted, however, that due to the language processes that occurred in these areas in the latter half of the twentieth century the differences between the respective communities have been fading, even though they may still be significant in some respects. Still, failing to take into account the perspective of the minority as a whole may result in overlooking new phenomena and processes.

16 As one of the ideologically-motivated measures, negatively charged terms such as “patois” or “substandard variety” or “subdialect” may be used to refer to a specific linguistic system, instead of “language” (compare the Polish term gwara).

17 An image that has to a large extent been popularized by products of French culture, the media and tourism (cf. Schrijver, 2006).

18 This kind of attitude is widely attested across Europe, where the ideology of monolingualism as a desirable and positive phenomenon is deeply rooted (cf. Blommaert & Verschueren, 1998).

19 For more on language policy and planning in Kashubia, see Wicherkiewicz, 2014: 256–265.

20 The significance of these symbols by far exceeds the mere visual presence of the Kashubs, as they also contribute to the creation and reinforcement of the Kashubian linguistic, national and ethnic community. Cf. Billig, 1995.

21 Many institutions deal not only with Breton, but also with the other language of Brittany, Gallo.

22 These categories as defined by Duchêne and Heller (2012) were discussed by Jacqueline Urla at the plenary lecture Landscapes of Language Ideology: Pride, Profit and Governmentality of the conference “New Speakers in a Multilingual Europe: Opportunities and Challenges,” Barcelona 2014.