Sunday, March 14, 2010

How I Learned Your Language – part 1 Kashubian

This is going to be an interesting post for two reasons:

a)      most of you have never heard of Kashubian
b)      I myself don’t remember learning the language so it kind of doesn't fit into the series

To begin with, in order to raise your interest, here are some little-known facts about Kashubian(s) :)
  • Kashubians are believed to have black palates
  • A typical Kashubian wedding lasts 3 days. Day 1 (usually Friday) – on a wedding day's eve everyone gathers in the bride’s house and breaks empty bottles on the doorstep and drinks vodka. Day 2 (usually Saturday) – the actual wedding takes place and everyone drinks vodka. Day 3 (usually Sunday) – everyone has fun at the after-the-wedding party and drinks vodka (in shots). 
  •  Kashubians have always felt Polish and never strove for independence
  • There is a Kashubian community in Canada

And here is my story:

Until recently, Kashubian has been considered a dialect of Polish, spoken in the north of the country in a region called Pomerelia. A few years ago it has been granted the status of an official regional language and nowadays students can learn it at school. There are many sites dedicated to spreading Kashubian culture, language and traditions. You can even listen to Radio Kaszebe.

Years ago, on the other hand, the situation was totally different. My parents’ generation was picked on and punished for speaking Kashubian at school. They spoke Kashubian at home but never learned to read or write in it. Obviously they know Polish as well so I guess they might be called bilingual.

I grew up in a village (crucial factor - that’s where the language is usually spoken) and all the people in my family know Kashubian. I always thought it’s almost the same as Polish but apparently speakers of Polish, who don’t know it, can’t understand it at all.

My parents talk to each other, their siblings and parents in this very language. Yet they never spoke it to me. Even when my grandma asked me questions in Kashubian I always answered in Polish and nobody saw anything strange in it. As a result, me and my cousins i.e. the younger generation fully understand Kashubian but can’t speak it.

By ‘can’t speak it’ I mean produce extended stretches of utterance without hesitation causing strain. To be honest, any real ‘Kaszeba’ will immediately figure out that I’m not a ‘native’.

Who am I then?
Can I consider myself bilingual?
I always thought of myself as a weirdo but maybe that’s what happens to children brought up in bilingual families?

What do you think? Have you had similar experiences? 

As always, I'd love to hear your stories :)


  1. Hi Anita

    This is a really interesting post and I can associate with it in a way. My parents brought me up in England always speaking the Abruzzese dialect to me, which is very different from the usual Italian studied at school. I in return only ever answered in English, together with my sisters. Therefore, to this day, my parents speak to me in Abruzzese and I reply in English. I fully understand the dialect and can speak it, but everyone knows that I'm not really a native, whenever I use it in the local village here in Abruzzo!

    Like you, am I bi-lingual because I understand Abruzzo dialect and Italian, even though I give myself away as soon as I utter a phrase? I certainly don't think you are a "weirdo" at all!!

    Thank you for explaining about "Kashubian", which I have to confess, I had never heard of before. It's nice to learn something new!

  2. Hi Janet,

    Great to see you here!

    I'm really pleased to know there are more people like me in the world ;)

    I've never heard of the Abruzzese dialect either so I guess we both learned something. How different is it from Italian?

    Thanks for the comment!

  3. Hi Anita,

    That's really interesting - I too had not hear of Kashubian and had to Wikipeadia it. Do you yourself view it as a language or a dialect? I find it interesting what people who speak languages and dialects think about their own language/dialect. For example, a Catalan would probably think very little of you if you called Catalan a 'dialect'. I've got some experience of this myself, living in Galicia and Navarra in Spain where, respectively, there are galego and euskera spoken - more on that in my guest post ;o)

    As for your question about being bilingual - I guess it depends on your definition of 'bilingual'. I looked on Wikipeadia and found this Interesting, eh? You might be tri or more lingual??

  4. Hi Mike!

    Thanks for mentioning the different definitions of bilingualism - you definitely gave me some food for thought!

    Honestly speaking I always felt Kashubian was a dialect though apparently it's not.

    Waiting for your guest post!

  5. Hi Anita

    The Abruzzo spoken dialect is quite different in some cases from the classic textbook Italian. I don't think it sounds as melodious, and it's a little bit rougher around the edges, perhaps. If I can find some good examples, I would like to write a post about it one day to compare the two.

  6. Hi Anita

    Interesting post. I've met plenty of Poles in Canada but none who say they were Kushubian.
    Your story about being or not being bilingual makes me think of many Canadians whose parents speak another language at home, but their children respond to them in English. Usually as these children get older they regret not speaking the language more with their folks. They then firmly try to bring it back into the home when they have children themselves.
    If you have children, will you want them to speak/understand Kashubian?
    Another thing that is interesting I think is how the internet is great for preserving small languages such as this ( well, I'm assuming Kashubian is quite a small language). That's a very positive thing.

  7. Hey Lindsay,

    Sure I'd like mu kids to be able to learn or at least understand Kashubian. It all depends on who I'm going to marry though - my cousin married a fellow Kashubian and their son will surely know the language well.

    Kashubian is a small language indeed and it's awesome how the internet helps us preserve it - luckily our local government is doing a lot to promote and preserve it too.

    I guess you've inspired me to write a post about disappearing languages soon. Thanks! :)

  8. Hi Anita,

    Had a similar exerience growing up in a small area in northeast South Dakota, USA. There is a small town that was settled by mostly Kashubian immigrants. The second generation, my father and mother, grew up speaking Kashubian at home but did not pass it on to the third generation. We had a distant relative from Poland visit a few years ago where my father still lives and my father and the relative could easily hold a conversation in Kashubian although it had been a long time since my father spoke the language. My wife is Russian and my father has fun teasing my wife in Kashubian and my wife can mostly understand what he says.
    There are many of my generation, i.e., the third that could be considered 100% Kashubian. But now, the fourth generation has married away.
    Anyway, do you have any suggestions on language learning materials? I have been searching the Internet and have found dictionaries but no recorded learning courses.
    BTW, I have ties to the Wejherowo, Luzino, Puck, Ugoszcz areas and others.
    Thank you.

  9. Hi Joe!
    Seems like we have ties in the same places - my family lives very close to Wejherowo :)
    Not sure I can help you with any learning materials - try searching 'Rodno Zemia' on youtube maybe - they used to have a learning section there.