Silesian: A Language or a Dialect?

Language and the Making of Nations
British Library, London
Friday 14 November 2014
A Language or a Dialect?
Dr Tomasz Kamusella
University of St Andrews
Upper Silesia: Dialect Continua, 1910
Upper Silesia: Dialect Continua, Today
Germanisms or Upper Silesian Creole?
Renewal in the
2002: PL census > 60,000 Silesian-speakers, 173,000 members of the Silesian nation
2003: First-ever Silesian-language publisher established (Ślōnsko Nacyjno Ôficyno)
2007: ISO693-3 registration code szl for the Silesian language
2008: Silesian Wikipedia
2008: First Conference on the Silesian language/dialect, Katowice
2009: Standardization of Silesian orthography; 1st book in this orthography (Óndra
Lysohorsky (sic) (Erwin Goj). Spiwajuco piaść. )
2011: PL census > 0.53 m Silesian-speakers, 0.85 m members of the Silesian nation
Scholarly article in Standard Silesian and Polish (2011, Tartu, Estonia)
Silesian for Spanish- and Portuguese-speakers,
TV News in Silesian,
Plays in Silesian,
Silesian primers
Silesian-language keyboard,
Airplane safety instructions in
Silesian blog in
a mainstream
Dialect or Language?
• Dialect: the language variety (lect) of a speech community,
employed by this community to distinguish itself from other
communities; from the vantage of linguistics all dialects
(language varieties, lects) are equal
• No linguistic definition of ‘a language’ (one of many
languages, Einzalsprache)
• Tacitly, we understand languages to be the dialects of power
centers (capitals) and/or elites, endowed with a writing
system (NB: writing is not part of language)
• Western in its origin dichotomy: language vs dialect = oral vs
written; languages are seen as ‘better,’ ‘developed,’ ‘civilized;’
while dialects are ‘idioms,’ ‘jargons,’ ‘kitchen speech’ of the
‘riff-raff,’ ‘natives,’ ‘barbarians.’
Ethnolinguistic Nationalism
• Languages are employed as the very basis of nation-building and
statehood legitimation in Central Europe: language = nation =
state (‘normative isomorphism’)
- The speakers of a language constitute a nation
- The territory inhabited by this language’s speakers should become
coterminous with the nation’s polity
- The language cannot be shared with any other nation or state
• Ergo, language differentiation in the nation-states is construed as
dialects that belong to the national language
• Logic of ethnolgsc nationalism in practice: The parallel breakups
of Yugoslavia and Serbo-Croatian
• Hence, in this model of statehood, no recognition for the Silesian
language in Poland; in one polity there must be one nation only
(This is at variance with the Polish Constitution: Polish nation = all
Polish citizens [not speakers of the Polish language])
Democracy and the Social Sciences
• Outsider (etic) perspective of the scholar / politician /
administrator, who is not part of the group concerned
• Insider (emic) perspective of the members of the group
Research & Civil Service, or Power Games?
• Emic view of Silesians > Silesian is a language [desire for respect
and for the observance of the Constitution and its provisions]
• Etic view of Polish scholars and political elite > Silesian is an
idiom / jargon (gwara) or dialect [an undemocratic imposition
from above and outside, with no respect for the wishes of
almost 1 m citizens]
• Etic view of scholars outside Poland > Silesian is a language,
because Silesians / Silesian-speakers say or wish so [no
comprehension that despite the civic character of the PL
Constitution, the nature of statehood in Poland and elsewhere
in C Europe is still strongly ethnolinguistic in its character.

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