Endemic languages in Poland need saving

Most of the endemic languages and dialects in Poland are endangered and without cooperation between linguists and local communities they may soon become extinct.

There are 17 endemic languages and dialects in Poland. This information may be surprising even to Poles, as most of these languages are not in everyday use and unheard of like Vilamovian or Lemko, which are close to extinction.

For three years a group of scientists from Poland, the UK and the Netherlands worked together to find a way to preserve these languages. In their project “Humanities involved in Europe” they showed a practical approach to the problem.

“It would be pointless to discuss the future of these languages just among the linguists, historians or anthropologists. The points of view of scientists are very different to those of the people who actually use these languages. Sometimes they face discrimination because they speak differently and it is up to them to save their languages,” explained doctor Justyna Olko, project coordinator from the University of Warsaw.

That is why the scientists contacted local communities across the whole globe. In Poland they got in touch with language minorities like Vilamovians, residents of the small Polish town of Wilamowice, Lemkos living in Southern Poland, Silesians from Silesia region, Kashubs from North-Central Poland and Masurians who live in North-Eastern Poland.

“These groups gradually neglected their languages, which was the result of many years of discrimination from those, who speak the dominant language,” said Justyna Olko. For many people it was a trauma which they wanted to spare their kids. “When the older generation doesn’t pass the language and traditions to the young ones the cultural chain gets broken.”

The best example of how to prevent it and how to change the way people view their own endemic language is the town of Wilamowice and its residents. In the 13th century they created their unique language, but after WWII the use of it was forbidden and it started to disappear. Now the scientists have got the local authorities, schools and many young people involved in a fight to save it.

Together they organised a summer language school. They have also prepared two plays in the Vilamovian language, “The Hobbit” based on the famous fantasy novel and "Ymertihła" which tell the story of the repressions of Vilamovians. Both were presented at a Polish Theatre in Warsaw.

The conclusion of the “Humanities involved in Europe” project is not the end of the scientists’ efforts to bring endangered languages back to life. They’ve already gained funds for another two projects that will allow for further cooperation with local communities, to popularise endemic languages.