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What Is Kashubian, And Where Is It Spoken?

It may sound like the name of a rock band, but it’s an actual living, breathing language spoken in Kashubia (Gdańsk), in the historic Eastern Pomerania region of Poland.
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What Is Kashubian, And Where Is It Spoken?

Kashubian belongs to the Slavic branch of Indo-European languages, and for years it was thought to be just another Polish dialect. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, it had renewed cultural status, and in 2005, Poland officially recognized it as an ethnic-minority language. It’s the only language in Poland that enjoys this status. Within the Slavic language family, it belongs to the Pomeranian branch of Lechitic languages which includes Polish, Silesian and the now extinct Polabian and Slovincian.

That said, it’s easy to see how much the language has been influenced by its dominating neighbors, Polish and German. After the Prussian partition of Poland, a lot of Germanisms entered the language and continue to play an integral part of vocabulary today. 

Here’s how German has influenced Kashubian:

Kashubian Vocabulary

A lot of German vocabulary has entered Kashubian, especially from areas such as commerce, farming, animals, plants, hunting, home and other aspects of everyday life where the two groups of people were most likely to interact.  Examples include:

German Kashubian Polish English
Fachwerk fachwerk kratownica framework
feiern fajrować swiętować to celebrate
Pfütze plëta kałuża puddle
Puppe pupa lalka doll
Spiegel szidżel lustro mirror

Grammar And Syntax

Fair warning, this is about to get a bit more complicated. Kashubian uses the auxiliary verb “to have” (Jô momto form the past, just like German, and very much unlike Polish. Meanwhile, Polish only uses one word to form the simple past, and both German and Kashubian use a pronoun, the auxiliary verb “to have,” inflected for the right person and the past participle of the verb. For example:

German Ich habe dein Bild in der Küche aufgehängt.
Kashubian Jô mom powieszony twój malenk w kuchni.
Polish Powiesiłem twój obrazek w kuchni.
English I have hung up your painting in the kitchen.

Polish is a pro-drop (meaning “pronoun-dropping”) language but Kashubian, like German, is not. While Polish very rarely places personal pronouns in the subject position, Kashubian always uses a pronoun before the verb (even if that verb is conjugated to show person and gender). For example:

German Ich habe gehört, dass du Kaschubisch sprichst.
Kashubian Ja czul ze ty gadas po kaszebsku.
Polish Słyszałem że mówisz po Kaszubsku.
English I heard that you speak Kashubian. 

Kashubian Phonetics

If you thought Polish pronunciation already had a lot going, Kashubian actually has quite a few more vowel sounds than Polish. It also has sounds that are not present in any other Slavic language. In fact, Dr. Yurek Hinz from Maryland University argues that Kashubian’s large number of vowels enables its speakers to pronounce Anglo-Saxon sounds much better than their Polish brothers and sisters. Because of this, one could even say that Kashubian is a more westward-facing language than other Slavic languages. 

Kashubs’ Effort To Preserve A Cultural Identity

According to the 2011 census, there are just over 100,000 Kashubian speakers in Poland, living primarily in Pomerania. Forfeiting their language would mean they would have very little left to distinguish themselves from their closest relatives, the Poles. This means that the Kashubs are faced with the real challenge of preserving their language as a means to survive as a distinct group of people.

The Kashubian Language Council was established in 2006 and is the originator of many cultural initiatives in the Pomerania region. Today, Pomerania, with its literary supplement Stegna, is one of the most widely diffused newspapers in the region. Zymk is a magazine for young people, and there are also a few local radio stations that broadcast in Kashubian. On TV, Twoja Telewizja Morska features some Kashubian programs, while the popular TV program Zemia Rodnô (Motherland) unfortunately stopped broadcasting in 2010. 

In schools, Kashubian can be taught as a second language, if parents elect to have their children participate. There are EU funded initiatives to teach Kashubian to children, new books are written regularly about Kashubian grammar and literature, and there’s even an online Kashubian dictionary. You can also now study the language on an academic level at the University of Gdańsk. 

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