Izolda Wolski-Moskoff – University of Copenhagen

Danish voices > WILA8 2017 > Workshop programme > Izolda Wolski-Moskoff

Polish dialects in Chicago – diglossia preserved

Izolda Wolski-Moskoff (Ohio State University)

Unlike early immigrants from the Polish lands, who spoke very distinct Polish regional varieties (Gruchmanowa, 1988), the language of more recent Polish immigrants from different regions is very similar (Kamusella, 2016). There are, however, some Polish dialects that have resisted the nationwide tendency of dialectal disappearance, for example, the Oravian and Podhale dialects. Nevertheless, due to postwar mass migrations and government education policy, even these dialects are used alongside standard Polish, and the linguistic situation in these regions can be described as diglossia (Karaś, 2009). The results of the present study show that this diglossia is not only preserved in the first generation of immigrants but also occurs among heritage speakers.

29.9% of all Polish immigrants in the US live in the Chicago area (Paral, 2004). The city and its environs have been a home for immigrants from urban and rural Poland alike. Some groups in the latter category, for example, the Highlanders (Górale), have been large enough to colonize neighborhoods of their own (Field Museum, 2010). Highlanders, whose culture attracts considerable attention due to its distinctive music, architecture, and customs, speak a particular dialect called the Podhale dialect. The Oravian culture – that of a small population (twenty-five villages in Poland and Slovakia) – is less known to the general public; but linguists count the Oravian among Polish’s best-preserved dialects (Karaś, 2009). The Oravian and Podhale dialects both belong to the Lesser Poland dialect group, and share many linguistic features: mazurzenie (the replacement of alveolar consonants with dental consonants), closed vowels, the lack of the front nasal in the word-final position, and word-initial stress, among others.

This paper focuses on the Polish language of two heritage speakers, one each of the Oravian and Podhale dialects. Both participated in a large-scale study conducted in Chicago that investigated the Polish language of twenty-five heritage speakers and fifteen first-generation immigrants. In addition to providing a general overview of Polish as spoken in Chicago, the study examined the knowledge of Polish cases in the two generations of speakers. The study consisted of four different tasks. The first two, an oral proficiency exam (based on ACTFL guidelines) and a story elicitation, provided samples of natural and semi-natural speech; the other two, a case elicitation task and a grammaticality judgment, showed these speakers’ knowledge of cases.

Despite having grown up in households where the Oravian and Podhale dialects where spoken, the two participants were assessed as advanced speakers of standard Polish, and on average exhibited better knowledge of grammatical structures than the study’s other heritage-speaker participants. The Polish Saturday school and frequent contacts with other Polish speakers are credited as the main factors that helped them acquire standard Polish.

Featuring the largest Polish population in the US (Paral, 2004), the city of Chicago provides optimal conditions for Polish heritage-language maintenance. The great number of speakers of the language affords opportunities for everyday use. Moreover, the city’s numerous Polish Saturday schools offer a chance to learn the language in formal settings (Nowicka McLees & Dziwirek, 2010). Opinion is divided as to the role the Saturday schools have played in the development and maintenance of the language of heritage speakers (Benmamoun, Montrul, & Polinsky, 2013); but in the case of the two considered here, this instruction undoubtedly played a significant part in the acquisition of the standard language. It is also possible that good knowledge of the Oravian and Podhale dialects aids in learning standard Polish.


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