Dialects of Polish
Modern sources on the Slavic languages normally describe the Polish language as consisting of four major dialect groups, each primarily associated with a certain geographical region, and often further subdivided into subdialectal groups (called gwara or region in Polish):
- Greater Polish, spoken in the west
- Lesser Polish, spoken in the south and southeast
- Masovian, spoken throughout the central and eastern parts of the country
- Silesian, spoken in the southwest (also considered a separate language, see comment below)
The regional differences correspond mainly to old ethnic or tribal divisions from around a thousand years ago. As a result of expulsions and other displacements of Poles during and after World War II, as well as language policy in the People's Republic of Poland, the Polish language became far more homogeneous in the second half of the 20th century.
- Kashubian, spoken in an elongated band of territory in the Pomorze region west of Gdańsk on the Baltic Sea; now usually considered a separate language
- Northern Kresy, spoken along the border between Lithuania and Belarus
- Southern Kresy, spoken in isolated pockets in Ukraine
This traditional division is still cited, especially in Polish sources. Current linguistic consensus, however, tends to consider Kashubian to be a separate language, or at least as a Slavic variety that cannot be grouped at the same level as the four major modern Polish dialects. Prior to World War II, Kashubian speakers were surrounded on both sides by German speakers, with only a narrow border to the south with Polish speakers. Kashubian contains a number of features not found in Polish dialects, e.g. nine distinct oral vowels (vs. the five of standard Polish) and (in the northern dialects) phonemic word stress, an archaic feature preserved from Common Slavic times and not found anywhere else among the West Slavic languages.
The two Kresy dialects are spoken in the Kresy, the former eastern Polish territory annexed by the Soviet Union in 1945 and currently forming part of Lithuania, Belarus and Ukraine. Both dialect groups have been in decline since World War II as a result of Soviet expulsions of millions of Poles from the Kresy. Poles living in Lithuania (particularly in the Vilnius region), in Belarus (particularly the northwest), and in the northeast of Poland continue to speak a Northern Kresy dialect, which sounds "slushed" (in Polish described as zaciąganie z ruska, 'speaking with a Russian drawl'), and is easily distinguishable.
The majority of Poles expelled from the Kresy were settled in newly annexed regions in northern and western Poland, adopting so-called new mixed dialects. However, among the older generation is still found a type of Kresy dialect which resembles Ukrainian or Rusyn in some ways, especially in the "longer" pronunciation of vowels.
Many linguistic sources about the Slavic languages describe Silesian as a dialect of Polish. However, many Silesians consider themselves a separate ethnicity and have been advocating for the recognition of a Silesian language. According to the last official census in Poland in 2011, above 0.5 million people declared Silesian as their native language. Many sociolinguistic sources (e.g. by Tomasz Kamusella, Agnieszka Pianka, Alfred F. Majewicz, Tomasz Wicherkiewicz) assume that whether something is considered to be a language or a dialect ultimately is a matter of extralinguistic criteria, such as the sentiment of its users or political motivations, and thus changes over time. Also, language organizations like SIL International and various linguistic resources like Ethnologue, Linguist List and others, like Poland's Ministry of Administration and Digitization, recognize the Silesian language. In 2007, Silesian was assigned the language code szl within the ISO 639-3 standard.
List of dialects
Greater Polish dialect
Descending from the Western Slavic language once spoken by the Polans
- Białystok dialect (Polish: gwara białostocka)
- Suwałki dialect (Polish: gwara suwalska)
- Warmia dialect (Polish: gwara warmińska)
- Kurpie dialect (Polish: gwara kurpiowska)
- Masurian dialect (Polish: gwara mazurska)
- Malbork-Lubawa dialect (Polish: gwara malborsko-lubawska)
- Ostróda dialect (Polish: gwara ostródzka)
- Near Mazovian dialect (Polish: gwara mazowsze bliższe)
- Far Mazovian dialect (Polish: gwara mazowsze dalsze)
Lesser Polish dialect
- Łowicz dialect (Polish: gwara łowicka)
- Sieradz-Łęczyca dialect (Polish: gwara sieradzko-łęczycka)
- Holy Cross Mountains dialects (Polish: gwary świętokrzyskie), often associated with the ancient tribe of the Lędzianie
- Grębów dialect (Polish: gwara lasowska)
- Orawa dialect (Polish: gwara orawska)
- Spisz dialect (Polish: gwara spiska)
- Podhale dialect (Polish: gwara podhalańska)
Those who regard Silesian as a separate language tend to include the Lach dialects (Polish: gwary laskie in the Czech Republic as part of this language. However, the standard linguistic sources on the Slavic languages normally describe them as dialects of the Czech language, or sometimes as transitional Polish–Czech dialects.
Northern Kresy dialect
Southern Kresy dialect
A number of dialects are not easily classifiable according to the above scheme. Among the most notable of them:
- The distinctive Podhale dialect (Góralski) occurs in the mountainous area bordering the Czech and Slovak Republics. The Gorals (highlanders) take great pride in their culture and the dialect. It exhibits some cultural influences from the Vlach shepherds who migrated from Wallachia (southern Romania) in the 14th-17th centuries. The language of the coextensive East Slavic people, the Lemkos, which demonstrates significant lexical and grammatical commonality with the Góralski dialect and Ukrainian, bears no significant Vlach or other Romanian influences. Some urban Poles find this very distinct dialect difficult to understand.
- The Poznanski dialect, spoken in Poznań and to some extent in the whole region of the former Prussian annexation (excluding upper Silesia), with characteristic high tone melody and notable influence of the German language.
- Some city dwellers, especially the less affluent population, had their own distinctive dialects — for example the Warsaw dialect, still spoken by some of the population of Praga on the eastern bank of the Vistula. (Praga remained the only part of Warsaw where the population survived World War II relatively intact.) However, these city dialects are now[update] mostly extinct due to assimilation with standard Polish.
- Many Poles living in emigrant communities (for example in the USA), whose families left Poland just after World War II, retain a number of minor features of Polish vocabulary as spoken in the first half of the 20th century that now sound archaic, however, to contemporary visitors from Poland.
- There are also several professional dialects preserved, of which the best known is grypsera, a language spoken by long-time prison convicts.
- Roland Sussex and Paul Cubberley (2006). The Slavic Languages. Cambridge University Press. P. 530.
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