Rutkowska about Polish language in Lithuania: it used to be kumpiak, now it is seniūnija

Krystyna Rutkowska/ Fot. Joanna Bożerodska

Today we have the newest layer of Lithuanian loan-words (lituanizm), which concern social life, such as: names of posts, means of payment and so on. If means of payment used to be “kumpiak” or “polcy słoniny”, today we go to ,,seniūniji”, to fill in ,,raštas”, pay ,,mokeščiai” – says during a talk with Docent dr Krystyna Rutkowska  from the Centre of Polish Studies at the Vilnius University, who has been investigating Polish vernaculars, from the beginning of 90s.

Ewelina Mokrzecka, A well-known linguist Max Weinreich once said, that “Language it is a dialect with an army and a navy”. Have been conducting research on Polish language and vernaculars in Lithuania, do you agree with that statement?

Docent Krystyna Rutkowska dr: At the beginning I would like to introduce a particular terminological distinction. For me vernacular, in a classical understanding, it is a territorial variant of a general language. In turn, the best informer of a particular vernacular is a person who almost did not change his address, graduated from a primary school, so speaks language which was used by his grandfathers and great grandfathers. Therefore it is a spoken form of a language which does not have a written form. In general, a vernacular is not used for writing. A vernacular it is an oral variant, a territorial variant of a general language. Usually, a general language form on a particular dialectal ground, hence it is a foundation for forming a general language, which undergoes unification, which norms are standardized, there are various dialects and vernaculars.

What is the difference between a dialect and a vernacular?

Dialect is something bigger than vernacular. Folk dialect- it is a group of folk vernaculars used in a bigger area, a superior term in relation to a folk vernacular. Sometimes, these terms are used as synonyms and refer to a territorial variant of a general language.

How many Polish jargons do linguists distinguish in Lithuania?

In Lithuania, there are three compact Polish linguistic areas – Vilnius, Kaunas and Smołwieńska vernaculars. First research on rural variant of Polish language in Lithuania was conducted by Halina Turska PhD, in the interwar period. It is worthy to emphasize, that the professor studied only these areas where a domestic language was Polish. If, e.g. people knew Polish and at home used an easy language, so a vernacular variant of Belorussian, these areas are out of the professor’s research.

What particular areas are they?

Vilnius region – Mejszagoła, Suderwa, Podbrzezie, Rzesza, Niemenczyn, Bezdan regions, a strip lasting behind Troki. A Smołwieński area includes a narrow strip on the border with Belorussia – lasting from Ignalint to Jeziorosy. And Kaunas region, which was described many times – were created as many as three monographic studies on this area. Vernaculars in Vilnius region are in a good shape, whereas in the two other areas, Polish s used only by the oldest generation. The medium and young generation do not know Polish.

Let’s come back to so called “prosty” language which you mentioned. A considerable part of Poles in Lithuania say that speak “po prostemu”, in “języku prostym”… can it be classified as vernacular?

Here, again, we have a terminological blend, because this term „po prostu” comes from folk. When we go to e.g. Niemenczyn, an older lady will say that speak “po prostemu”, but it is not that way because, she speaks Polish. This way she determines her language, which she considers as inappropriate, colloquial, “prosty”. In a scientific literature is used a term “po prostu”, “język prosty” in relation to Belorussian vernacular variant, which is widely used in country sides on the border with Belorussia, in Solecznicki region.

Nevertheless, we should remember, that the language which we can hear from Ławaryszek side, through Turgiele, Soleczniki, Ejszyszki it is a vernacular variant of Belorussian. This language has preserved, in a good condition, grounds of Belorussian, significantly different from Polish vernacular, which have grammatical grounds of Polish. These two variants of vernacular within the space of  centuries contact to each other- they are alternatively used by the same people on the border area. Therefore, Polish vernaculars include many białorutenizm-loan-words from Belorussian, and “język prosty” includes a great number of polonizm – loan-words from Polish. These two variants of a language include, so called, hidden lituanizm- past loan-words from Lithuanian, such as: „kumpiaczek’’, ,,grabiasty”, ,,rogajcie’’, ,,rojsta’’, ,,świrśnia’’. „karuki“, „krusznia“ and so on.

What are the feature of particular Polish vernaculars in Vilnius region?

Every vernacular area has its own linguistic features. Vilnius region has “akanie” the realisation of vowel “e” and “o” as “a”. Instead of “mówię”- “mówia” ,”weź książka” instead of „weź książkę”.

The second feature is „ikanie”, the realisation of „e” as ”i”, “ludzi” instead of “ludzie”, “ni wiem” instead of  “nie wiem”. Very often appears “ukanie”, the realisation of “o” as “u” e.g. “pujechali” instead of “pojechali”.

Apart from these phonetic features, there are a great number of morphological characteristics, as an example can serve lack of virile forms. Everyone “jechali”- both men and women. Lack of first person form in the past tense. We say “mówili” instead of “mówiliśmy”. Moreover, there are lexical features, using archaisms, e.g. “stecka” instead of  “ścieżka”, “zakluczyć” instead of “zamknąć na klucz”.

Archaisms.. it is often said that Polish in Vilnius region is filled with them. Is it right or is it wrong ?

I like archaisms so much. In my opinion they are a sign of our originality, uniqueness. I am glad that they exist. I would rather, there are less Russian loan-words or alive Lithuanian loan-words.

What language – Russian, Lithuanian, had the biggest impact on Polish in Lithuania?

It depends on periods and regions. Similar, to general Polish. When Polish kings were changing  along with contacts of Polish country with other European countries, we had e.g. Italian and Hungarian loan-words. When it comes to Polish in Lithuania the situation was the same. In Polish vernaculars in Lithuania we have past Lithuanian loan-words, from the period, when Polish just started to be used in Lithuania, they are so called litunizmy substratowe. From various periods we have got Belorussian loan-words, but they are loan-words from rather past times. At some point on Lithuanian-Belorussian grounds of Polish appear also Russian, when we have a strong Russification, in the Stalin, kolkhoz and sovkhoz period. Nowadays we have the newest layer of Lithuanian loan-words, which deal with a social life, e.g. names of posts, means of payment and so on. And means of payment used to be “kumpiak” or “polcy słoniny”, today we go to ,,seniūniji”, to fill in ,,raštas”, pay ,,mokeščiai”  and so on. They are completely different  loan-words.

What is a current condition of Polish vernaculars in Lithuania?

I can talk about the condition based on research from 1993 and the newest ones. It can be really said that Polish in Lithuania is something unique. In spots, where appear Polish simultaneously appear other languages –e.g. literary version of Lithuanian. We have to admit, that today there is not a place where Lithuanian is not heard.  Since 199 it1 is an official language. Almost everyone speaks, understands, or watches Lithuanian TV channels. In some areas, there are Lithuanian vernaculars, but there are also areas where do not appear any Lithuanian vernaculars, because for a longer period there were Polish vernaculars. Mejszagoła and Niemenczyn are such places. Then, there are areas where appear, so called  “mowa prosta”, such villages are old believers’ villages, where appear both literary version of Russian and old believers’ vernaculars. Therefore, we can say that, these people in some areas know six languages- a general Polish and a vernacular of Polish, a general Russian and a vernacular of Russian, a general Lithuanian and a vernacular of Lithuanian and “prosty” so a vernacular of Belorussian. These areas are linguist’s labs, which allow to conduct wonderful research on polyglotism, and every European researcher envy us this border zone.

I will tell you a certain story. Recently, I had a lecture for students and I told them that I deal with a vernacular variant of Polish in Lithuania, so a language which is used by your grandfathers and grandmothers. At some point, I heard laughter in the room, what was very revealing for me, because these young people and I suppose, a medium generation as well, are not conscious, what is the value of this language, vernacular… They think, that this language is something that people should be ashamed of, that it is awful and shoddy.

What is the reason of shame of speaking vernacular?

They are ashamed of speaking two languages – the jargon variant of Polish and “prosty” Belorussian. I do not know the reason of this shame. Maybe because this language has a few variants? In Lithuania, in the most beautiful way speak grandmothers who live in Niemenczyn and Mejszagole. The language of a medium generation, who has just graduated from schools, will be filled with Russian loan-words, they will speak equally in Polish and Russian. Citizens of cities, also speak in a careless way. When you travel by a trolley bus sometimes you can hear people speaking one word in one language and the other in a different language. For me it is not a vernacular.

So what is it ?

It is some kind of an urban “socjolekt”. Belorussians call it “trasianka”. For me a vernacular it is a language of an elder generation, who live in a village, who usually graduated from 4 classes of Polish school and usually use Polish, they do not rather know other languages, they use even Russian very rare.

Can it be said that a vernacular of elder generation is not continued by a young generation?

The youth use jargon, a blend of all languages at the same time, even though during classes a correct language is used, a general Polish. It is a variant of a language, which is used on purpose, to encode or hide something.  Maybe there is similar with a language of subcultures –hoodies, hippies, metal-heads, or even –thieves, prisoners and so on. It is essential to feel like a part of a particular youth community. Maybe this polyglotism is not their special feature, their trump? There is such portal “Pulaki z Wilni”, where people write using a real blend and they think that, it is a variant of a language which unite them with their motherland, with their own youth community. A really decent portal, comments and text which are put there can provide an answer why the youth use this variant of a language. It would be nice if the youth visit this portal more often and leave there their opinions.

Can we suppose that Polish vernacular will disappear in Lithuania, if the youth do not accept it ?

Yes..but Polish have chances to survive. In Vilnius region, there are Polish schools, radio, magazines, theatre, we can study Polish at two universities in Vilnius. We have everything.  But we have to protect and foster our language, like a fragile plant. I think that it should not be a political instrument, but rather public, scientific.

As an example let’s take Kowieńszczyzna, where people used to talk in Polish, but being in a Lithuanian surrounding they started to talk in Lithuanian and  nowadays they speak Polish less and less. Services are not conducted  in Polish- Wędziagoła is an exception. The language in a church was a factor which maintained Polish nature. It is obvious that Polish will not survive in Kowieńszczyzna. There is not enough strength. There used to be lower secondary schools there, e.g. in Poniewież, in Kaunas. In every bigger place there were services in Polish. It was very important, people wanted to learn Polish. Even though Polish is beautiful, noble and archaic it does not have any chances to survive.

Recently, in Poland we can observe the rebirth of vernaculars, even  these unused. In Lithuania we cannot observe such  changes. Is it possible that, vernaculars such as: bujwidzka and niemenczyńska will become cool?

First of all, we should not be afraid of them. We should not be ashamed of them. Not only scientific articles have to be written about these vernaculars. We have to speak to each other, use them at schools, talk in mass media about this language and  upgrade its importance, we can use Vilnius vernaculars in plays in theatres – this elegant and beautiful. Not this filled with Russian and Lithuanian loan-words, but this which was known by Mickiewicz and which characteristics he used in his poetry as a stylistic device.  This authentic Polish vernacular is really beautiful. I think that we should promote it and we should not be afraid of it.——

Docent dr. Krystyna Rutkowska-  Doctor of Art., a graduate of  Lomonosov Moscow State University (Department of Slavic Studies), she defended her doctoral dissertation at University of Warsaw in the field of  comparative ethnic studies. In cooperation with the University of Warsaw she is conducting research on Polish vernaculars in Lithuania, by organizing dialectological camps in different vernaculars areas every year. Since 2008 she is a member of the Dialectological Commission in International Congress of Slavists.  She has been working at the university since 1986, in the Faculty of Polish Studies ( Centre of Polish Studies) since 1994.





Tłumaczenie by Aneta Banacka w ramach praktyk w Europejskiej Fundacji Praw Człowieka, Translated by Aneta Banacka within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights,

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