Kaszëbskô Mowa: Freeing the Kashubian Language
#language & literature
default, Museum of Słowin Countryside in Kluki. Pictured: Kaszebe band, photo: Tomasz Stańczak/AG, center, kaszuby-nauka-ag.jpg
A folk hero, a kind jester and a doctor of the soul. These are the men who stood up for the language and culture of Kashubia, located in north-western Poland. Culture.pl presents a short history of the Kashubian language and freedom – and not just freedom of speech!
‘Ùczba pierszô’ (lesson one): ‘kaszubienie’
A feature of the Western Slavic Kashubian language referred to as ‘kaszubienie’ denotes the transformation of Polish consonants ‘ś’, ‘ź’, ‘ć’ and ‘dź’ (known as the alveolo-palatals) into ‘s’, ‘z’, ‘c’ and ‘dz’ (sibilants). Kashubians say ‘sano’ instead of the Polish ‘siano’ (hay), ‘zemia’ instead of ‘ziemia’ (earth), ‘celę’ instead of ‘cielę’ (calf) and ‘dzecko’ instead of ‘dziecko’ (child).
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No one really knows where he came from. While he resembled a stolem (giant), he was thin, with a gleam in his eyes, and dressed in ragged clothes. If not for his speech impediment, he would have spoken flawless Kashubian. As a boy, he failed to save a godforsaken castle and rescue a princess imprisoned inside. When he grew older, he travelled all around the region of Kashubia, fought Smętek (the devil) and even sold books.
His name was Remus and – as the story has it – he was a real person. He was turned into a literary figure by Aleksander Majkowski, one of the three great defenders of Kashubian culture. But there were many more mischief-makers like Remus.
‘Ùczba drëgô’ (lesson two): the schwa
The schwa is a typical Kashubian vowel, written in the language as ‘ë’. It sounds like something between ‘eeh’ and ‘aah’. A meaningful vowel, it can distinguish between similar words and serves a function similar to the Old Polish ‘i’, ‘u’ and ‘y’.
A good example of the szwa would be the pair ‘bestri’ (in Polish: pstry, meaning multicoloured) and ‘bëstri’ (bystry, meaning smart). In Kashubian, the Polish ‘ę’ following a palatalised consonant becomes simply an ‘i’ – Polish ‘pięść’ (fist) turns into the Kashubian pisc.
Kashubian language, Kashubian culture
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Ulica Św Ducha, Gdańsk, tablica upamiętniająca Floriana Ceynowę, fot. Marek Bazak/East News
The Kashubian people are descendants of Baltic Slavs, who have lived in the Pomorze region since the Middle Ages. Today, the Kashubian cultural region stretches from the Baltic Sea to Bory Tucholskie and from the Gdańsk Bay to Bytów and Lębork (in the past, Kashubian lands reached much further west).
The centre of Kashubia lies near the picturesque lakes of the Kashubian Lake District, the highest part of which is often called ‘Kashubian Switzerland’ due to its geography. The inhabitants of these lands never managed to create an independent country or make their tongue an official language. Nevertheless, their identity survived – and their literature turned out to be an effective means to resist cultural Germanisation.
Romanticism helped the Kashubians flourish. The support of romantic artists for the independence of nations, as well as the value they placed on folk culture, were dear to Krzysztof Celestyn Mrongowiusz – the author of three Polish-German and German-Polish dictionaries written between 1823 and 1837.
In an introduction to the first of them, the philologist declared the need to study the Kashubian tongue before it disappeared. Mrongowiusz noted several regional words and phrases, compared them with Polish (Kashubian is less resonant and more hissed) and suggested its similarity to Russian (due to the accent).
The last remark drew interest from Russian scholars. Count Nikolay Rumyantsev offered Mrongowiusz 200 rubles for further research, and the Russian Academy of Sciences sent a Slavist, Pyotr Ivanovich Preys, to Kashubia – which resulted in his scientific report titled On the Kashubian Language. Aleksander Hilferding’s treatise on Kashubian dialects, published in 1862 in St. Petersburg, is another important source of knowledge.
These researchers were followed by scholars of the Łużyce people (Smoler and Muka), German Slavists (Tetzner, Lorentz) and a Finnish linguist named Jooseppi Julius Mikkola. But it is Florian Ceynowa (1817-1881), the son of a farmer from Sławoszyn, who is widely considered to be the father of Kashubian regionalism.
‘Ùczba trzecô’ (lesson three): accent
The accent is varied in Kashubian. It can be moving (northern dialect) or fall on either the first syllable (southern dialect) or the same syllable in all forms of the word (as in central Kashubian dialects and literary Kashubian).
Ceynowa the ‘Kashubologist’
The Kashubian hero Remus used his wheelbarrow to transport books that could not have been purchased in any bookstore. Along with songbooks, fairy tales and religious tracts, he also carried the writings of Ceynowa, whose most important works – and this is no longer a legend – were written during his imprisonment in Berlin.
While awaiting his own beheading, Remus had access to a relatively large library. He studied dictionaries and prayer books written in many languages, as well as scientific reports and manuscripts written by Mrongowiusz. Thankfully, his punishment was later changed to life in prison. But how did Remus end up in a cell in Moabit?
It was in a school in Chojnice, where the instruction of Polish was forbidden, that Ceynowa decided to become a Kashubian folk hero. He belonged to a secret literary club, devouring romantic works. He ended up graduating from the nine-year program after 11 years of study, but as a 24-year-old graduate, he spoke German, Polish, French, Latin, Greek, Hebrew and his native Kashubian.
The period of higher education was a period of difficult choices for Ceynowa. He was supposed to become a priest but enrolled in the department of philosophy of the University of Wrocław. After passing all the courses offered in the winter semester, he transferred to study medicine instead. At the same time, he attended the lectures of the Czech poet and Slavist Franciszek Czelakowski and took part in the meetings of the Literary Slavic Society, where he once gave a talk about the Germanisation of the Kashubian region.
In 1843, the journal Jutrzenka (Dawn) published two of his articles on folklore in Polish, Russian and Kashubian. Ceynowa’s growing debt, however, forced him to drop out of the University of Wrocław and continue his studies in Królewiec. He volunteered for a year-long period of military service in the Prussian army, where he served as a surgeon. This allowed him to settle some of his financial obligations.
Another twist in Ceynowa’s story is his involvement in an anti-Prussian conspiracy. His participation in an 1846 failed attack on barracks in Starogard landed him in jail. He found solace, however, in writing. He began work on the first Kashubian-German dictionary and the first Kashubian literary work, entitled Krotochwilno Rozmòwa Pòlocha z Kaszebą (A Joyful Conversation Between a Pole and a Kashubian). Following the 1848 amnesty, Ceynowa finished his studies and obtained a PhD in Berlin. His dissertation on the medical superstitions of the people of Puck and neighbouring lands evidenced his ethnographic interests.
Ceynowa called Kashubians a nation and their tongue a language. He worked on its grammar and spelling, which was met with wide criticism; many believed that even under the partitions, Poland continued to exist in the context of the shared Polish language. His contacts with Russian Slavists were also controversial, especially his participation in the Slavic conference of 1867. He treated his journey to Moscow as a way to present the culture of his region, but returned disappointed with the vision of Russian Pan-Slavism.
Before that, however, he managed to publish some works in St. Petersburg and build his authority as an amateur ‘Kashubologist’, able to stand his ground among professional scholars. Ceynowa also made significant contributions to Hilferding’s treatise and translated The Tale of the Fisherman and the Fish by Alexander Pushkin into Kashubian.
‘Ùczba czwiôrtô’: Kashubian palatalisation
Kashubian exhibits a transformation in the palatalised consonants ‘ki’ and ‘gi’ into ‘czi’ and ‘dzi’. For example: ‘taczi dłudżi dżibczi czij’ instead of ‘taki długi gibki kij’ (such a long, flexible stick).
Derdowski – a Kashubian bard
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Hieronim Derdowski, portrait, photo: ‘Poznaj Swój Kraj’, nr 5/1987 / wikimedia.org. ‘A Kashubian near Widno’ by Hieronim Derdowski, Poznań, published by Fiszer i Majewski, 1929, photo: National Library Polona
If Ceynowa was a folk hero, Hieronim Derdowski (1852-1902) was considered a regional bard. He continued his predecessor’s idea of opposing Germanisation by writing literature in Kashubian but used his own methods. He was far more talented than Ceynowa, but he considered Kashubian a dialect and used the Polish alphabet.
Majkowski sums up Deredowski’s work in this way:
For literary purposes […] the issues of linguistics are not as important. The spelling is above all a tool for expressing the thoughts and the spirit in a given language. For this reason, Derdowski’s writings, although published with an inadequate spelling, are worth more than Ceynowa’s – even though the latter meticulously reproduced in writing the various sounds typical to Kashubian, especially its Strzelin dialect. This is because, with Derdowski, the colour of Cassubiticus manages to find its most characteristic expression.
At the outset, it may have seemed unlikely that the bright boy with a jester’s disposition would become the most famous Kashubian poet. Fond of playing pranks on his German teachers, Derdowski had to change schools quite often. He went on a trip to Italy, where he was jailed for his lack of papers. He also studied alcohol production, drove horsecars in Paris and worked at a bookstore in Poznań. After visiting several more European cities, he emigrated to the United States.
But before he crossed the ocean, Derdowski stayed for a period in Toruń, where he wrote for the local press. His sharp wit resulted in his name appearing in court transcripts just as often as in the newspapers. The Prussian authorities banned the publication and performance of his Marsz Kaszubski (Kashubian March) – considered the unofficial anthem of Kashubia – which appeared in his greatest work O Panu Czorlińscim co do Pucka po Sece Jachoł (On Mr Czorlińsci, Who Went to Puck to Buy Fishing Nets). This book, written in 1880, was also sold by Remus.
The humorous Kashubian epic poem, often compared to Pan Tadeusz, presents the entire character of the region. Using travel as the main theme of the work, Derdowski portrays the folklore of the inhabitants of Kashubia, including their superstitious religiosity, local legends and imagined mythical creatures and demons (such as Smętek). The writer also reproduced the beautiful and often rich Kashubian manner of speaking (with its bylaczenie – the transformation of Polish ‘ł’ into slightly harder ‘l’).
This was not appreciated by the writer-historian Józef Ignacy Kraszewski, to whom the first poem of the book was addressed. The author of An Ancient Tale even suggested that the Kashubian poet should use the ‘proper’ Polish. Mr Czorlińsci’s adventures also contain a quote that is included in every book about Kashubia:
Nie ma Kaszub bez Poloni, / A bez Kaszub Polści.
There is no Kashubia without Poland / And no Poland without Kashubia.
Derdowski left his beloved homeland in the middle of 1885 and stayed in America until his death. During his brief life in Detroit, he served as an associate of Gazeta Narodowa (The National Newspaper) and served as editor of Pielgrzym Polski (The Polish Pilgrim). A year later, he moved to Winona, Minnesota in the United States, where – as he himself would say – the ratio of Kashubians to ‘pure Poles’ was 4:1.
There, he created a printing house, a bookstore and a Polish magazine that counted readers as far as Brazil. Wiarus (The Trusty Old Soldier), which for a brief period was also called Katolik (The Catholic), reached a circulation of 4,000 copies – quite an impressive number at the time. Derdowski never stopped his travelling. Alluding to his impressive height and above-average weight he wrote of himself that ‘his bodily magnitude continues to roam the world’.
‘Ùczba piątô’: ‘bylaczenie’
The Bylaks (Kashubians from Kępa Swarzewska, Kępa Oksywska, Kępa Pucka and the Hel Peninsula) pronounce ‘l’ instead of ‘ł’. For example: ‘bël’, ‘bëla’, ‘bëlo’ instead of ‘był’, ‘była’, ‘było’ (he was, she was, it was). This ‘bylaczenie’ is not part of normalised Kashubian, but it is often encountered in stylised forms.
Majkowski & the journal ‘Gryf’
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The title page of the book ‘Przewodnik po Kaszubskiej Szwajcarii’ (Guide to Kashubian Switzerland) by Aleksander Majkowski, 1936, photo: National Library Polona. Portrait of Alekander Majkowski, illustration from the book ‘Zdroje Raduni’ (Springs of Radunia), 1913, photo: Wikipedia.
The linguistic differences between Ceynowa and Derdowski were resolved by Aleksander Majkowski (1876-1938), who wrote his novel Żëcé i Przigodë Remusa (The Life and Adventures of Remus) in literary Kashubian. The titular hero, bravely facing the Prussian authorities, is often believed to represent the author himself. The book, published in its entirety shortly after Majkowski’s death, was translated into Polish (in 1964), French (1985), German (1988) and English (2008).
The earliest fragments of this masterpiece first appeared in Gryf (The Gryphon), which was irregularly published between the years of 1908 and 1934. The magazine was treated as a symbol of the revival of Kashubia. The publication was Majkowski’s idea, and he served as the editor of the first of its four issues in total.
He gained some experience in journalism while working for Gazeta Gdańska (The Gdańsk Newspaper) and Drużba (Friendship), which was a supplement for Gazeta Gdańska written entirely in Kashubian – Derdowski was behind this idea. Majkowski’s editorials, early poetic work and linguistic dilemmas are what links the author of Remus with Derdowski. In a report from Kashubia printed in Kurier Lwowski (The Lviv Courier), Marcelina Kulikowska wrote:
From the poetry of Derdowski and Majkowski, one could reach the conclusion that this language, so far not very present in literature, is quite rich, flexible, vivid and imaginative. […] a reading of their works lend truly artistic impressions and experiences, and their sense of humour – as well as the clarity, freshness, purity, breadth, strength and firmness of the words that they write – is admirable.
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Covers of the Kashubian magazine ‘Gryf’ – no. 3, 1932 and no. 8, 1931; photo: National Nautical Museum
How much did Majkowski have in common with Ceynowa? Majokwoski, too, graduated from the school in Chojnice and ended up as a doctor, rather than a priest. He was similarly fascinated by the Polish national bard Adam Mickiewicz. Years later, Majkowski recounted that the unveiling of a historic statue of the poet served as his first inspiration to join the national cause. Another was a visit to the old university in Gryfia, where he admired the likenesses of the Pomeranian princes.
Gryf served as a focal point for the Young Kashubian movement, which was guided by Derdowski’s idea that ‘Whatever is Kashubian is also Polish’. In addition to his cultural activities – including the reissuing of Derdowski’s works and the opening of a regional museum in Sopot – Majkowski attached great importance to political and economic affairs. After World War I, he became deeply involved in attempts to make the Pomorze region a part of Poland through his work with the Border Committee.
In the end, Majkowski didn’t participate in the peace conference in Versailles, but it is believed that the representatives of Kashubia who were present there used copies of Gryf as arguments in favour of their cause. The unrelenting stance of Antoni Abraham, for example, became legendary, even serving as inspiration for some poets. Andrzej Wachowiak wrote:
Our hearts beat for Mother Poland and with our motherland we shall stand, /
For there’s no Poland without the Kashubians, and Kashubia is a Polish land.
Those wishes were fulfilled, and the resulting patriotic fervour was portrayed by Wojciech Kossak in his painting titled Poland’s Wedding to the Sea.
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The Polish linguistic pattern of ‘TorT’ (where T stands for any consonant) is, in Kashubian, transformed into ‘TroT’. As a result, the Kashubian ‘warna’ stands for Polish ‘wrona’ (crow), ‘gard’ for ‘gród’ (burgh) and ‘starna’ for ‘strona’ (page). Nowadays, this transformation is largely found only in literature.
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Kashubian writing in a restaurant on the bay in Puck, Kashubia; photo: Andrzej Bogacz/Forum
After the generation of Young Kashubians – which consisted, among others, of Jan Karnowski (‘the conscience of Kashubian regionalism’) and the poet-playwright Leon Heyke – the Kashubian literary torch was passed on to a group known as the Zrzeszeńcy (the Associates). They stressed their national and linguistic distinctiveness, unlike the so-called Klekowcy, who believed in the unity of Kashubia and Poland.
The year 1956 saw the founding of the Zrzeszenie Kaszubskie (the Kashubian Association) – led by Lech Bądkowski, the translator of Żëcé i Przigodë Remusa into Polish. Known since 1964 as the Kashubian-Pomeranian Association, the organisation continues to promote the social and cultural development of the region, as well as cultivate its traditions.
On 6th January 2005, the Polish Act on National and Ethnic Minorities and Regional Languages qualified Kashubian as a regional language. Today, it functions as a second language in some offices of the Pomorskie Voivodeship. It’s used in churches and schools, as well as during exams and at universities – the University of Gdańsk offers a BA programme in Kashubian Ethno-Philology. The Kashubia region also has its own press, radio, TV channels and version of Wikipedia. Kashubian literature can be found in all literary genres and subgenres.
‘Ùczba sódmô’: vocabulary
‘Dobri dzéń’ – good morning/good day, ‘do ùzdrzeni’ – goodbye, ‘bòże przeżegnôj’ – enjoy your food, ‘jo’ – yes, ‘jô’ – me, ‘gbùr’ – a wealthy farmer, ‘pùpa’ – doll, ‘sklep’ – basement, ‘paradnica’ – guest room, ‘prażnica’ – scrambled eggs, ‘zgniły’ – lazy, ‘wiodro’ – weather, ‘zymk’ – spring, ‘łżëkwiat’ – April, ‘apfelzyna’ – orange, ‘malëna’ – strawberry and raspberry, ‘białka’ – woman, ‘chłop’ – man, ‘gazétnik’ – journalist, ‘pismienizna’ – literature.
Let us conclude with a Kashubian proverb:
Kaszëba mô cwiardą mòwă, ale mitczé serce.
A Kashubian has an earthy language, but a kind heart.
Originally written in Polish by Agnieszka Warnke, Oct 2018; translated by MW, Apr 2019
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