Arguably, one of the greatest challenges Kashubian language is faced with today is its diminishing speaker base. Different estimates provide less or more optimistic counts of the number of those who still use it (Mordawski, 2005), and undoubtedly the 2011 census will shed more light on the current state of the matter (Narodowy Spis Powszechny, 2011). However, one cannot dismiss the fact that popularity of Kashubian language is in an unremitting decline. Whereas it can be argued that the world knows examples of language revivals (i.e., Hebrew in Israel), the gloomy truth is that the vast majority of such attempts fail miserably (Mechura, 2007). Recognizing language as the most important aspect of any culture (Xiulan, 2007), the fact remains that once the Kashubs forfeit their language, there will have very little left to distinguish them from their close relatives: the Polish. Unlike the Irish, who have adapted English as the functional language of the state and still maintained their identity, the Kashubs do not have their own country, and retaining their own language is an imperative necessity, if they are to survive as the distinct group of people.
One may dispute that Kashubian language lost its relevance and therefore, should be left to its own fate (Niamh & Hickey, 2009). Although such an attitude may be substantiated, an important question remains: who has the right to destine Kashubian language for extinction? Anyone familiar with the history of Kashubia has to respect the hardships Kashubs had to endure in order to protect the language from both, Germanization and Polonization (Makurat, 2008). Ironically, now, when the Kashubs can use their own language freely, few find it worthwhile to continue speaking it and passing it on to the next generations. Some Kashubs even expect the school to teach Kashubian to their children as a secondary language (Kuratorium.gda, 2010). Unfortunately, nothing can substitute natural passing of the language from one generation to the next. Why should we continue to retain the Kashubian language?
I argue that speaking Kashubian offers some tangible, yet often overlooked advantages. Because Kashubian, like many of the Anglo-Saxon languages features more vowels than the Polish language, Kashubian speakers are capable of pronouncing many of the Anglo-Saxon vowels more correctly than their Polish brothers. Those, whose ears are only attuned to the basic “a, e, o, u” vowels will have a difficult time producing (or even detecting) words containing vowels beyond their familiarity. Thus, I argue that by preserving their language, not only will the Kashubs protect their rich culture from extinction, but, in addition, will equip their children for success within the multi-cultural realm of the European Union. Extinction of the Kashubian language would be an unrecoverable loss to the Europe’s cultural diversity (Gutthy, 2005); nonetheless, only the Kashubs themselves can preserve it from obliteration. Naturally, the Kashub themselves must first recognize the value of doing so. No law can prevent this unique language from extinction.
by Yurek K Hinz, Ph.D.
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