Just when I thought I knew all the minorities of Europe, along comes another one. An article by Tomasz Kamusella describes the situation of the Silesians:

The Silesians began agitating for recognition after World War I, when the status of Germany’s Upper Silesia became uncertain. A turning point in their story came in 1922, when Upper Silesia was divided between Germany and Poland, disregarding the yearning of many of the area’s 2.3 million inhabitants for an Upper Silesian nation-state with German and Polish as its official languages (the interwar Union of Upper Silesians, the main proponent of independence put its membership at half a million). Until then, the multilingual but homogenously Catholic Silesians had used German in school and for official business, and Polish in their dealings with the Church. At home, both prior to and after the division of their homeland between Poland and Germany, they continued to speak their local Slavic dialect interlaced with numerous Germanic loanwords and grammatical structures, which they termed “speaking in our own way” (po naschimu) or “the Silesian language.”
Neither Berlin nor Warsaw would stand for that. For Berlin, the Silesians became “in-between people” and, for Warsaw, a “nationally labile population.” Policies of enforced Germanization and Polonization took hold on either side of the borders of Upper Silesia. During World War II, the entire region was reincorporated in Germany, which nullified the achievements of Polonization. After 1945, the process was reversed, with all of Upper Silesia being granted to postwar Poland along with other formerly German territories. Millions of what Polish authorities called “indubitable Germans” were expelled, but those Silesians referred to as “autochthons” or “ethnic Poles insufficiently aware of their Polishness” were allowed to stay on, after being were sifted out from “indubitable Germans” by a process of “national verification” that was not, in truth, too rigorous: to qualify, it was enough to speak some of the Upper Silesian Slavic dialect, or just to have a Slavic-sounding surname…

I don’t know to what extent there is a genuinely distinct Silesian dialect—R.G.A. de Bray’s Guide to the Slavonic Languages (1951), the only reference book I have that mentions it, says only that such dialects “are chiefly characterized by the pronunciation of true nasals in all positions”—or whether there is a widespread sense of micronationalism among the Silesians, but I thought I’d pass along the information. (Thanks to John Emerson for the link.)


  1. I don’t know of a dialect either – the only Silesians I know speak beautiful High German.
    There is a minority Silesian lobby in Germany, as for the Sudetendeutsche too, with right-wing tendencies. I know about Sudetendeutsche being driven out of Czechoslovakia and I suppose the same happened to the German minority in Poland. There are a fair number of those people who would like to be compensated by the Czech government, and some of them deny the responsibility of Germany in the Second World War. The topic is normally swept under the carpet at international negotiations. I hope no-one flames me for this – I am very ignorant and trying not to take sides – both sides suffered.

  2. Michael Farris says

    Silesian is traditionally one of the more distinct dialects in Poland, hard for other Polish speakers to understand (and closely related to Czech Silesian dialects ).
    But, what you might call the “strong” versions of Polish dialects have mostly died out after WWII leaving “lite” versions (mainstream Polish with some regional features still hanging on) in their place and these continue to give way to standard Polish (I think being a modern Polish dialectologist is the linguistic equivalent of the Maytag Repairman).
    Anyway, in what very little modern Silesian I’ve come across, aside from lots of German words, the main things that stand out to me are:
    first person past tense in -ch instead of -m (from the old aorist?) byłech instead of byłem (I was)
    a present tense first person ending something like -a (though it sounds more like the vowel in luck to me) umia instead of umiem (i can/know how to do sth.)
    There’s also a tendency for some features of non-standard Polish everywhere to be labelled as specifically Silesian (turning unstressed /a/ into /o/ for example).
    I’ll try to add more later.

  3. past tense in -ch instead of -m (from the old aorist?)
    Gotta be the old aorist, and my OCS-student heart is thrilled!

  4. MM, Germans were expelled from Poland (or, what one might call newly-acquired Polish territory) after the war. I don’t know much beyond some stuff I recently read, but the Silesians had something of a choice about their fate. The Polish government was less than happy that they considered themselves not quite Polish and not quite German, and threatened those who thought of themselves as German but refused to leave. The rest were pressured to Polonize. Adding to the woes of both the Silesians and the government were the newly-arrived eastern Poles expelled from Belarus and Ukraine who didn’t quite think of themselves as Poles, but certainly didn’t like the Silesians.
    What I read said that many Silesians, Mazurians, and Kashubians held fiercely to their heritages, but many accepted Polonization because of stronger local than national ties and because conditions in Poland were better than in Germany at the time. In the 1970s and ’80s, many emigrated to West Germany.

  5. I didn’t realize the reference was to a Polish dialect.
    Thanks, Nathan. The ‘Germans’ will have been able to immigrate as German nationals.
    I have a 1941 German atlas with no Poland on it!

  6. Here is some further information on the Silesian language –
    for those who know Polish:
    and some information on the German wikipage:

  7. Die Weber, Hauptmann’s 1892 play re hunger and strikes in the 1840s Silesian textile industry, uses Silesian dialect–or that’s what I’ve always assumed! I believe it served as the inspiration for Het Twentsche Paradijs, a dialect music-drama dealing with a similar situation in the Enschede industry in the 1930s.

  8. (ie a German dialect)

  9. silesians are polish mixed with celtic tribe called lugii

  10. silesians have celtic backround you can see by the music and clothing they dress like similar like irish and there music has fast violent and bagpipes . im silesian and Pomeranian. but i think we should just call are selfs polish and not divid poland by old old local tribes from the 9th century. yes we do have a dialect i dont speak it but my dads family does 90% silesians consider themselfs polish.

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