Zui at The Language Closet (“anything and everything about languages”) posts about a language hitherto unknown to me, Wymysorys:

Spoken in the region of Wilamowice, Poland (Wymysoü), this language is also quite an interesting anomaly. […] Wymysorys, Vilamovian or Wymysiöeryś is the Germanic language spoken in that small Polish town, between Silesia and Lesser-Poland. Considered the most endangered Germanic language today, it has experienced a significant decline since the 19th century. From the phasing out of Wymysorys in local schools in favour of Polish in 1875, to the banning of its use in the communist period until 1956, many have stopped speaking Wymysorys, instead turning to Polish, or for those who left Poland for Germany, German.

Mutually unintelligible with German, along with all of its dialects, Wymysorys features a rather Germanic sound system, with borrowed sounds in Polish loanwords. The language has had major influences from Polish, even incorporating its orthography in literary works by the author Florian Besik. However, this has since been standardised, as a distinct Wymysorys alphabet. Polish influences include the letter “ł”, which represents the sound /w/ but way closer to the Polish articulation than what you might hear in Germanic languages. […] Literary works are also rather few and far between, since the first author known to publish Wymysorys literature did so in the 19th century, around when the language started to decline. […] However, in the 21st century, there have been movements to revitalise the declining language.

Zui links to a more detailed Culture.pl article by Mikołaj Gliński, who studied classics at Humboldt University in Berlin and cultural studies at the University of Warsaw’s Institute of Polish Culture:

Located between Bielsko-Biała and Oświęcim, Wilamowice may seem like a regular southern Polish town lost somewhere in the hilly landscape of the Lesser Poland region. Yet to some, Wilamowice may be the most fascinating place on the map of Europe – the linguistic map of Europe, that is. All of this is because of a group of approximately 20 to 25 people, predominantly elderly, who speak a language amongst themselves that has made linguists scratch their heads. Here are just a few examples of why: der arpuł (‘potato’), dy ȧjsomer (’fridge’), s’błimła (‘flower’), der dźjada (‘grandpa’), der oduł (‘eagle’), der śiłer (‘teacher’), der śpjelik (‘sparrow’), dy böśtowatöwuł (‘keyboard’). Asa means ‘to eat’ and kuza ‘to speak’. […]

The language is called Wymysorys (Wymysiöeryś), but it has been also known as Vilamovian or Wilamowicean. In fact, the population of Wilamowice (or Wymysoü) has been speaking it for the last eight centuries. And while linguists today are generally inclined to consider it one of the variety of West German dialects – and possibly the smallest micro-language belonging to the Germanic language group – Wilamowiceans themselves have been consistent in descending their pedigree from Flemish colonists.

In fact, it is this ‘Flemish’ identity, as vague and unverifiable as it is, that may have helped the community to survive some of the most vicious events of history, including the times of Interwar Germanisation, the atrocities of WW2, and the subsequent Communist persecution.

There’s a long and interesting discussion of the history, and Gliński even quotes the first few lines of “the founding piece of Vilamovian literature, Uf jer wełt, written in the early 20th century by Florian Biesik.” The whole thing is well worth reading. Thanks, Garrigus!


  1. Garrigus Carraig says

    It’s a fascinating story and I did not expect Europe to hold any linguistic surprises for me. In reading these materials, I can’t quite figure out why the people of Wilamowice were allowed to stay after the war, while most other speakers of Silesian German languages, like that of Alzenau, were expelled from Poland wholesale. Wikipedia points the widespread bilingualism of the former, which makes me wonder why that wouldn’t be the case among the latter.

  2. So we’re just supposed to read Oświęcim and carry on?…

  3. Yuval,

    You might want to read the article, which does not carry on. It addresses your question, though perhaps not as directly or conclusively as one might hope. This is hinted at in the quoted section by the reference to their Flemish identity.

  4. Thanks, I followed the link and saw the aside. Still, the juxtaposition of that place name with the description a regular southern Polish town is jarring to me.

  5. SFReader says

    For me, southern Poland is forever associated with this quote from Tsarist era travelogue:

    There are only few places in Russia as picturesque as southern Poland

  6. PlasticPaddy says

    Is śiłer really “teacher” and not “pupil”? Even scholar in English is principally someone who learns/has learned, rather than teaches/has taught. Is there another German dialect that takes “schooler” as the word for teacher?
    Re arpuł is that supposed to be from *ardapul (would match Dutch/Flemish aardappel, although Flemish can use the word patat also)?

  7. Garrigus Carraig says

    PlasticPaddy: Here’s a link to the grammar written by Krol (and A Andrason), in which śiłer is twice glossed as teacher.

  8. So, three genders (der, dy, s’). “ł” where one would expect “l” in German. Vowels moved back somewhat (u > ö, i; a > o; unstressed e > a, u). Ch > ś.

    Regarding the sample words:

    Der arpuł (‘potato’) might seem like “Aardappel”, but there’s no reason it couldn’t just be an “Apfel” variant.

    Dy ȧjsomer (’fridge’) looks like “die Eiskammer” with a reduction of the “k”. I would assume some weakening over time, maybe by way of “ch”, but I’d need more examples.

    S’błimła (‘flower’) has to be the diminutive “das Blümle”.

    Der dźjada (‘grandpa’) is the Polish “dziadek”.

    Der oduł (‘eagle’) seems like G. “der Adler”, but the Polish “orzeł” is also a likely source.

    Der śiłer (‘teacher’) – G. “der Schüler”, student.

    Der śpjelik (‘sparrow’) – G. “der Sperling”.

    Dy böśtowatöwuł (‘keyboard’) – G. “die Buchstabentafel” (“hornbook”, lit. “letter table”)

    Asa ‘to eat’ – G. “essen”.

    Kuza ‘to speak’ looks like the Slavic “kazati” – to say.

    And the sample sentence you didn’t quote is absolutely transparent to me:

    “Ny ołys ej gułd, wos zih fynklt, glanct oba łiöeht.“

    “Nicht alles ist Gold, was sich funkelt, glänzt, oder leuchtet”.

    (All is not gold, that sparkles, shines, or glows.)

    It doesn’t look particularly mysterious to me, and I’m surprised anyone would think it anything other than an isolated dialect. It might take some time to work out all the sound correspondences, but frankly, it’s no stranger than the Pennsilfaanisch-Deitsch dialects.

  9. David L. Gold says

    Might Vilamovian śiłer ‘teacher’ be a shortening of Middle High German schuoler-meister ‘schoolmaster’?

  10. ‘Teach’ and ‘learn’ are such closely related concepts (like ‘borrow’ and ‘lend,’ or ‘host’ and ‘guest’) that there is inevitable sloshing about between the ways they’re expressed (“I’ll learn you!”). It seems to me entirely plausible that ‘teach’ > ‘learn’ in this particular dialect, although of course your hypothesis is also possible.

  11. PlasticPaddy says

    I agree the grammar makes clear that ithe word means teacher. Regarding *śiłheer or *śiłmeester > śiłer, you still have to explain the umlaut. I would expect e.g., *śulheer. The umlaut comes for free if *śulan (I am not sure if that word exists in the dialect) or śul gives śiłer as a back-formation. Of course, the grammar addresses umlaut and maybe there is something there.

  12. PlasticPaddy says

    Sorry. I see Schülermeister existed, as well as Schulmeister So for *śiłermeester > śiłer, there is no umlaut problem, but for me this seems to require that the word śiłer was dropped in the meaning pupil and the compound reanalysed as though it meant teacher, then the master dropped (in a culture where trades and professions all had masters as qualified professionals). Maybe the teachers were like today’s post-docs, lurching from one temporary employment to the next.

  13. David L. Gold says

    The second paragraph (“in heutigen…”) of sense 7 in the entry for Schüler in the Grimms’ dictionary (https://woerterbuchnetz.de/?sigle=DWB#2) shows that LH (see post of 9:23 am above) was on the right track. I withdraw my suggestion about ‘schoolmaster’.

    7) in älterer zeit verbreitert sich auch der sinn des worts dem lat. scholaris, scholasticus gemäsz durch die beziehung auf den studenten zu der bedeutung ‘litterarisch gebildeter, gelehrter’ mhd. wb. 2, 2, 226. Wattenbach schriftwesen2 359:
    ir hât diz getichte wol gehôrt:
    eʒ tichte von Fritslar Herbort
    ein gelârter schûlêre.
    Herbort v. Fritslar troj. krieg 18451.

    in heutigen mundarten findet sich noch ähnliches. schuler im sinne von ‘hauslehrer’, wie es in Luzern üblich ist Stalder 2, 354, steht der alten bedeutung ‘student’ am nächsten, denn hauslehrer sind eben meistens ältere studenten. ebenso ist wol das von Schmid 483 als in Ulm üblich bezeichnete schuler, privatlehrer gemeint. aber siebenb.-sächs. bedeutet schiller, wie es dort lautet, auch ‘dorfschulmeister’ Frommanns zeitschr. 4, 415, 53, und ebenso heiszt in der Altmark der dorfschulmeister, sofern er nicht zugleich küster ist, schöler oder schölk’r Danneil 186b.

    The remaining question thus seems to be: does the Vilamovian word śiłer really mean ‘teacher’ or does it mean ‘private tutor’ (= Hauslehrer)?

  14. Trond Engen says

    The examples show that “village teacher” is a common enough development. It might have been extended from “private tutor”, but I’d rather think it’s a common origin. Boys who finished their admission exams but lacked the means, opportunity or inclination to proceed to university (or who had to interrupt their studies) would take up posts as house tutors or village teachers, Being qualified for university was no little achievement in itself, and the title of student would be a source of pride and a proof of quality. “Our new teacher is a Schüler from Leipzig!”

  15. David L. Gold says

    @ Trond Engen. “The examples show that “village teacher” is a common enough…,.” etc.

    I agree.

  16. Garrigus Carraig says

    @Trond Engen: This was pretty much the career path of Jean Paul after he dropped out of Univ of Leipzig, and before his writing career took off.

  17. John Emerson says

    In the frontier Midwest many HS teachers were only HS grads themselves. Often HS teaching was a stage between HS and college.

    The frontier Midwest was strongly pro-education, but recognized the difficulties involved and were not fussy about credentials. There were people who graduated from college or got law degrees after a total of only 6 or 8 years of formal education, including college. Lots of home-schooling and self-education.

  18. Trond Engen says

    Garrigus Carraig: This was pretty much the career path of Jean Paul

    [Looking up Jean Paul]

    I swear I had no idea! — and I picked Leipzig because that was the closest old university town I could name without research. But lesser stories of the type abound.

    [Looking closer]

    Actually, I think this demonstrates a semantic path from “private tutor” to “village teacher”. I imagined village schools in Germany to have been organized through the church (like parish schools in Norway), but they could also have started out as cost-sharing enterprises between small-town merchants and officials with ambitions for their children.

  19. Lars Mathiesen says

    When I took the Cambridge Proficiency exam, I was told that my mark (an A) would on its own allow me to teach English up to seventh grade in an impressive list of non-Western countries. This was in the nineties or even before, and if the list wasn’t already outdated then I’m sure it would be much shorter now.

    (When I applied for Analyst Second at E.C.M.W.F. in Reading, they may actually have looked at it).

  20. John Cowan says

    When my father went to Harvard for his S.J.D. with Roscoe Pound, he was told that to gain admission to the LL.B. class (either at the time or not too long before) you needed only a high-school diploma, a smallpox vaccination certificate, and money. Which is why it was a Bachelor of Laws, I assume. After a while they decided that ejecting 1/3 to 1/2 of the first-year students was a waste of everyone’s time.

  21. Athel Cornish-Bowden says

    Only 1/3 to 1/2? I think they still eject 9/10 of first-year medical students in France. Crazy, but that’s what they do, or at least, they did, because my information may be out of date.

  22. John Emerson says

    When I was a HS student 57 years ago we were assigned a Roscoe Pound book in a talented enrichment class. In a single sentence he used the words hortatory, eleemosynary, and fiduciary. I will remember those words forever , and that’s about all I remember.

    Oh, and there was also the legal case “The City of London v. one bag of nutmegs.

  23. John Cowan says

    The City of London vs. One Bag of Nutmegs

    Almost certainly an admiralty action in rem, which was available against ships or their cargo whose owners might well be unavailable, whereas the ship itself was available. The nuts were probably seized for non-payment of customs duty. Other in rem case titles (mostly collected by Kevin Underhill):

    United States v. 11 1/4 Dozen Packages of Articles Labeled in Part Mrs. Moffat’s Shoo-Fly Powders for Drunkenness, 40 F. Supp. 208 (W.D.N.Y. 1941) (holding product misbranded because it was not in fact a cure or treatment for drunkenness).

    United States v. Approximately 64,695 Pounds of Shark Fins, 520 F.3d 976 (9th Cir. 2008).

    United States v. 2,507 Live Canary-Winged Parakeets, 689 F. Supp. 1106 (S.D. Fla. 1988).

    United States v. An Article Consisting of 50,000 Cardboard Boxes More or Less, Each Containing One Pair of Clacker Balls, 413 F. Supp. 1281 (E.D. Wis. 1976).

    United States v. One Lucite Ball Containing Lunar Material (One Moon Rock) and One Ten Inch by Fourteen Inch Wooden Plaque, 252 F. Supp. 2d 1367 (S.D. Fla. 2003). [the first time that U.S. Customs agents seized smuggled property of extraterrestrial origin, though to be sure not actually smuggled from the Moon but from Honduras (cue “I’m from Iowa, I just work in outer space”)]

    United States of America v. One Cuneiform Tablet Known as the “Gilgamesh Dream Tablet,” No. 20-2222 (E.D.N.Y., filed May 18, 2020).

    United States v. 1855.6 Pounds of American Paddlefish Meat and 982.34 Pounds of American Paddlefish Caviar, No. 4:18-cv-00207-SEB (S.D. Ind., filed Nov. 13, 2018).

    Nebraska v. One 1970 2-Door Sedan Rambler (Gremlin), 215 N.W.2d 849 (Neb. 1974).

    South Dakota v. Fifteen Impounded Cats, 785 N.W.2d 272 (S.D. 2010).

    United States v. Approximately Thirteen Unoccupied Burial Plots Situated at Forest Lawn Memorial Park’s Hollywood Hills Cemetery Located in Los Angeles, California, No. CV 17-08979 (C.D. Cal. filed Dec. 14, 2017). [a civil forfeiture case]

    United States v. Fifty-Three Eclectus Parrots, a (literal) textbook case on what constitutes a question of law, versus a question of fact (at issue was whether the status of an Eclectus parrot as “wild” was a legal or a factual question).

    United States v. Forty Barrels and Twenty Kegs of Coca-Cola, 241 U.S. 265 (1916)

    United States v. Ninety-Five Barrels, More or Less, Alleged Apple Cider Vinegar (1924)

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