Dialect Maintenance and Lemko ethnic identity: A Phonetic Case Study

Geoffrey Schwartz, Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznan, Poland

The Lemkos of Poland provide material for a multitude of fascinating sociolinguistic and ethnographic studies. Although presently immersed in a Polish–speaking environment, their native dialect is of East Slavic origin, and has also been influenced by centuries of contact with Slovak, Hungarian, German, and Romanian. The Polish influence tends to be most noticeable in the phonology, while the Slovak features are most easily found in the morphology, and all of the above languages have helped to shape the Lemko lexicon. In addition, among Lemko speakers there is a division between those who consider themselves to be ethnic Ukrainians and those who call themselves Rusyns. The goal of this study is to investigate the extent to which this question of ethnic identity (Ukrainian vs. Rusyn) is reflected in the speech of the Lemkos.

One of the most interesting features of the Lemko dialect is its preservation of the distinction between CS /i/ an /y/ (compare "to be" and "to beat". This contrast serves as the sociolinguistic variable in this study of the linguistic effects of ethnic identity on the speech of the Lemkos. One would expect the pro–Rusyn Lemkos to preserve this contrast, while Lemkos under the influence of Ukrainian should be expected to neutralize it. In this study, phonetic data (both from a sentence list, and from narrations) have been collected from 10 Lemko speakers from each camp, and is being subjected to instrumental and statistical analysis. F1 and F2 values for each speaker will be used to determine whether the contrast is maintained. If the contrast is maintained for both groups, we can conclude that ethnic identity has no effect. A neutralization of the contrast can be attributed to a number of factors, including Ukrainian influence (on the pro–Ukrainian camp), Polish influence (on both groups), and general perceptual factors.

Selected References:

Johnson, Keith. (1997). Acoustic and Auditory Phonetics . Cambridge, Ma: Blackwell Publishers.

Labov, William. (1972). Sociolinguistic Patterns . Philadelphia: University of Philadelphia Press.

Ukrajins'ki govirki u Polshchi. Varshava: Vidavnictvo Ukrajins'kij arxiv.

Reinfuss, Roman. (1990). ladami lemkow. Warszawa, Wydawnictwo PTTK Kraj.

Stieber, Zdzislaw. (1982). Dialekt lemkow: Fonetyka i Fonologia . Wroclaw: Wydawnictwo Ossileneum.