Koroscina, Kajkavica and Kaszebska Gadka: The Sociolinguistics of 'Dialect' Literature in Minority Language Areas

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Koroscina, Kajkavica and Kaszebska Gadka: The Sociolinguistics of 'Dialect' Literature in Minority Language Areas*

Ko se ob vencku narecnih pesmi Milke Hartmanove ozremo po sodobnem slovstvenem dogajanju na Slovenskem, ugotovimo na prvi pogled presenetlijivo dejstvo, da gre za prav redek pojav, izjemen tako v vseslovenskem kakor tudi zamejsko slovenskem merilu.1 (Zdovc 1977:4)


I begin with a quotation which reflects my own surprise: when I, as a sociolinguist working in the Slovene minority area of Carinthia, Austria, enquired ten years ago about post-war2 literature written in Carinthian Slovene dialects [koroscina], I was directed to just two books, one by Janko Messner (1974), the other by Milka Hartman (1977). Given the development and popularity of dialect literature in both the German- and the Italian-speaking countries-which are immediately contiguous to the territory of the Carinthian Slovenes-it is indeed at first sight surprising that so little had and has been published in the first language-variety that they learn "at their mother's knee." Then fact that two more booklets have been published in the interim, Bartoloth 1992 and Kokot 1996, alters the picture very little.

This is not the only paradox. Compare, on the one hand, critics who characterize examples of literature that are written in "dialect" as "immediate and authentic" and even, sometimes, as the best things ever written by their authors;3 and, on the other hand, the common belief4 that dialects are normally considered as unsuitable-indeed, by some people as totally unsuitable-for literature. Having in my fieldwork found it necessary to tackle the intricacies of code-choice5 I find these differences very interesting. If Germanophone writers in Austria are so ready to use their dialects, and Slovenophone ones so ready to shun theirs, there must be wide differences in attitude. In this context I resort to Kalogjera's (1985) useful distinction between what he calls 'primary' and 'secondary' attitudes to dialect: the former, those of the ordinary `person in the street;' the latter, those of the creative intelligentsia. I will be more concerned with 'secondary' attitudes, since I am concerned with writers and readers of literature. Yet another attitude is theoretically relevant: that of the speakers of the idiom not to its instrinsic worth, but to the distinctiveness of what they speak, cf. Dulitenko (1981:19-20); these attitudes, as held by speakers of the language-- varieties to be discussed below, are of great importance but have not been described satisfactorily, and will be omitted from consideration.

These two contradictions-on the one hand, the inconsistency between Carinthian Slovene and Carinthian Austrian attitudes to dialect literature; on the other, the rejection of dialects as 'unsuitable' for literature as contrasted with the belief that they are an authentic mode of expression-formed the impetus for this paper. To view these contradictions I expand the scope of the paper to include not only "dialects" in the more scholarly sense of the term, but also language-- varieties which are closer to being "languages" and, even if called "dialects" by the general public, do not normally have that label attached to them by many scholars. Hence the quotation marks round the word "dialects" in the paper's title: I treat Cassubian, for example, as much closer to being a "language" than a "dialect"-see section 2. below.

My aims-which are restricted to examples from Slavic-are twofold: to explore the role of the secondary attititudes (those of the intelligentsia) to "dialect" and to "dialect literature;" and to examine the role that "dialect literature" plays in the distinction between "language" and "dialect."6


Before discussing definitions I emphasize four preliminary points. First, the two words "dialect" and "language" have several different meanings. …